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Monday, December 24, 2018

The Neo-Puritan War on Christmas

“Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” – H. L. Mencken

“Let any man of contrary opinion open his mouth to persuade them [the Puritans], they close up their ears, his reasons they weigh not . . . . They are impermeable to argument and have their answers well drilled.” – Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1594

Three great tragedies fell upon the English speaking world in the 1600s: the failure of the Cavaliers to destroy Puritanism, the failure of the Irish to destroy Puritanism, and the failure of Metacom, also known as King Philip, and his allies to eradicate the Puritan presence in North America. The Catholic leaders of Maryland welcomed persecuted Puritan refugees from Virginia, only to have their guests over throw the Catholic aristocracy in a coup and repeal the Act of Toleration. There was a fleeting hope in the late seventeenth century that Puritanism in North America would implode and destroy itself from within. It seems that many second generation Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony did not wish to become members of the elect. To become one of the elect, a person submitted themselves to an interrogation, often days long,in an effort to convince the already recognized elect that, yes, you were one of them. The invasive process pried into every hidden aspect of one’s beliefs, actions, and character. It made the most stringent scrutinies of Carthusian monks seem a pleasant afternoon pig-picking with a bit of light gossip. Many of the children of the first generation wanted no part, and their parents were more than happy to see the ungrateful and unelect brats suffer the unending torments of Hell. Until, that is, the brats had children, making the first generation Puritans grandparents, who now worried that their unbaptized grandchildren would be damned.

That changed things, and soon one could become a partial elect via the Halfway Covenant. Supposedly, God had already ordained the Whole Hog Covenant, though I have my doubts about this. But Puritans, being pure and elect, decided to improve upon what they believed to be God’s plan. So the children of baptized, non-members of the Puritan church could be baptized, and all was well. Except it wasn’t. It seems that revising and improving upon the works and decrees of the Almighty is habit forming, and pretty soon you do not need an Almighty because you are the Almighty. And thus our Puritan became a Yankee, and though he worshiped Mammon, he never stopped being a Puritan.


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