On the negative image of Puritans

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read something scathing or harshly critical about Puritans. I certainly don’t go looking for it, but it’s very easy to find.  No matter what the topic is someone manages to bring Puritans into it, and in a negative way.

My best guess why this is so is just that most Americans are dedicated hedonists and they dislike anyone they perceive as being opposed to their particular pleasures or vices. Puritans have always been associated with prudishness and killjoy-ism.  Whether that association is accurate is questionable; it’s a facile stereotype for lazy people.

‘Prudishness’ is loathed by most Americans it seems. Sometimes plain old healthy morals are labeled ”narrow-minded’ or ‘judgmental.” Does anybody honestly believe that our decadent and lewd society is ”too judgmental”?  Seriously?

But the fact is that most Americans know little factual information about Puritans or who they were, how they lived. It would take a book, at least, to convey that kind of in-depth information, though there are some good books out there — if someone wants to read them, which I doubt. Much easier to cling to hackneyed stereotypes.

Still, if you want to see an example of some very biased tropes about Puritans, look at this.

The author asserts that Puritans were ‘just as violent as Muslims.’ The writer is, I think, from a Middle Eastern country.

“These Puritans were no different than Muslims in their violence and sanguine fanaticism. They took the king, Charles I, and sentenced him to be beheaded. Before he was decapitated, this king spoke the words of a martyr. “I go,” he said, “from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can have place.” The savage heretic snapped his head off, and then lifted his head up high before the wicked mob, and said with demonic fury:

This is the head of a traitor!

Once the Puritans took over England they, like most revolutionaries, had no idea how to properly run a nation without the frenzy and rapacious nature of a vicious and mobbish tyrant. The Puritan terrorists now ran the country, they did no under the guise of a fundamentalist cult and religion.”

Well, first of all, there were many people beheaded in Europe during that era; it was not some barbaric innovation of the Puritans.  And at the beginning the Puritans, or Separatists, were a small, powerless group not in a position to ‘persecute’ anyone, only to react in self-defense. To liken them to Moslems is not justified.

The Puritans, or my Separatist-colonist ancestors, did not ‘behead’ anyone, including King Charles I. Their means of defense was to go to the new colony in Massachusetts and live amongst people with whom they agreed, rather than to wage a campaign of terrorism. Then they have been criticized for not wanting to welcome dissenters like Anne Hutchinson. To do that would have eventually put them back in the same predicament they faced in England. Then their arduous trip across the ocean would have been in vain. Can we blame them for not wanting more dissension and possible religious schisms?

By the way, I don’t agree with regicide, even of Charles I. ”Fear God, honour the King”  (I Peter, 2:17). But does the author really not know that both Puritans and other sects. both Protestant and Catholic, engaged in the ‘religious wars’ of the 16th-17th centuries? Henry VIII beheaded people rather cavalierly, and he was not a Puritan;  his Protestantism was not a matter of theology but expediency. Does the author condemn him or just the Puritans? I don’t have the patience to read the whole ‘hit piece’.

The comments add only more vilification of Puritans or Protestants generally, as well as Anglo-Saxons. And these people who write such comments are always out in force on certain blogs with their anti-Anglo and anti-Protestant diatribes. It’s beyond old.

More than a few comments are from Irish or Irish-Americans who have never forgotten past ‘outrages’, real or imagined. Haven’t we got enough grievance-mongering and demanding reparations and apologies over long-ago disputes? Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations or something?

But here’s the question that begs to be asked: why did the author choose to live or work or earn his living in a country founded by Anglo-Saxons, or a country in which Puritans made up a sizable portion of the settler stock? Why not find a country whose people are more to one’s liking? Why did the ancestors of the other Puritan-loathers choose the ordeal of crossing the Atlantic if they had past, longstanding, bitter, unforgiving grievances against the people who created that country, and who opened their doors to their settling there?

Like it or not, all these complaining people have benefited from this country and the Anglo-Saxon, Protestant/Puritan legacy — or they wouldn’t have remained all these centuries. Just as with today’s people who do nothing but condemn our country and folk and yet they won’t get up and become expatriates as integrity would dictate.

I’ll offer here, oddly enough, a quote from a Puritan descendant, James Russell Lowell.

“New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth.

They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth.

Lo! Before us gleam her campfires! We must ourselves Pilgrims be,

Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly, through the desperate winter sea!”

Lowell, in the first line of the quote, about ‘new occasions’ teaching ‘new duties’, is referencing slavery. He was an abolitionist like most New England intellectuals at that time, and they had the idea that God intended for them to ‘discover’ new religious truths, though this is not Biblical; Christians are warned not to ‘add to, or take from‘ the Word of God. Was this from Puritanism? I doubt it; it seems more to be influenced by the New England ‘Transcendentalism’ which was in turn influenced by Eastern religions.

Though their religious beliefs took a wrong turning (in my opinion) there is no justification for the kind of unreasoning malice and resentment of many people towards Puritans, or for Anglo-Americans in general. Yet few of us ever speak up and try to give responses to this trashing of our forebears.

There are lots of good books out there about the early history of our colonies, and about Puritans generally. Be wary of newer books with their biases; go to older sources. That’s what is lacking in most people’s education today: a historical perspective and an open mind.

We find ourselves, like Lowell, in “the desperate winter sea” of a crisis. In part it is, sadly, because of the virtue-signaling Puritans like Lowell –and  John Brown was the other side of the same coin; another Yankee who felt two wrongs make a right. They helped to create the unsolvable problem we now face. But then we cannot blame the original Puritans; they were cut from a different cloth, in a different time, and don’t deserve infamy.






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