Study Guide

Robinson Crusoe Religion

By Daniel Defoe

Religion

…I consulted neither Father or Mother any more, nor so much as sent them Word of it; but leaving them to hear of it as they might, without asking God's Blessing, or my Father's, without any Consideration of Circumstances or Consequences and in an ill Hour, God knows. On the first of <em>September</em> 1651 I went on Board a Ship bound for <em>London;</em> never any young Adventurer's Misfortunes, I believe, began sooner, or continued longer than mine. (9)

Crusoe thumbs his nose at his family, but most importantly, he undertakes his adventures without the blessing of God. He is therefore at odds with Providence.

In a word, as the Sea was returned to its Smoothness of Surface and settled Calmness by the Abatement of that Storm, so the Hurry of my Thoughts being over, my Fears and Apprehensions of being swallow'd up by the Sea being forgotten, and the Current of my former Desires return'd, I entirely forgot the Vows and Promises that I made in my Distress. (10)

At the beginning of the novel, Crusoe has a tendency to call on the help of God when his life is in danger (that is, when the ocean is super stormy), and then to forget about all that religious stuff when he's sailing on smooth waters. Notice how the ever-changing sea serves as a useful metaphor for thinking about Crusoe's fickle relationship with God.

However he afterwards talk'd very gravely to me, exhorted me to go back to my Father, not to tempt Providence to my Ruine; told me I might see a visible Hand of Heaven against me, <em>And young Man,</em> said he, <em>depend upon it, if you do not go back, where-ever you go, you will meet with nothing but Disasters and Disappointments till your Father's Words are fulfilled upon you.</em> (15)

The curse of Crusoe's father continues, as Crusoe disobeys not only parental authority but, as the Captain implies, the authority of Providence. Crusoe, however, is determined to defy both.

He offer'd me also 60 Pieces of Eight more for my Boy <em>Xury,</em> which I was loath to take, not that I was not willing to let the Captain have him, but I was very loath to sell the poor Boy's Liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. However when I let him know my Reason, he own'd it to be just, and offer'd me this Medium, that he would give the Boy an Obligation to set him free in ten Years, if he turn'd Christian; upon this, and Xury saying he was willing to go to him, I let the Captain have him. (30)

Crusoe may be reluctant to sell Xury into slavery, but Crusoe clearly does not regard Xury as his equal. Why does Crusoe consider himself superior to Xury? Why does Xury have to be converted to Christianity in order to escape enslavement?

I had a dismal Prospect of my Condition, for as I was not cast away upon that Island without being driven, as is said, by a violent Storm quite out of the Course of our intended Voyage, and a great Way, <em>viz.</em> some Hundreds of Leagues out of the ordinary Course of the Trade of Mankind, I had great Reason to consider it as a Determination of Heaven, that in this desolate Place, and in this desolate Manner I should end my life; the Tears would run plentifully down my Face when I made these Reflections, and sometimes I would expostulate with my self, Why Providence should thus completely ruine its Creatures, and render them so absolutely miserable, so without Help abandon'd, so entirely depress'd, that it could hardly be rational to be thankful for such a Life. (54)

Crusoe is in a fit of despair at his landing on the island and wonders why Providence (i.e., God) would send him to such a place. He correlates the storms on the ocean with the will of God. His life on the island will become a test of his faith.

…also I found three very good Bibles which came to me in my Cargo from <em>England,</em> and which I had pack'd up among my things (56)

Notice that three Bibles are among the wreckage of the ship. The Bible is hugely important for Crusoe's time on the island, as it will serve as his moral compass and means of spiritual reformation.

In this Interval, the good Advice of my Father came to my Mind, and presently his Prediction which I mentioned at the Beginning of the Story, <em>viz. That if I did take this foolish Step, God would not bless me, and I would have Leisure hereafter to reflect upon having neglected his Counsel, when there might be none to assist in my Recovery.</em> Now, said I aloud, My dear Father's Words are come to pass: God's Justice has overtaken me, and I have none to help or hear me: I rejected the Voice of Providence, which had mercifully put me in a Posture or Station of Life, wherein I might have been happy and easy; but I would neither see it my self, or learn to know the Blessing of it from my Parents; I left them to mourn over my Folly, and now I am left to mourn under the Consequences of it: I refus'd their Help and Assistance who would have lifted me into the World, and wou'd have made every Thing easy to me, and now I have Difficulties to struggle with, too great for even Nature itself to support, and no Assistance, no Help, no Comfort, no Advice; then I cry'd out, <em>Lord be my Help, for I am in Great Distress.</em> (78)

In the grips of the flu (or "Ague" as Crusoe calls it on page 75), Crusoe has a fever dream in which a man comes down from the heavens and admonishes him for not yet repenting, and tries to kill him with a spear. He begins to see that his past behaviors have been sinful and his miseries are punishments for his rebellious behavior. He finally repents and utters his first prayer. This is the beginning of Crusoe's spiritual life.

Now I began to construe the Words mentioned above, <em>Call on me, and I will deliver you,</em> in a different Sense from what I had ever done before; for then I had no Notion of any thing being call'd Deliverance, but my being deliver'd from the Captivity I was in; for tho' I was indeed at large in the Place, yet the Island was certainly a Prison to me, and that in the worst Sense in the World; but now I learn'd to take it in another Sense: Now I look'd back upon my past Life with such Horrour, and my Sins appear'd so dreadful, that my Soul sought nothing of God, but Deliverance from he Load of Guilt that bore down all my Comfort: As for my solitary Life it was nothing; I did not so much as pray to be deliver'd from it, or think of it; It was all of no Consideration in Comparison to this: And I add this Part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true Sense of things, they will find Deliverance from Sin a much greater Blessing, than Deliverance from Affliction. (83)

Crusoe rethinks the meaning of "deliverance" in that he now realizes it's not the island that he needs to be saved from. Oh, no. It's his own sins. Paradigm shift, anyone?

Religion joyn'd in with this Prudential, and I was convinc'd now many Ways, that I was perfectly out of my Duty, when I was laying all my bloody Schemes for the Destruction of innocent Creatures, I mean innocent as to me: As to the Crimes they were guilty of towards one another, I had nothing to do with them; they were National, and I ought to leave them to the Justice of God, who is the Governour of Nations, and knows how by National Punishments to make a just Retribution for National Offences; and to bring publick Judgments upon those who offend in a publick Manner, by such Ways as best pleases him. (146)

After much thought Crusoe, realizes that he cannot kill the cannibals, since that would be taking up God's office. It's up to God to punish nations of people who do wrong, not an individual man. Note, however, that Crusoe does later decide to intervene in the cannibals' actions when he sees that they are ready to kill and eat a Spaniard. Why?

During the long Time that Friday has now been with Me, and that he began to speak to me, and understand me, I was not wanting to lay a Foundation of religious Knowledge in his Mind; particularly I ask'd him one Time who made him? (182)

Crusoe renames Friday, teaches him English, and then converts him to Christianity. Crusoe tells us that this becomes a way for Crusoe, as teacher, to better understand religion (185). The two engage in various theological debates. What is the effect, though, on Friday?

It was remarkable too, we had but three Subjects, and they were of three different Religions. My Man <em>Friday</em> was a Protestant, his Father was a <em>Pagan</em> and a <em>Cannibal,</em> and the Spaniard was a Papist: However, I allow'd Liberty of Conscience throughout my Dominions: But this is by the Way. (203)

Note that, though he urges Friday to convert to Christianity, Crusoe allows different religions to exist on the society of the island.

I might well say, now indeed, the latter End of <em>Job</em> was better than the Beginning. It is impossible to express here the Flutterings of my very Heart, when I look'd over these Letters, and especially when I found all my Wealth about me; for as the <em>Brasil</em> Ships come all in Fleets, the same Ships which brought my Letters, brought my Goods; and the Effects were safe in the River before the Letters came to my Hand. (239)

Crusoe compares himself to Job, a character from the Old Testament of the Bible. Job suffered relentlessly (plagues, loss of fortune, and all that), but he never lost his faith in God. Crusoe sees himself as a Job of sorts too, but one here who is rewarded with great wealth upon his return from the island.