Gray Hair Wisdom

Pilgrim’s Progress, The Celestial Railroad and the United States

a quote from: Addresses by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver

A friend once said – I think shrewdly — that if people want to understand the United States, they need to read two documents. Neither one is the Declaration of Independence. Neither one is the Constitution. In fact, neither one has anything obviously to do with politics. The first document is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The second is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Celestial Railroad.

Bunyan’s book is one of history’s great religious allegories. It’s also deeply Christian. It embodies the Puritan, Protestant hunger for God that drove America’s first colonists and shaped the roots of our country.

Hawthorne’s short story, of course, is a very different piece. It’s one of the great satires of American literature. A descendant of Puritans himself, Hawthorne takes Bunyan’s allegory – man’s difficult journey toward heaven – and retells it through the lens of American hypocrisy: our appetite for comfort, easy answers, quick fixes, material success and phony religious piety.

Bunyan and Hawthorne lived on different continents 200 years apart. But the two men did share one thing. Both men – the believer and the skeptic — lived in a world profoundly shaped by Christian thought, faith and language; the same moral space that incubated the United States.

via Addresses by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver


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