I have had this book for a while, but my curiosity was piqued after I read
Invincible Louisa, a biography of Luisa May
Alcott. They were Transcendentalists, who followed the doctrine of the Unitarian Church, which was popular at the time and included many well known
authors and other important people. According to the biography, this book was almost a Bible to the Alcotts, and indeed, the blurb on the back
cover of my edition states "Often rated second in importance to the Bible as a Christian document, this famous story of a man's progress through life in
search of salvation remains one of the most entertaining allegories of faith ever written."
First let me comment on the blurb. As my regular readers know, I am not Christian, so some of the material here is really quite opposed to everything I believe. I am a big fan of Jesus, and write about him all the time in my Bible series, but not for the same reasons that Christians hold him in reverence. The whole salvation thing is to me a bit silly—that humans are born into sin because of Adam and Eve and there is nothing they can do about it except accept the "fact" that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. To me that is a Reptilian invention from the beginning to keep humans in a state of disempowerment. Though I am not Buddhist, I certainly agree more with that philosophy that all who devote their lives to seeking the highest level of spiritual attainment will eventually reach it through living with integrity, compassion, generosity, selflessness, and all the other qualities that lead us out of material lust and into the perfection of our souls. Do I believe in "original sin?" No, but I believe there are evil forces on this planet and off who feed off our unwholesome behavior who have set traps and lures to keep us in the lowest possible levels of spiritual evolution. And we are witnessing that now as things are coming to a head after all these eons of darkness. And in that respect, there is a great deal in this book that highly resonates with me, which I will elaborate upon.
The other issue, and this is a big one, is this Christian thing of "fearing God." I always wonder, to them, is fear part of love? People who have loving parents generally do not fear them. And by the same token, a woman who has a husband that beats the shit out of her certainly fears him, and unfortunately may delude herself into thinking she loves him, however, being a sick sort of love. These people who "love God" because they fear he will send them to Hell have a distorted perception of love. Do I believe people are punished? Absolutely. Those who send out evil energy and practice evil behavior will eventually have it return to them ten-fold. That's just the way energy works. We've got a lot of unresolved karma on this planet now, and when goes around comes around, we are going to see some chilling self-induced punishment inflicted on a massive segment of the population.
This book is certainly the epitome of allegory, in fact, most of the characters do not have a "real" name, but their name signifies what they are. The main character's name is Christian, and later, we travel with his wife Christiana and her friend Mercy. However, their four sons are an exception, having "real" names: James, Joseph, Samuel and Matthew. Some of the other characters are named Evangelist and Great-heart, Mr. Money-love and Pliable. The blurb also refers to the book as "entertaining." Well, I dunno. The first time around it wasn't what I would call entertaining, but it is one of those books that I expect should be read numerous times, and each time will reveal more wisdom, and it IS a book of wisdom. And I suspect there is a lot more subtle humor here than I grasped the first time around.
John Bunyan began his book while in prison for violation of the Conventicle Act, a kind of religious persecution for not following the dictates of the Church of England. Yep, there's Christianity for ya'. His first incarceration was from 1660-1672, and the second, only six months in 1675. The First Part of the book was completed in 1677, and published in 1678. In 1684 the Second Part was added. The complete edition that I hold in my hands consists of both parts, plus two poems of "The Author's Apology" which begin each section. Part One ends with a Conclusion, and the Second Part ends with The Author's Vindications of the Pilgrim, Found at the End of His Holy War." Both the first and second parts are entitled "The Pilgrim's Progress, in the Similitude of a Dream," because they are both told by an unnamed narrator who is experiencing the journeys of his Pilgrims in his sleep.
In both parts, the Pilgrims set off on a physical journey, where they encounter all kinds of traps and pitfalls, and malicious people who try to lure them from their path. But they also meet those who are very good and helpful, sent by God or Jesus, and even Jesus himself, to rescue them and set them straight. But in each case, the individual person always has free-will to make their own decision. They meet up with fellow travelers, who either lose their way or stick it through.
There is a great difference between the two parts. In the first, it really does resemble a journey of physical travel towards a goal, that being the Celestial City. The time it takes to reach the River does not seem terribly long. And so, Christian and his companion Hopeful both cross the River and are welcomed into Paradise. I found it interesting about the River, because if you go back to ancient mythology, for instance The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil, Aeneas had to cross the River Styx to get to Paradise where he could speak with his father. Remember, Christianity does have its roots in Paganism! But the thing is, the fact that these two men actually died is not stated, in other words, they have travelled on a journey to death. But it doesn't seem like that has happened because they cross over and are still very much alive, living in riches and playing harps.
It is not until the second part that the fact that Christiana's husband has died is actually stated. Here, she feels shame and remorse for not accompanying her husband on his journey. She now knows she was wrong, and receives the calling that she must pack up her kids and leave. As in the first part, the townsfolk of the City of Destruction deride her and think her foolish for her decision, except for a young woman named Mercy who does not believe she herself is worthy, but is encouraged by Christiana to accompany her. She does, and her confidence grows along the way.
In this part, the Pilgrims travel the same path, meeting many of the same people, but since Christian's story has been made public and popular, they know what things now to avoid. Plus, Bunyan obvious thought women and children needed extra protection, and I don't have a problem with that, so he supplies a Guide named Mr. Great-heart, who accompanies them to the end. They still have troubles and tough times, but nowhere near what Christian endured. And many of the bad guys, such as the giants who attacked Christian and his companions, are now killed by Mr. Great-heart and other strong men who join the company. And some weak ones join the company, too, such as Mr. Feeble-mind and Much-Afraid, who are not judged because they are weak, but welcomed because they, too desire salvation. So by the time they reach the River, there is a whole entourage of people.
But years have passed since the journey began. The sons have all grown up and married and had children, one wife being Mercy. And so, unlike Christian, this group has had a life along the way (or so it appears). And unlike the first part, where Christian and Hopeful immediately walk through the river, in the second part, each character is requested by messenger to join the Lord in his kingdom. In other words, they are each told they are going to die, so there is also mourning. In the first part, no one was with the two Pilgrims to mourn their death, and it was very much more like a triumph and celebration. The children and grandchildren remain on earth for now.
There is so much wisdom in this book, that much of it is not grasped the first time through. Each trial and tribulation, each hill and valley they travel, such as the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" or the Hill "Difficulty" represents obstacles and dangers we all face. In the first part, Christian was a sort of pioneer, often falling into the traps, but in the second part, the way was more clear through his experience. Christian's first companion, Faithful, is tortured and executed in the city of Vanity Fair, but when Christiana and her company pass through, the people there have evolved into a more compassionate folk, which represents spiritual evolution. By the way, William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, Vanity Fair was named after Bunyan's creation.
As mentioned above, no matter whether you are Christian or not, life, at least in the situation we are in now, is rife with all the pitfalls, obstacles and temptations, or tempters that the Pilgrims experienced. Christian was warned to walk the Straight and Narrow Path, and so must we, lest we get pulled into a materialistic world that will be our utter destruction, and as we look around we see that it most definitely is, here and now. Christian yearned for a world of no pain or death, where he would be free of all the earthly horrors. So do I, but I don't call it Heaven. Buddhists and Hindus call it Nirvana. I just want to move to a different planet. At the beginning of the first part, Christian is carrying a heavy burden upon his back, and it is called sin. I am carrying a heavy burden, too, but I call it the Reptilian mind-control program. And just as Christian's burden suddenly falls off and is gone, so too will my burden and yours, no matter what it is because we are all carrying them in our present incarnation, and when we work them off, no matter how, they will be gone. There is so much here that is illuminating, and despite the fact that I would not call this a fun read, at least first time through, I still HIGHLY recommend reading it. It has become an inspiration for me.
Wikipedia has a great article on this book which includes a listing of characters and places, and a cool map showing the journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, pictured below.
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