This book is a particularly important classic book for Christian readers to go through. When we think of Walden, if we know anything about it, we have the general sense that Thoreau attempted to live a simple life. We know Thoreau moved out to the woods, built himself tiny cabin, and lived there for a stretch of time. You may think Thoreau to be a vain commentator on the beauty of nature and the importance of saving animal lives, or something like that, but Thoreau’s thesis is not about animals or nature. He is always writing about humanity.
If we know a little more, we call to mind the phrase “Simplify, simplify!” but without context we are left to dismiss Thoreau’s philosophy and untranslatable into the 21st century. We think he is only ever talking about getting rid of our stuff, in some secularized form of Jesus’s command for the rich man to give away all his belongings. And he is doing that, to some degree, because he has witnessed how the human soul grows sour through unhealthy reliance upon the material world.
If we know even more, we’d know to call Thoreau a Transcendentalist. Commonly referred to as the religion of the American Romanticists. [But at my back I always hear / My lit professor running near / “Romanticism is a lie” / A falsehood of a time gone by [[But honestly, I don’t care because I’m not in graduate school anymore and I can use the term American Romanticism and much as I want, so get over it]]]. More of a philosophy than a religion, Transcendentalism highlighted the human connection to the divine, and our ability to witness and participate in the Sublime.
I appreciate this philosophy, though I have contentions with it, for how it blends Humanism with Christianity. Humanism, as one of its defining qualities, points to the great ability of humankind: We can do great things as communities and as individuals. Christianity, as one of its defining qualities, points to the connection between us and God: We can form a real relationship to the Divine Being, creator of the Universe.
Thoreau is no Christian. The divine for him is something other than the God of the Bible. but this does not mean that we should reject his philosophy outright. He teaches great truth about striving for the divine, about worshiping the divine, and letting go of our own ego so that we may be filled by the divine. I feel comfortable saying that what he says is helpful when we replace his notion of the divine for our own.
Walden is nothing short of necessary for the creative person. In his reflections on the potential of the morning, the brightness of the sun, the infinite depth of the pond, the lessons learned from visitors, Thoreau offers countless timeless expressions, each of which could motivate you for years on end. When it comes to share-worthy quotes, Thoreau has no equal.