American Literature Week 8 Cotton Mather’s Sermon

Prompt: “If you had been a member of the General Court, how would this sermon have influenced your politics? Why?”

Cotton Mather was a minister born into Boston in the early 1700’s. He wrote the sermon Theopolis Americana: An Essay on the Golden Street of the Holy City in 1710. His sermon spoke mainly about his religious theology. He also spoke of incorporating those theologies into politics and trade, he believed that if the marketplace functioned within the “golden rule of Christ” it would blossom into a much more virtuous economy. This golden rule was charity, honesty, and viewing your consumers as your brothers. Instead of seeing those who bought your goods as cash cows ready to be milked, look at them the way Christ insisted we should all look at each other. We are all human in the end, and our shared humanity is much more valuable than any trade good. We should not swindle each other, steal from each other, or deceive each other. But instead we should treat our neighbors as we would treat our family; if we ever trade with our family we do it in a fair, honest, and charitable way.

Mather was also an early radical in the sense that he completely condemned slavery. He made a point that many in those days would never consider, the fact that the capture of Africans for the slave trade was kidnapping. In the same way kidnapping your neighbors child is horrendous, kidnapping foreign peoples for slavery was just as terrible. We should look at each other as brothers, our humanity binds us together. Kidnapping others for slavery is letting avarice and sloth blind an individual from the truth, it was a terrible corruption and should be treated as such.

I believe these two arguments are quite true, and extremely virtuous for that time period. Mather was ahead of his time in many ways. But sadly Mather did have some negative views, mainly his views on the Jewish people. He believed Jews would eventually be converted to Christianity, and that once this occurred the world would become the garden of God. He believed that Jerusalem would be rebuilt, and New England’s streets would be metaphorically paved with gold. He did revoke his beliefs about Jewish people near the end of this life, but that sermon was never officially released and therefor never widely viewed by the public.

If I were a member of the General Court listening to Mather’s sermon I would take away several main points. The first is his views on humanity. I highly admire his beliefs on the free market and on slavery. If I had any power in those days I would encourage those views to grow within the public. We should see each other as family and friends, especially when we are engaged in commerce with each other. We should treat each other kindly and fairly, and at the end of a trade both the producer and the consumer should walk away content with their shared engagement. We should also never kidnap each other or steal one another’s freedom.

If we truly are the children of God then we are all equal, and should treat each other as such. We are humanity, and each individual is an essential piece of humanity. We should treat each other with respect and care, for no individual is any better than another. I believe Mather was correct in his view that if we want our world to be the kingdom of God we must treat each of our fellow humans as if they themselves held Gods divine spark. Christ said that God is not a force separate from us, but instead he is within all of us. If each of us interacted with each other the same way we would interact if we were in the direct presence of God, well, then the world may already be the kingdom of God.

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