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date: 05 December 2020

Puritanism: The Sense of an Unendinglocked

  • John McWilliams

Extract

On the rare occasion when a contemporary American recalls “the Puritans,” the image likely to come to mind is of a killjoy, sure of his own spiritual rectitude, anxious to enforce it upon others, and possessed by the nagging fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy. “The Puritans,” we believe, could have had no appreciation of earthly beauty, let alone of sensual pleasure, because they saw this world darkly through the lens of their corrosive sense of universal sin and therefore lived only to pursue the radiance of the afterlife. This perspective, to modern readers, may seem mere simpleminded unreason and angry rant. Above all, we associate the historical Puritan with ministers and governors whose minds were blinded with patriarchal certitude of the most repellent sort. We imagine the Puritan to be smugly reflecting, in darkest night: “Because I know that God has elected me for an eternity of heavenly bliss, I am entitled to rule over all unworthy sinners, over all you women, children, and common laborers, and to force you to follow in my virtuous path. I have God's assurance that I am more pure than thou.”

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