The Religious Dimension of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe’s discovery of the work ethic on the small island goes hand in hand with a spiritual awakening. Robinson Crusoe is not a very profound religious thinker, although religion is part of his education and transformation. He claims he reads the Bible, and he is prepared to quote it from time to time. But he doesn’t puzzle over it or even get involved in the narrative or character attractions of the stories. The Bible for him appears to be something like a Dale Carnegie handbook of maxims to keep the work on schedule and to stifle any possible complaints or longings for a different situation. Still, the religious dimension is central to Robinson Crusoe.
Robinson Crusoe’s interpretation of his life links the financial success directly and repeatedly with his growth in religious awareness. This is not an intellectual conversion but, simply put, an awareness that he has, in some ways, received God’s grace and is under His care. The growing profitability of his efforts is proof of such a spiritual reward. This awareness fills him with a sense of guilt for his former life and a great desire to be relieved of that guilt. The desire to be relieved from that feeling of guilt, in fact, is much stronger than Robinson Crusoe’s desire to be delivered from the island.
Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the 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 delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no considerations in comparison to this; and I added 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. (98)
Like a true Puritan, here Robinson Crusoe acknowledges that for him the real drama of life, the stuff that really matters, is internal. Internal guilt is so much more central to life than external affliction. Thus, complaining about affliction misses the point. The task is to earn the grace of God - and ease the guilt. In such a spiritual drama, one’s geographical location is a minor point. Robinson Crusoe’s absence from home is, in a very real way, irrelevant to what life is all about. If the central metaphor of life is the spiritual relationship between oneself and God, in comparison with which all social bonds are basically irrelevant, then we are on islands. So what does it really matter if I find myself on a real island. The priorities of life remain the same.
That’s why the central image of this book is Robinson Crusoe’s home on the island, that amazing fortress built on an island where there is nothing to threaten him. He puts more effort into the complex defense works to keep himself and his goods,...