Posted On July 20, 2022
Everyone is familiar with the Puritans. At least familiar with the popular story about the Puritans. You know the one. That these deeply religious people left England in pursuit of religious freedom and so they went to the “new world” and set up a colony and they experienced hardship in the winter, but held a celebration with the native tribes that later became known at Thanksgiving.
Here’s the reality. The Puritans wanted to “reform” the Church of England to “complete” the Reformation. The church was too Catholic apparently for them. And by purifying it, they wanted to impose their ideas on the church so everyone would follow what they wanted. But the church wouldn’t give in. So the Puritans left when they realized they couldn’t get their way. Not for the new world. They went to Holland instead. Because Holland was known as living into religious freedom where people could come and practice their religion freely – free from government interference and from religious interference in government. But the Puritans didn’t want that. They discovered that people weren’t too keen on the Puritan ideas being imposed on everyone regardless of their religious belief. Go figure – religious freedom actually means religious freedom, not free to impose your beliefs on everyone else.
So the Puritans made a deal with a trade company and headed out to New England to establish a colony. Since the beginning, they had no intention of making a religiously free colony – they left that in Holland. No, it was meant to be a Puritan colony. The Puritans were attempting to implement a theocracy. Part of their beliefs centered on the idea that God had selected them as special and blessed with the right answers and the right way of living. So much so that they believed that God had ordained them to impose this right way of thinking, believing, and acting on everyone else within their sphere of influence – that the society would flow from the church and in fact there would be no separation between the two at all. Dissent would not be tolerated. Puritans weren’t big on doubts or questions being asked either.
Only the elect, the chosen ones, had the right to vote and to rule. Everyone else was subject to these chosen men and what they believed. And everyone was to follow a strict moral code that had a special emphasis on sexuality and the role of men and women.
Sound familiar? Sounds like a short description of what we are experiencing with fundamentalist/evangelical religious belief being implemented through partisan/political means onto everyone else regardless of their belief. I have read articles about fundamentalist/evangelically oriented politicians proposing levels of citizenship, strict moral and sexual codes, who is considered a citizen, and more. The Puritans would be proud.
Puritanism supposedly died out by the end of the 1700’s. I think it just took a break. Puritanism has deep roots in the formation of this nation and its culture. And as a nation, we haven’t rid ourselves of Puritanism. It’s still alive and well, and still not accepting of religious freedom or freedom of thought and belief. Puritanism 2.0 still believes that the adherents of it are the true chosen ones who deserve to rule over others regardless of election results. Still believing that they get to determine how others will live and what they will believe.
Here’s the challenge for all of us – how are we each Puritans in our own way? Control over ourselves and control over others has great appeal for all of us. To claim with certainty that “I am right because God has chosen me” is seductive. Who doesn’t think their beliefs are the right ones and are what is best for everyone?
There’s a reason that Puritanism died out before, just like all authoritarian ways – the burden is too heavy and it is exhausting. Aren’t we tired of such ways? And the promise that control offers never lives up to it. Like any drug, it disappoints.