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Puritans in American Religious History


These 43 slides are an outline for my lecture presentation on the role of the Puritans in American Religious History.

These 43 slides are an outline for my lecture presentation on the role of the Puritans in American Religious History.

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  • 1. Puritan Vision and Struggle in New England (Errand into the Wilderness)
  • 2. Who were the Puritans?
    • H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), journalist, freethinker, social critic, in "On Being an American" called the United States "... incomparably the best show on Earth….”
    • Also contains his famous quote describing Puritanism as "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy."
    • Common cultural conceptions, but how true are they??
  • 3.  
  • 4. Puritan Vision and Struggle
    • Part I: Theological Background
    • Part II: The Story and the Players
    • Part III: The Puritans Legacy in American Religious History
  • 5. Part I: Background
    • Conditions in England
    • Jean Calvin and Calvinism
    • (Reform Theology)
    • Politics in England
  • 6. Conditions in England
    • Persecution under James I
    • Charles I and Civil War
    • Oliver Cromwell
    • Restoration under Charles II
  • 7. Jean Calvin’s Theology
    • TULIP:
      • Total Depravity
      • Unconditional Election
      • Limited Atonement
      • Irresistible Grace
      • Perseverance of the Saints
    • Sovereignty of God, Predestination, Vocation
    • Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1920)
  • 8. Puritans, Precisemen, Precisionists
    • “ Puritan” originally used to describe a 3rd c. CE sect of heretics.
    • Came to be used as pejorative term(s) for “low church” Anglicans who favored further reform of the Church of England after Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
    • They referred to themselves as “the godly,” “the saintly,” or followers of “true religion.”
  • 9. Three Types of Puritans
    • Puritans who want to purify but remain in the Church of England.
    • Presbyterians who want to substitute Presbyterian form of church government for the Episcopalian.
    • Independents who want to purify and have only independent small churches.
          • Separatists like Pilgrims at Plymouth
          • Non-Separatists like Puritans of Massachusetts
  • 10. Independents’ Dilemma
    • Francis Mason (1605): “Then see, I beseech you, into what perplexities you cast yourselves. If you should conforme, you tell us that you should sinne, because it is against your conscience; and if you doe not conforme, wee must tell you that you sinne, because it is unjustifieable disobedience.”
    • Giles Widdowes (1630): “The Puritan tenet is, that Kings must bee subject to the Puritan Presbyters…Thus the oaths of Superacie, and allegiance are broken. This Puritan is an Arch-traitor.”
    • Samuel Brooke (1630): “Puritanism is the root of all rebellion and disobedient intractablenesse, and schism, and sauciness in the country.”
  • 11. Motivations for Exodus
    • “ Popish” Church of England
      • Book of Common Prayer
      • Hierarchies of bishops and King.
    • The difficulties with James and Charles and loss of Parliament (where they had support)
    • Puritan clergy concerned with the “contagion of wickedness” and its effect on the young people
    • The appeal of creating a Christian nation as an example/witness for the world - this was their Errand (into the wilderness).
      • Not motivated by economics or social equality
  • 12. Part II: Story and Players
    • Getting There
    • John Winthrop
    • Roger Williams
    • Anne Hutchinson and John Cotton
    • Indians
    • Declension and Witchcraft
    • Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening
  • 13. Getting There
    • Pilgrims (Separatists) arrive first:
    • 1607: a congregation from Nottingham goes to Holland. They become the Pilgrims. 1620: Mayflower sets out with 102 people for N. Virginia and land at Plymouth Rock. William Bradford (1590-1657) is governor for 30 years.
    • 12 of 26 men died; 18 of 21 women died in the first Winter. Thanksgiving for seeing the first harvest in 1621 (Squanto).
    • Small colony: 1000 in 1640 and 2000 in 1660 (compare to Boston with 20,000 in 1660)
    • Mayflower Compact
  • 14. Plymouth Colony
    • “… a great inward hope and zeal.” - William Bradford
    • Saw themselves as “stepping stones unto others…laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way therunto, for the propagating & advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”
    • Very humble, mainly intent on escaping worldly snares, not so interested in reforming the Church of England.
    • Absorbed into larger Massachusettes Colony in 1691.
  • 15. Getting (More) There
    • Royal Grant to all of New England in 1620 to the Council for New England.
    • Pilgrims were just one of various groups that settled along coast.
    • 1628 Council granted charter to a group of Puritan merchants - the New England Company (NEC).
    • John Endecott, a Puritan is sent to take charge of small Salem “Plantation”
    • 1629 (just before Charles dissolved parliament) NEC obtains a royal charter confirming the grant, now they become “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” - pretty independent now.
  • 16. Massachusetts Bay Colony
    • Not schizmatic like Pilgrims.
    • John Winthrop (1588-1649) sets sail aboard the Arbella in 1630 to establish covenantal community with God.
    • 400 men, women, children in first 4 ships - 600 more follow.
    • Land at Salem, but go to Boston peninsula - very defensible.
    • 200 die during first winter, 200 more call it quits by next Spring.
    • But many more arrive - 15,000-20,000 Puritans fled Charles’ attempt to rule without Parliament - “The Great Migration”
    • “… Citte on a hill…”
  • 17. John Winthrop
    • First Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony
    • Wealthy puritan merchant of some renown
    • “ And who knows, but that god hath provided this place, to be a refuge for manye, whom he means to save out of the general destruction.”
    • “ It hath pleased the Lorde to call me to further trust in this business of the plantation, than either I expected or finde my selfe fitt for.”
    • A great leader, organizer, and intensely religious.
  • 18.
    • “… the Lord will be out God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe… wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies…for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us.” -- Journals, John Winthrop (1630)
  • 19. Winthrop’s Ideas
    • “ Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into covenant with him for his work. We have taken out a commission, the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles.”
    • If the ships land safely, it would be God’s sign of having sealed the covenant. Should the people betray their promises, “…the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, be revenged of such a perjured people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.”
    • “… to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.”
    • “ We must be knit together as one man.”
    • “ We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body….then God in turn would delight to dwell among us as his own people.”
    • “ We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies.” - Journals.
  • 20. More on Massachusettes
    • The Puritan Way expanded to Connecticut and then to New Hampshire
    • Congregationalism = Puritanism
    • Edward Taylor, Puritan Poet wrote: “Lord, Can a Crumb of Dust the Earth outweigh Outmatch all mountains, nay the Chrystall Sky?” - humans are the dust.
    • Emphasis on education, Harvard founded just 7 years after landing. Each township had a school.
    • “ Salvation is given by God, not earned by women or men.” - Samuel Willard (1640-1707)
  • 21. Puritan Social Life
    • Education
    • Church membership = communion of saints
    • Family affection, covenantal relationships
    • Civil meetings take place in Meeting House = Church. Theocracy?
    • Humility
    • Emphasis/obsession on community/purity
    • Industriousness
    • Willingness to endure hardship, struggle, endure.
  • 22. Sources of Conflict
    • Winthrop came as the governor of Mass Colony
      • duty to establish the communal order, economic, legal, etc. responsibilities.
      • focused on the pragmatics and alert to dangers.
      • he thought that because the people of Boston were true Christians they had sin under control (not eradicated), but a healthy body can get rid of disease.
    • Roger Williams (1603-1682) comes to Boston in 1631 as minister, but had problems with the Puritans:
    • 1) shouldn’t claim to still be part of the C of E while pursuing diff paths of worship and thought - can not “build a square house on top of a ship’s keel.”
    • 2) no acknowledgement of Indians ownership of land. Not “empty land” - and who gave it to the King of England in the first place?
    • 3) Did not agree with “the setting up of civil power and officers to judge the conviction of men’s souls.”
  • 23. Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams
    • Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643)
      • Hutchinson sees Puritanism as a means of self-expression
      • she does a great job of discussing John Cotton’s sermons in her kitchen with as much as 80 people
      • she served as a teacher when it wasn’t allowed for women
    • Antinomianism “against the law”
    • Enthusiasm “presumption to be directly inspired by God” - like the prophets of old themselves.
  • 24. Ideological Differences
    • Preparation v. Assurance
      • the Winthrop people felt that the most you could look for in this life is the hope of salvation
      • the Hutchinson group (including John Cotton) said there is another stage
        • the sealing of the assurance where you have Christ in a union
        • consummation of the wedding (enthusiasm)
        • there is a new creature now, not happening later in heaven, Christ has taken over your personality
          • then you can do no wrong  there is no earthly, human law that can condemn or judge you (Antinomianism)
  • 25. Religious Dissent and Authority
    • Winthrop gathered ministers and town leaders together to put pressure on John Cotton and persuaded him over time to reject Hutchinson
    • Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts and moved to Rhode Island
      • She died in an Indian attack in 1643 in New York
    • Roger Williams is banished (in Winter) and then founds the colony of “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” based on religious freedom and tolerance.
      • Bought the land from Indians.
      • Organized a separate church
      • Determined that civil government would have nothing to do with religion.
  • 26.
    • Williams is exiled by law that was not revoked until 1936 with Massachusetts House Bill 488 which formally ended 300 years of exile
    • " Whereas Mr. Roger Williams, one of the Elders of the church of Salem, hath broached and divulged new and dangerous opinions against the authority of magistrates, as also written letters of defamation, both of the magistrates and churches here, and that before any conviction, and yet maintaineth the same without any retraction; it is, therefore, ordered that the said Mr. Williams shall depart out of this jurisdiction within six weeks now next ensuing . . . "
  • 27. Inscription on Monument:
    • Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony In 1638 Because of Her Devotion to Religious Liberty This Courageous Woman Sought Freedom From Persecution In New Netherland Near This Rock in 1643 She and Her Household Were Massacred by Indians
    • This Tablet is placed here by the Colonial Dames of the State of New York
    • Anno Domini MCMXI
  • 28. Indians
    • How to regard the native peoples?
    • Squanto (Tisquatum) - English speaking native who assisted Pilgrims through 1st winter. They would not have survived w/o him.
    • Pequot War (1637)
    • King Phillip’s War (1676) (Narangansetts)
    • Captives and exchange
    • Missionizing and “Praying Indians”
  • 29. Rhode Island: A New Idea
    • Rhode Island was established as the first secular state.
    • It emphasized democracy instead of theocracy or monarchy.
      • Election was done “by papers” (ballots) freely given by all free inhabitants
    • It also emphasized religious freedom.
      • Individuals were allowed to "walk as their conscience persuaded them, every one in the name of his God.”
      • “ Forced worship stinks in God’s nostrils.”
    • It emphasized the separation of church and state.
  • 30. Rhode Island and Williams Rejected
    • The “orthodox” Puritans of Massachusetts referred to Rhode Island as “the Lord’s debris.”
    • Others joked that if someone had lost their religion, they were sure to find it somewhere in Rhode Island.
    • In 1643 Rhode Island was refused admission into the coalition of colonies that was established for protection from the Indians.
  • 31. Declension and Intolerance
    • 2nd and 3rd generations not so religious…
    • Baptism at birth then clear conversion experience expected, but 2nd generation not having them
    • “ Halfway Covenant” to keep 2nd gen. in the covenant of the Church
    • Admitted to Sacraments to encourage or facilitate conversion…
    • Quakers and Baptists expelled, flogged, or hung.
  • 32. Solomon Stoddard (1643-1749)
    • Suggests the Halfway Covenant in 1677
    • Decline of virtue
    • Rise of economic success in trade with England, economic disparities are visual indications of the fracturing community.
    • Trade goods from England seen as signs of indulgence. What is happening?
    • The Devil, that’s what…..
  • 33. Wonders and Witchcraft Trials
    • “ World of Wonders”
    • Activity of the supernatural in the modern world
    • Dabbling with astrology, magic, alchemy
    • Part of the daily life of most people in New England in 1600s
    • Practice of magic connected to Christianity in compatible ways
    • Both God and Satan worked through “occult” ways
    • Attempt to identify God’s “miracles” vs. Satan’s “wonders”
  • 34. Witchcraft Trials
    • Salem Witch Trials (1692) most famous
      • But early trials from 1648 and 1651 Mrs. Kendal is first execution.
    • Belief that Satan was trying to overturn social order
    • Salem: 160 accused, 19 executed (15 women) and 1 man pressed to death.
    • Why did they happen?
      • Personalities
      • Social differences
      • Psychological needs
      • Gender issues: Devil in the Shape of a Woman (1987) Carol Karlsen
      • Politics: In the Devil's Snare (2002) Mary Beth Norton
  • 35. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and The Great Awakening
    • New Preaching
    • “ There is no question whatsoever that is of greater importance to mankind then this: What is the nature of true religion?”
    • Emphasis on Affections
    • “ Spiritual wisdom and grace is the highest and most excellent gift that ever God bestows on any creature, it is not a thing that belongs to reason…it is not a speculative thing, but depends on the sense of the heart.”
    • Difference between being told that honey is sweet and the taste of it for oneself….
    • Jeremaids
  • 36. Summary
    • Halfway Covenant, Witch Trials, Jeremiads, Great Awakening, Indian problems, Hutchinson and Williams all indicate the need for adaptation.
    • Divine Providence was challenged again and again leading to crises of faith
    • The Errand becomes an adventure
    • Search for a new, unique, American identity.
  • 37. Part III: Legacy
    • Myth of the Pilgrims?
    • Transformation and Continuation, Scholarly Debates…
    • Core of American Culture?
  • 38. So How/Why the Myth of Pilgrims?
    • 1820: Daniel Webster (1782-1852) coined the term “Pilgrim Fathers” taking the term “Pilgrim” from William Bradford journals. He overlooked the differences between Separatists and New England Puritans.
    • In the face of tensions before the Civil War, nation-wide movement to celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a means of uniting the nation under a consensual myth. The Pilgrim’s quest for religious freedom equated to Colonial quest for independence from England, the Old World. America stands for freedom (from slavery too).
    • 1863: Abraham Lincoln declares Thanksgiving Day a national holiday.
  • 39. Transformation or Continuation?
    • Sydney E. Ahlstrom: Continuity from 1463 to 1963 (Elizabeth to JFK)
    • Aesthetic Thesis : Calvin to Edwards to Emerson to Social Gospel to Martin Luther King, Jr to 60’s “Awakening”
    • Reformed Theological Tradition: rising up to Civil War, then declining.
    • Aesthetic core? Intellectual? Cultural? Pluribus or Unum ?
  • 40. Historical Connections
    • Great Awakenings and Evangelical Christianity
    • American Protestantism Today
      • Christian Conservatives
      • Fundamentalists
      • Pentecostals
      • Mainline or Liberal Christians
    • Transcendentalism
      • True Religion becomes universal religion using non-biblical language (Self, Oversoul, Self-reliance, etc.)
  • 41. Beginnings of American Culture
    • Mobilization toward unique American identity
    • Core theme of independence and individual conscience
    • Core dilemma of social order and self-expression
    • Missionary efforts as expansionism/imperialism
      • Slaves, leading to Civil War
      • Indians, leading into the West
    • Education, Ivy League Universities
  • 42. The myth(s) of the Puritans?
    • Puritans as founders of God’s nation
    • Puritans concerned that someone somewhere is having a good time
    • Scapegoating (Catholics, Reds, Homosexuals, Terrorists)
    • Some truth in each.
  • 43.
    • A loss of something ever felt I-
    • The first that I could recollect
    • Bereft I was - of what I knew not
    • Too young that any should suspect
    • A Mourner walked among the children
    • I notwithstanding went about
    • As one bemoaning a Dominion
    • Itself the only Prince cast out -
    • Elder, Today, A session wiser
    • And fainter, too, as Wiseness is -
    • I find myself still softly searching
    • For my Delinquent Palaces -
    • And a Suspicion, like a Finger
    • Touches my Forehead now and then
    • That I am looking oppositely
    • For the site of the Kingdom of Heaven.
    • ca. 1864 Emily Dickinson