Who Were The Puritans?

The puritans were a division of protestants in the 16th and 17th century from England. One sect in particular was called the English Calvinists. These people were sometimes outcasts from the regular clergy that did not believe in the more progressive nature of the Church of England at the time. The term puritan should not be confused with the idea that these people were pure of heart or mind; however this is what they thought of themselves.

Historically the word ‘puritan’ was used as a derogatory word to characterize this group. They were laughed at for being old-fashioned and not willing to change any of their ideals, no matter what the cost. Puritans were blocked from changing the church from within, and the restrictive laws of the church of England became oppressive to them. Later, the entire congregation immigrated to the Netherlands; however they did not find the religious freedom they were looking for. Later, the group of Puritans left to go to New England.

Puritans believed that secular governments were responsible to God and the citizens were to be held accountable for ‘unholy’ or ‘sinful’ activities. Puritans expected governments to follow a “true path of the religion” and to punish anyone who did not follow the religious doctrine close enough. They expected everyone to interpret the bible for themselves; however the interpretations were expected to fit within established parameters set by the church. Moral purity was of the utmost importance to the Puritans.

Puritans believed that the sole purpose of mankind’s existence was to serve God and to sing His praises. Therefore, the needs of the church and God were put above all others. There were minimal rituals involved in their ceremonies, and decorations in most puritan churches were nonresistant. The main resource for their sermons was preaching. The worship services were simple, and the Puritans did not celebrate traditional holidays because they believed this detracted from the everyday glory of God.

Puritans also had a strong belief in demonic forces, not unlike many Christians of their time period. Pastors preformed exorcisms and executed people for being involved in witchcraft. The Salem witch trials of 1692-1693 are a great example of puritan beliefs on witchcraft. People were hunted down; accused of being witches, and put to death simply on the word of one or two “witnesses”.

A puritan’s lifestyle had its advantages and disadvantages. The puritans got rid of the musical instruments used in other churches, but the art of education was free for everyone. The goal was for everyone to be educated enough to read the bible on their own, in one of its original languages such a Greek or Hebrew in addition to other church works, often written in Latin. An education from Oxford or Cambridge was quite common for the puritan leaders. Poetry that was based in religion was encouraged, and from time to time, religious erotic poetry would even be written!

Puritan culture made for a very complex family home life. The men were primarily concerned about doing the hard physical labor necessary to sustain their home, and then spending time in the church. The women would pour their efforts into caring for the children and their education was of the utmost importance. The women were the ones that taught the children the Christian ideals from the cradle, so they needed to be well versed. The women were held more responsible for original sin than the men were due to eve’s betrayal in the bible.

For full church membership a person must show that they had experienced God’s grace into their soul. Only those who were able to convince church elders that they were in fact touched by God were admitted as full members of the church. Normally, women were not allowed to speak in church, however they were allowed to discuss religion extensively outside of the actual church services, and they could also get their husbands to address the congregation for them.

The religion had a strong basis in discipline. However their democratic ideals seem to clash with the founding fathers of the United States regarding the concept that a church or religion should be set above the will of the people. Though they were a key part of the creation of the American democracy and the colonization of ‘The New World’, Puritanism so found itself with limited appeal in a nation founded on the ideal of ‘liberty and justice for all’. Although the Puritans disappeared as a religion, they planted the seeds that the government and religious ideals should be part of, if not dominate, governmental policies and activities, even when the ‘will of the people’ was expressed in elections.

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