I’m doing a lot of reading and research into the Cultural Shadow, and I’m not the only one seeing this connection. I’ve mentioned before that we’ve inherited a lot of old, unexamined beliefs from the Puritans. I didn’t realize, until I started digging into it, just how deep our inheritance went.
Puri– Wha? History lesson time
Disclaimer: I am a student of all religions, and treat them all with equally cavalier loving analysis. I adore all of them, and don’t ascribe to any of them. So please see my pithy commentary here as the one-woman IDGAF voice of believing in God and all Gods and Goddesses are the same Divine Ineffable that is too big for us to comprehend, amen.
Everybody remembers that out of persecution, Christianity solidified and codified into Roman Catholicism. Priests were special and had the red phone hotlines to God. You could maybe get a Saint to pull a string for you, but really, day to day believers didn’t even speak the Latin the liturgy was presented in.
That was the thing until Martin Luther wrote his ninety-five theses in 1517 and said that all believers were able to pray directly to God without an intermediary. This is the idea of “Priesthood of the believer” and the root of the split between Catholicism and Protestant Christianity.
Meanwhile, in 1534 in England, King Henry VIII was sick of beheading brides and just wanted a divorce. The Anglican church was born. It was a tweak on Catholicism that wasn’t really Protestant so much as it was Royally decreed.
Enter the Calvinists – These guys (named after John Calvin) really took off between 1531 and 1555. Their main tenet was summed up with the springy acronym TULIP and the concept was that people were totally evil, God picked who was getting into heaven, and you were either getting into heaven or you weren’t, so there.
By the 1600’s the world “puritan” was actually a slur, and meant something along the lines of “killjoy” or “stickler”. The Puritans were Calvinist Protestants who wanted to reform the Church of England, rather than starting from scratch with another faith system. Mostly, they wanted to strip it of all ceremony, music, pomp and opulence. They briefly won political power in Cromwell’s England and then disastrously lost it.
In the 1630s, they got on their boats and crossed the Atlantic to create a NEW England. One that wasn’t busy with all of the fufaraw of royalty and old habits like dancing.
10 Key Things to Know About New England’s Puritans
I’m going to have to write separate deep dive posts into each of these. But I want to sum them up here, because they will intertwine later.
- Priesthood of the Believer
- The Nature of Man is Evil – aka the original sin. This is the “T” of TULIP – “Total Depravity” – and the Puritans liked to lean heavily on bits and pieces of the Adam and Eve story depending upon their messages.
- Purity is the highest ideal. The Puritans wanted to purify worship, and simplify it. Austerity, Simplicity, Moderation were all Puritanical ideals.
- God orders the universe, and social hierarchy is ordained by God and predestined. This means that poor people are destined to be poor, and rich people are destined to be rich, and desiring a change in your position is a commission of the sin of Pride. Pride is the Devil’s own Sin. Likewise, your calling / vocation was ordained by God, and idleness was a sin, while diligence in your calling was a virtue.
- The social hierarchy was this: Fathers were more important than Sons. Men were more important than Women. Everyone else was sorted by wealth.
- Their social, political and economic structure was based on land ownership, and a young man’s inheritance of land from his father was the point at which he met his majority and adult autonomy.
- Due to #6, there were a LOT of rules and laws about inheritance of property and making sure that property rights were passed down in an orderly and timely fashion.
- Demonic forces and the Devil were absolutely alive and active realities for the Puritans. Witches, magic, maleficence, the whole deal.
- The Puritans strove for religious exclusiveness within their communities. They didn’t want to mingle with Quakers (who were not strict enough by far), Catholics, or really anyone else.
- They really valued education, particularly literacy. And created the first instance of free public education. (Public schools! Yay! And Harvard! Woot!)
I’m going to need to write separate posts about the legacy of the New England Puritans that is still shaping how we live in 2017. T
I don’t usually publish more than one post in a single day, but this had to go out in pack. The links below are all of the posts I’ve written on this topic:
- How 1600s inheritance laws shape 2017 sexual morés
- The unhealed wound of the Witch Trials (and how we could heal it)
- Women Were a Puritanical Philosophical Quandary
- The living tension of the ordained Hierarchy
As this is going to be the starting place for my cultural shadow work amongst the Puritans, I do want to say a little bit more along the history-lesson line. The death knell of the Puritan’s way of life was diversity. A rising merchant class that didn’t rely on land, and varying religious groups entering the economies of New England towns were ultimately what did the Puritans in.