Discuss the relationship between the self and religion

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Discuss the relationship between the self and religion

A relationship between the self and religion has existed for as long as historical record has been able to evidence it. Over the centuries since the introduction of Christianity, its role within countries, communities and the lives of individuals has been constantly changing. In 2008, 33% of the world’s population claimed to be Christians. In Britain 72% of the population is Christian but only 10% attend church on a weekly basis. This illustrated how the role of religion has been somewhat diminished in recent times and perhaps hints at the failing relationship between religion and the self. During the lives of John Donne and George Herbert, the public’s relationship with religion was vastly different. Both men were ordained in the Church of England and it would have been very unusual for anyone in Britain not to attend church regularly. This contrast throws up the question about just how much religion can impact upon the self. Another important note is that of the differences between religion and God. Different denominations of the Christian church have slightly different sets of rules and beliefs which can. However, there are several fundamental aspects of Christianity that are important to all denominations. These include; moral rules on how to live life the way God wants, a sense of humility before the God who creates man, a highlighting of human weakness as they fall victim to sinfulness, the sense of comfort or hope from God in difficult times and finally the promise of eternal life. All these aspects are covered in the poetry of Donne and Herbert and are still relevant to believers today, even if their numbers are in decline.

In the cases of Donne and Herbert, their relationship with religion is noted both in biographies about their lives and in their poetry. As poets often use their own experiences to inspire their writing, it is completely natural that a Dean of St Paul’s and a country pastor would write about God. George Herbert’s only published work, ‘The Temple’, consisted almost totally of religious focused poetry. Herbert’s path to a career as a pastor was not a straightforward one; he hesitated and worked as a politician before being ordained. He struggled to define his relationship with God and this is extremely evident in his work which he described as having ‘Primary emphasis always on the soul’s inner architecture’.John Donne, on the other hand, had a more turbulent relationship with his religion. He was born into a Roman Catholic family after England had converted to Protestantism. This had a huge impact upon his life, he was not able to graduate from Oxford or have a career in the public service. Consequently he made the decision to convert to the Church of England and as a result, he was forced by King James to embark upon an ecclesiastical career. A preoccupying thought in Donne’s mind was that of the quest for true religion. He believed in looking for God, not simply accepting a religion. The poetry of both Donne and Herbert raises issues and tackles concepts of religion which were important to them but the work can also illustrate, to some extent a general relationship between the self and religion.

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‘The Collar’ by George Herbert explores one of the fundamental problems the self experiences with religion. The rules religion places upon a follower do, of course, help them live their lives in a way in which God wants but it more often than not leaves a believer feeling trapped and unable to live life to the full. The irregular form and consequent irregular rhythm in the poem reflects the angry outburst of the speaker. The passionate tone is carried through Herbert’s questioning ‘Shall I ever sigh and pine?’ and his dissatisfaction with being tied down continues when he ...

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