The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, August 23, 2019

Gnostics, Puritans, and the Left

Professor Bruce Charlton, whose writings I very much value and respect, took exception the other day to the meme that identifies the Left with Puritanism. Here is his opening paragraph:

I think it was perhaps Mencius Moldbug who originated the stupid idea - which I have seen repeated in hundreds of different versions - that the current, mainstream, politically correct Left are puritans.

This meme, it would appear to me, is an extreme oversimplification of a concept that can be found in Eric Voegelin’s The New Science of Politics: An Introduction, which was first published by the University of Chicago Press in 1952. I note, in passing, that this was twenty-one years prior to the birth of the man who writes under the nom de plume Mencius Moldbug.

In the fourth chapter of The New Science of Politics, Voegelin traced the origins of the secular millennialism of modern mass political movements, i.e., the idea of ushering in a new Golden Age, back to an earlier revival of millennialist eschatology in the teachings of the twelfth century Italian theologian and monk, Joachim of Flora. He set this departure from Augustinianism in the context of a revival of Gnosticism, the largest family of heresies against which the orthodox contended in the early centuries of Christianity. Gnosticism was so named because it maintained that those initiated into its mysteries comprised a spiritual elite who possessed gnosis – detailed special knowledge about matters that are not spelled out in the Scriptures and orthodox Christian tradition. Since this “knowledge” often contradicted orthodox doctrine, Gnosticism was rejected as heresy by the orthodox. In the following chapter, Voegelin examined Puritanism as both an example case of revived Gnosticism and as the first revolutionary modern mass movement.

A very abridged version of Voegelin’s thesis is that sixteenth-seventeenth century Puritanism and twentieth century mass movements such as liberalism and Communism are all modern versions of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. The meme that Professor Charlton dislikes so much seems to be this same thesis simplified further and to the point of extreme inaccuracy.

The question then becomes one of whether this thesis is right or wrong. Professor Charlton goes on to say:

Of course there is a grain of truth, else the idea would have gone nowhere. The grain is that New Left is a descendant of the New England Puritans who emigrated from (mostly) East Anglia, became the Boston Brahmins, founded Harvard etc.

And this class, via various mutations including the Transcendentalists and their circle of radicals Unitarians, abolitionists, feminists etc) evolved into the post Civil War US ruling class; who were the fount of post-middle-1960s New Leftism.


This is true, but there is one glaring omission. For there to be a New Left there had to have first been an Old Left. When we bring that Old Left into the equation we find that there is a lot more than just a “grain” of truth to the identification of Puritanism with the Left. There is a sentence in Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs From Beyond the Grave that expresses this perfectly. Here it is in the recent English translation by Alex Andriesse of the first twelve books of the Memoirs, published last year by the New York Review of Books:

“The Jacobins were plagiarists; they even plagiarized the sacrifice of Louis XVI from the execution of Charles I” (p. 363 in the edition mentioned, this is found in the second paragraph of the fourth chapter of Book Nine).

The French Revolution was the well-spring of the Old Left. The revolutionary socialist movements of the nineteenth century all looked back to the French Revolution as their inspiration, the Communist League for which Karl Marx wrote his notorious manifesto began as a splinter group of the Jacobin Club that had perpetrated the French Revolution, and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917, which introduced the plague of Communism to the world and became the pattern for all subsequent Communist revolutions, was itself patterned on the French Revolution. The French Revolution, in turn, was, as Chateaubriand said, an imitation of the Puritan rebellion against Charles I in the previous century.

The Puritan rebellion against King Charles inspired the Jacobin revolution against King Louis XVI, which in turn inspired all subsequent revolutions. This makes Puritanism the prototype of the revolutionary Left, just as Cromwell’s tyranny was the prototype of the French Reign of Terror and the Soviet and other Communist totalitarian regimes. While it was Puritan actions that the Jacobins and later leftists were imitating, theology similar to that of the Puritans also played a role in the French Revolution, if not as large of a one as in the rebellion in England. William Palmer observed that Jansenism, a heretical movement within the Roman Catholic Church that had a similar predestinarian theology to Calvinism, had become so strong in pre-Revolutionary eighteenth century France, that it was able to resist Rome’s attempts to suppress it, and, indeed, that it had successfully used the French Parliament to thwart the king’s efforts to uphold orthodoxy. (A Treatise on the Church of Christ, Vol I, London, J. G. & F. Rivington, 1838, pp. 324-328) Granted, this happened in the reign of Louis XV fifty years prior to the Revolution but Puritan efforts to turn the English Parliament against their king had also begun long before the accession of Charles I. It is also worth noting that Jean-Paul Marat, the Jacobin pamphleteer whose bloodthirsty words incited the September Massacres, the mass murder of prisoners in which the non-juring Roman Catholic priests were especially targeted and which can be regarded as either the precursor to or the first stage of the Reign of Terror, was raised in a family that had a very similar theology to that of the Puritans. His mother was a Huguenot and his father was a convert to Calvinism.

Not only is it an indisputable historical fact that Puritanism was the root of the tree of leftism, from which the trunk of Jacobinism sprung, which in turn produced the branches of socialism, Communism, etc. it is also true that political correctness, the element of the New Left that is most often said to be Puritanical, is derived from a Bolshevik practice with a Jacobin antecedent based upon a Puritan precedent. Political correctness as we know it today began on Western academic campuses in the 1960s and spread from there throughout the rest of Western culture. It began as the insistence upon the use of racially sensitive language but quickly expanded to include demands for language that is sensitive in other areas as well. There were, of course, a host of other demands which accompanied these, but the defining essence of political correctness is the insistence upon the use of language that has been stripped of anything that might be perceived as offensive on racial, sexual, etc. grounds. In this the New Left was, consciously, I would argue, imitating the Soviet phenomenon that was the basis of the "Newspeak" depicted in George Orwell's 1984. The Jacobin antecedent of Bolshevik Newspeak, can be seen in the date of the Great Reaction when the Reign of Terror ended and its architect Robespierre was condemned to die by his own guillotine. This date on our calendar is the 27th of July but we remember it historically as the Ninth of Thermidor. Why? Because the Jacobins imposed a completely new calendar upon France, in which years were counted from the deposing of King Louis XVI, and consisted of twelve months which, since they also started from that date did not correspond to the ones on our calendar and were given funny sounding names like Messidor, Thermidor, and Fructidor. The Puritan precedent for this was their insistence on referring to the days of the week as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. rather than by their usual names, which the Puritans objected to on the grounds of their pagan origins. Orthodox Christians can understand and to varying degrees sympathize with the Puritans' reasons for doing this - less so, with their abolition of Christian holy days - but this was the seed from which the Jacobin calendar which grew into Bolshevik Newspeak and has gone to seed in the New Left's political correctness sprang.

Now let us consider what Professor Charlton finds specifically objectionable in the “Left are Puritans” meme. Here is his explanation:

OK. But to call the New Left puritans is something only a non-Christian could do, for at least two very obvious reasons.

1. A puritan is very religiously Christian, and believes that this should permeate every aspect of social and personal life.

2. A puritan advocates that sex be confined to (a single, permanent) marriage. In other words, a puritan rejects the entirety of the post-sixties sexual revolution.

Since Leftists are not Christian, and since they are (in theory and in practice) sexual revolutionaries; the idea that Leftists are puritans is wrong.


The first thing to be observed in response to this is that the meme which equates leftism with Puritanism is clearly not meant to be understood as saying that Leftists are like Puritans in every detail. Nobody is suggesting that today’s politically correct, woke, social justice warriors walk around in seventeenth century costume with flat topped hats, ruffed doublets, and buckle shoes, speaking Shakespearean English. It is rather a lazy, shorthand, way of saying “the present day left resembles its ideological ancestor Puritanism in such and such specific characteristics.” All that is being asserted is that in some aspect(s) of today's Left, traits of its distant Puritan ancestors have reasserted themselves in an identifiable manner. This cannot be negated merely by pointing out other areas in which the New Left and Puritanism do not resemble each other or even are the exact opposite of each other.

It could be argued that the differences so outweigh the similarities as to make any focus on the latter unwarranted. This could lead to an interesting discussion on essence and distinction. If the things Professor Charlton states here about the Puritans are of the essence of Puritanism, its sine qua non, without which there can be no Puritanism, as the Professor seems to think, this would, of course, be a strong argument in his favour. I would point out, however, that neither of these things is distinctive of Puritanism. Both could also be said, with equal truth, about orthodox Anglicans and Roman Catholics who were the Puritans' opponents in the conflicts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The meme that compares Leftism to Puritanism must be based upon something that is distinctive to Puritanism as opposed to Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism otherwise it would make no sense and indeed would likely never have existed – a meme would have compared Leftists to Christians in general instead. Can something that is not distinctive of Puritanism be said to be essential to it>

It seems to me that Professor Charlton is operating under a fundamental misunderstanding of Puritanism's reputation. When the present day Left with its political correctness and its zeal for banning such things as guns, single-use plastics, furs and fox-hunting, soft drinks, etc. is described as being Puritanical the comparison is based upon the Puritans' legendary reputation for being dour, gloomy, repressive, Mrs. Grundy-type busybodies, with sticks stuck permanently up their backsides, perpetually nagging and harassing people with a never-ending list of does and don'ts and basically sucking all the happiness out of life like joy-killing vampires. It would appear from Professor Charlton's arguments that he is under the impression that this reputation arose out of their sexual ethics. It is, perhaps, inevitable that this impression would arise and become the natural assumption in our post-Sexual Revolution permissive age but it is without historical basis. The ethic that says that sex, meaning sexual intercourse, should be confined to a single, permanent, marriage was not distinctive of Puritanism but was held and taught by orthodox Anglicans and Roman Catholics as well. Indeed, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, on this matter “the Old Religion was the more austere.” It cannot, therefore, be the source of the Puritans’ reputation.

The Puritans earned their reputation, not by being sticklers for the basic rules of Christian ethics, but for adding and multiplying other rules, ones which often pertained to small, petty, matters, and which had no basis in the Holy Scriptures and were mostly foreign to the Christian tradition. Take their extremely rigid approach to Sunday keeping for example. Christians, since Apostolic times, have met on Sunday, the first day of the week, in commemoration of the Resurrection, for prayer, teaching, and the Eucharist. This tradition is based upon the precedent set by the practice of the Apostolic Church as recorded in the Book of Acts rather than by Scriptural ordinance in the way keeping the Sabbath, Saturday, had been enjoined upon Israel in the Old Testament. This is in keeping with the doctrine of Christian liberty on such matters that was determined at the Jerusalem Council and emphasized by St. Paul throughout his epistles. Early in Christian history it became common to speak of Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath” and to apply the concept of a “day of rest” to it, but orthodox Christianity wanted to avoid repeating the mistake of the Pharisees, the post-Maccabean Revolt sect within the laity of Second Temple Judaism that tried to promote holiness in national Israel by creating a hedge of auxiliary commandments around the Torah which they interpreted so rigidly that they condemned our Lord for performing healing miracles on the Sabbath. The Puritans, however, went much further than the Pharisees for while the Pharisees’ extra rules were at least extrapolated from the actual prohibition in the Fourth Commandment – “thou shalt do no work” - the Puritans’ rules for Sunday were based on the non-Scriptural “thou shalt have no fun.” They forbade all recreational activities on Sundays and wanted the law to enforce this ban. How can this be an example of believing that Christianity “should permeate every aspect of social and personal life” when it is difficult if not impossible to conceive of an attitude further removed from the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles regarding the Sabbath than this?

In this one example we have seen how the Puritans a) imposed a new prohibition that did not belong to ancient Christian tradition and had no basis in Scripture which it completely contradicted in spirit, b) specifically targeted people’s engaging in harmless recreational activities and enjoying themselves, and c) demanded that their new rule be backed by the power of the state. That is the Puritans’ bad reputation in a nutshell. Sexual ethics had nothing to do with it.

Nor was this the only example of this sort of thing. For those who still think it a stretch to compare the politically correct New Left to the Puritans let us not forget that it was Cromwell’s Puritans who launched the original War on Christmas – and on Easter and every other Christian high holy day as well. It is difficult to reconcile a ban on the holy days which make each year a commemorative and celebratory journey through the events of Christ’s earthly ministry from His Incarnation through His Ascension with a desire for Christianity to “permeate every aspect of social and personal life.” Richard Hooker, who thoroughly refuted the shallow theological justification they gave for taking this position decades before they were in a position to enforce it saw their true motives as being economical – less holy days meant more days to make money – although one cannot help but notice that the holy days the Puritans especially objected to were the seasons of celebration that bring joy and mirth into people’s lives.

Nowhere in the world, outside of England during the brief period of Cromwell’s dictatorship, was Puritanism’s influence greater than in colonial English-speaking North America, especially New England, and that influence has been lasting. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, itinerant preachers travelled across North America holding special revival services. The preaching in these services was evangelistic and revivalistic, meaning that it called upon unbelievers to become Christians and upon lukewarm or backslidden Christians to repent and practice their faith more seriously and more fervently. Such preaching was also very moralistic and the revivalists in their sermons targeted a long list of sins that one would have a difficult time identifying as such from the Scriptures – playing card games, smoking tobacco, dancing, attending theatrical plays, etc. While other movements, such as the Wesleyan holiness movement, contributed to all of this, its Puritan roots can hardly be denied. Puritan preachers played a leading role in the first wave of revivalism, the Great Awakening, and the non-conformist and dissenting sects that the Puritans had founded were the primary denominations, other than the Methodists, involved in the revivals. The preaching against dancing and the theatre certainly goes back to the Puritans – who infamously shut down London’s theatres, including William Shakespeare’s old Globe Theatre, in 1642 – and while the same cannot be said for every one of these extra-Scriptural “sins,” the general idea behind them all, that something that brings earthly pleasure to people should be suspected of being sinful and probably outright banned, is clearly derived from the same assumptions that led to the original Puritan ban on Sunday recreational activities which, as King James and King Charles both noted in their royal proclamations opposing such bans, amounted to complete bans on recreational activities for the majority of the people.

The revivalist movement often combined its moralism with support for social reform causes that would have been considered progressive in their own day. There is one example of this that is particularly interesting in light of what we are discussing. In the nineteenth century, revivalists became the driving force behind the mislabelled Temperance Movement – mislabelled because “temperance” is the name for the virtue of self-control and implies moderation – by preaching that all consumption of alcoholic beverages in inherently sinful. This is the traditional view of Islam not of Christianity. Indeed, not only does this create a new “sin” not identified as such in the Scriptures it flatly contradicts the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, including the teachings, commandments, and example of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The original Puritans had not gone this far – to quote C. S. Lewis “they were not teetotallers; bishops, not beer, were their special aversion” - but there is obviously a reason why within Christendom this movement only ever caught on among the non-conformist sects of North America. After a century of activism, the Temperance Movement succeeded in getting Prohibition – a ban on the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol - passed in both the United States and the Dominion of Canada. As an experiment in moral and social engineering it was a notorious failure.

The Temperance Movement was inseparably intertwined with the suffragette movement, the first wave of feminism that was lobbying to extend the voting franchise to women, and both movements achieved their goals almost simultaneously. The victory of the suffragettes proved more lasting than that of the Temperance Movement and it laid the foundation for the second wave of feminism a few decades and another World War later. The second wave of feminism was as intertwined with the Sexual Revolution as the first wave was with the Temperance Movement. Had Puritanism not laid the foundation for the kind of revivalism that spawned the Temperance Movement, the suffragette movement would never have had the latter to join forces with and may have been less successful in its own goal, and thus failed to pave the way for second wave feminism and the Sexual Revolution.

I have belaboured this point long enough. The people who once locked a man in the stocks for kissing his own wife on his own threshold when he returned from a long sea voyage on Sunday earned their well-deserved reputation for being legalistic killjoys and the fact that they claimed religious motives for doing so in no way invalidates a comparison with the secular ban-happy left-wing control freaks of our own day. Especially when we remember that these schismatic enthusiasts, who objected to the liturgical affirmation of the Nicene Creed but demanded that clergy be made to subscribe to every iota of Theodore Beza’s interpretation of Calvin’s Institutes, who started with a Korah-like rebellion against the Apostolic ministry of the Church and ended by stretching forth their hand against God’s anointed king and shedding his blood, were the original inspiration for the Jacobins and Bolsheviks.

Perhaps we should dust off our copies of Eric Voegelin and give him another read. Anyone who has studied early Church history knows that some of the Gnostics were ascetics who preached and practiced a very austere morality whereas others were hedonistic libertines. These opposite extremes in ethics and behaviour were both derived from the same heretical starting point. It is not so surprising, if Puritanism is revived form of Gnosticism, that it would evolve into a movement with both a permissive and a censorious streak. I will close with C. S. Lewis’ amusing description of progressives who combine both of these traits from a book that came out the same year as The New Science of Politics. In the very first paragraph of the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we are introduced to Eustace Scrubb and his parents. The latter, whom Eustace addresses by their first names presumably at their own encouragement and whom we find out in the next book in the series send their son to an extremely progressive school called Experiment House that is co-educational, discourages reading the Bible, and is not in any way conducive to any real learning, are the progressives in view:

They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotallers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on the beds and the windows were always open.

15 comments:

  1. I like Dr. Charlton too. I mentioned to him that some of the Left as Puritans idea is a response to the "It's all the Jews" mentality of some on the far right. Moldbug is Jewish (and not wrong that English Leftism proceded Jewish Leftism)

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    1. I read an interesting article by Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative in which he argued that William Shakespeare's character of Shylock, the Jewish usurer from the Merchant of Venice, was intended as a satire of the Puritans but made into a Jew because it would not have been safe to offer such criticism directly. I haven't formed an opinion as to whether he is right or not, although, as I discussed in an essay a few months ago, I see the beginning of the errors of modern economics, both capitalist and socialist, as going back to the Puritans' rejection of traditional Christian ethical theology on the subject of usury.

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    2. Larry Auster wrote an article on how The Merchant of Venice was anti-Semitic (I think it was a reluctant conclusion). I wish he had lived to see this hypothesis.

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  2. Well it all depends on what one regards as core. To me the fact that the Puritan movement was a Christian revival carries decisive weight. Many of the few modern Western real Christians are puritan respecters and admirers Packer, Lloyd Jones, CS Lewis). I put the greatest weight on this religious and spiritual zeal. It strikes me as materialist - reductionist to regard the puritans as primarily political.

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    1. I understand what you are saying and why you would see it that way. For myself I see the Puritan movement as a form of apostasy rather than a Christian revival. It was a second generation Protestant movement that, in my opinion, retreated from the first generation Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, on the single most important element of the Reformers' critique of papal doctrine, indeed, the very point that in the experience of Dr. Luther sparked the continental Reformation. The papacy, in Luther's experience, had turned the Christian life into something that resembled, to use a more recent illustration, a treadmill in which a prize is held tantalizing just beyond your reach. Which is why his discovery of the Pauline truth of justification by faith and the Johannine truth of assurance came as such a liberation to him. The Puritans adhered to the first of these truths, but gave mere lip service to the second, and, in fact, in their legalism, produced a treadmill even worse than the Roman one because, while rejecting Calvin's teaching about Christ as the mirror of election, they clung to his view of predestination. This was a terrible combination which produced a tremendous amount of morbidity which in many cases - the poet/hymnist William Cowper being a well-known example - drove people into madness. Yet, departing from the Reformers on this key point of their doctrine, the rediscovery of the source of Christianity's assured hope and joy, they insisted on taking the entire idea of a Reformation way too far and rejected much of the pre-Reformation tradition that was not merely Roman or popish but was truly Catholic, i.e., belonging to the entire Church in all places and times right from the beginning. In other words they chose the worst of both sides in the Protestant Reformation. To me, the repugnant political aspect of the movement - sedition, republicanism, regicide, and totalitarianism - simply manifested the ugliness of this immense spiritual and theological error.

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    2. There are those who argue that Puritanism was merely the exoteric face of the resurgent gnostic cults such as freemasonry.

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  4. You (Charleton & Neal) are both touching on the complexity of the progressive infiltration and ascendancy in contemporary society and it's antecedents. In some ways everyone is right, but not quite. Mencius Moldbug was helpful in framing the debate in reminding his readers that history is prologue. We do what we do because of what has come before. The Anglo-Saxon world (US,UK, Canada, Australia, NZ, etc.) was dominated for several centuries by a Protestant Ascendancy, however fractured. E. Michael Jones makes a good point in showing that this WASP elite was challenged by a Roman Catholic and Jewish beachhead by the 1920s and 1930s. This developed into the cultural wars over the hearts and minds of Americans. Jews through Hollywood and RCs through the political clout of urban ethic communities put out a clarion call for inclusion. Somehow by the 1950s they had convinced the WASP establishment to play fair and let them in on the game. An appeal was made to the moral compass of the Protestants, especially the non-conformist, Calvinist & Puritan sects. Seeking inclusion, it naturally allied itself with the civil rights movement to press home the plight of the underprivileged. But one can argue it was also a blatant power drive into the elite institutions. Critical theory was introduced to American academe through the Frankfurt School at Columbia: likewise "Deconstructionism" through Derrida's influence on Yale's English department. Meanwhile it was Roman Catholics like the Kennedy clan and later the Bidens and Pelosis who led the progressive vanguard inside the Democratic Party. What has been so remarkable is how easily this cultural war usurped the Old Wasp Ascendancy. Of the nine members of the US Supreme Court today, six are baptized RCs and three are Jews - although Gorsuch is now an Episcopalian. This despite the fact 60% of the US is white Protestant. Hollywood, journalism, and central banking are heavily influenced and arguably dominated by Jews. The WASP ascendancy was taken over by an ersatz Progressive one. The Protestants merely surrendered to the onslaught. Perhaps it is less of a case that Puritanism morphed into Progressive Politics and more that Wasps lacked the moral certainty and courage to defend its bulwarks. They simply surrendered and adopted the mindset as their own.

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  5. The English Reformation is a fascinating topic of study and a template for the tensions that arise in a homogeneous society when fundamental assumptions are called into question.

    I rather admire the Puritans for their exact reading of Scripture (though I'm still not sure where you find predestination in it). This appeals to me as an American constitutionalist particularly as its the right approach to understanding and reordering the American political disaster. For example, I am fond of asking when Obongocare and its metastises are under discussion. Where in Article I, Section 8 are the words "health care" to be found. And what happened to the liberty sought to be protected in the whole document so that now the federal monstrosity taxes me in a hundred ways from Sunday and listens in to my phone conversations? If fundamental "rights" can only be found in the Constitution by culturing the emanations from the penumbra of certain of its language then we are indeed a long way past the point of an exact view of the whole thing.

    So, there's something admirable in the desire to practice only what is found in Scripture. Any mention of vestments or bishops in it? Well then, if no mention why are these part of the lives of the faithful?

    There's a great Yiddish expression, "Send a fool to close the window and he'll close them all over town." That seems to explain a lot of our Western asininity. Even savages desire respect and consideration, it can be safely maintained, but it's a heck of a leap from consideration of how to deal with humans no matter their culture to saying, "Let's bring them to where we live and subsidize them in a manner (manor?) guaranteed to set up a well-known cycle of dependency and pathology."

    So it seems the Puritans went to an extreme to try to shut down all popular amusements presumably on the basis of the commandment that the sabbath is to be observed as a day of rest. Their approach was really not that much "out there" if you grant the rather compelling idea that the commandments are those of the Lord Himself.

    Still, it seems silly to think that the Lord wants no one to light a candle, play with the dog, plant a flower, or drag his foot in the dust (ploughing!).

    On all the matters of dispute between the Anglicans and the Puritans I think, however, that the former had the more reasonable position, namely, let us do what we will or what our ancestors did so long as Scripture does not proscribe the practice.

    Edmund Morgan paints a sympathetic portrait of Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans. Ann Hathaway was eventually ejected from the colony for her unsettling views and NOT displayed in the stocks. In his diary, Winthrop thought that people without "a testimony" should just go on down the road rather than be punished.

    On the subject of "Puritanical" attitudes, I am not aware of the sea captain being punished for kissing his wife but I do recall Morgan in his The Puritan Temptation IIRC recounting how a woman complained on Sunday in church that her husband was not paying any attention to her sexually. Too, how "Puritanical" can the Puritans have been if they were the ones who developed the practice of "bundling." I don't know quite what went on during bundling sessions but they sound like they would have been loads of fun.

    Going back to the English Reformation, I think there was more than just a change in fundamental assumptions at work. Roman priests, bishops, and cardinals were sometimes insufferable in their behavior toward the English kings and I know the matter of huge sums flowing out of England into Roman coffers chafed. The whole Reformation got started because Henry VIII needed an heir which in the scheme of things was no small thing. No doubt Henry thought that any price should be paid to ensure that the kingdom was spared the disaster of a dispute over dynastic succession.

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    1. Bishops are found in the New Testament. I don't refer to St. Paul's use of the actual term in his letters to Timothy and Titus for there it is used interchangeably with presbyter. I refer to the clear presence of an order above the presbyters which has the authority to ordain presbyters and deacons. The Apostles themselves, who created the orders of presbyter and deacon, were the first members of this higher order. Timothy and Titus were later added to it, hence their being given instructions about how to select godly men for ordination. By the end of the first century the Church had transferred the term bishop from the presbyters to the Apostolic order with the power of ordination. The reason should be obvious - the last of the original Apostles had died, they didn't want to refer to anyone other than those commissioned directly by Christ as an Apostle, so, since bishop meant overseer or administrator, it was the logical choice.

      Thomas Kemble was the name of the sea captain put in the stocks for kissing his wife on Sunday. This happened in 1656.

      I too see the "normative principle" of Anglicanism as more reasonable than the "regulative principle" of Puritanism, and would argue also that it is more consistent with the doctrine of Christian liberty as taught by St. Paul as well as the basic principle of English Common Law liberty.

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  6. Not only the Puritans were guilty of hard core practices. The Anglicans were brutal toward Catholics and Henry, no Puritan, destroyed the abbeys which were something like one-third of the existing ruling structure. The abbeys were looted and many destroyed and there went the English social safety, not to mention great learning and practical expertise. I've seen it argued that Henry, like European rulers, was feeling the strain of having to field a modern army in the light of technological advances (or changes in doctrine and organization?). Thus, out with the abbeys, though it's been argued that he got little out of the enterprise and essentially strengthened his barons to the point that Elizabeth was only a figurehead answerable to, dare I say it?, the 16th-c. Deep State. Your mileage may differ on that point.

    One last point on Prohibition and activities that mankind find pleasurable. I am under the impression that the animus toward alcohol consumption did not proceed simply from a killjoy position. Rather, there really was a very serious problem with excessive alcohol consumption on the part of men and that families were being devastated by that. As to other pleasures, it's unassailable that libertinism is not sustainable in any ordered society. The devil's in the details, of course, but gambling, drug use, and smoking are, if not to be proscribed lightly, then neither should they be encouraged.

    As for closing the Globe Theatre and its stock of Shakespearean plays, it does seem a bit much to modern sensibilities, though perhaps an argument can be made that Shakespeare was no respecter or persons and a bit subversive in his own right. I've no investment in that particular thought but the Puritans may have seen that there were other plays with messages not quite so healthy as those found in Shakespeare's plays. Maybe, maybe. Heck, every church or ruler in Europe or England though it was a horribly risky thing to allow publication of the Bible in the vulgar tongue. "Subversive" was very broadly interpreted then and lèse majesté was, properly, not something a ruler could tolerate.

    However, fast forward to the present day, I would pay very good money indeed to be able to deep six the subversive filth that sluices out of Hollywood and whatever pig sty that produces the fare for cable TV. And I'm no Puritan. Come down to it, the sooner we can re-establish some form of censoriousness the better off we'll be. The hypocritical, dishonest, censorious left has its lunatic red lines and the healthy part of society has way too few. We can't even establish a real line in the sand on our borders.

    I think your putting your finger on Gnosticism is helpful. Gnosticism sounds exactly like progressivism and, if our times and the last century or more are any indication, no person, let alone over-educated piss ants coming out of Harvard, Yale, and Wellsley should be able to decide whether French fries should be the national snack. A humble, chastened sinner or a "sadder but wiser girl" are just the kind of human you want running the show but, alas, we've got wall-to-wall jerks lined up around the Capitol to tell us all how to live. Worse than that, the Beautiful People have engineered bankruptcy, collapse, anarchy, invasion, sedition, parasitism, feminist hysteria and pathology, abortion and sodomy as sacraments, urban destruction, racial hatred, oppression, and war and civil war into our immediate future. Other than that, they're a great bunch of guys.

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    1. Regarding Shakespeare as no respecter of persons, note my reply to BruceB above, and the article mentioned in it. Even if we don't quite swallow Pearce's interpretation of Shylock there is also Falstaff. The comic relief of Henry IV Parts I and II and the main character of the Merry Wives of Windsor was a caricature of the real life Sir John Oldcastle who predated the Reformation but belonged to a group that could be regarded as a sort of proto-Puritans and Shakespeare's turning him into a cowardly, drunken, boorish, profligate was widely taken to be less an attack on the man Oldcastle than a swipe at Puritan hypocrisy.

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  7. Thank you, Mr. Henderson, for what is, I think, a very good summary of the progressive ascendancy of the last century. Note how the first decades of this overlap the last decades of what was more or less the completion of the liberalism project of the preceding three centuries. E. Michael Jones is someone whose writings I am slightly but not extensively familiar with. Perhaps it is time that I remedy that. Regarding history as a prologue as it pertains to the nature of the Left I think the following paragraph from Dr. Thomas Fleming's "Socialism" (Marshall Cavendish, 2008, p. 104)is very insightful: "Environmentalism and same-sex marriage seem a far cry from the economic revolution demanded by the Communist Manifesto, but socialism can be viewed as something more than a nineteenth and twentieth century political movement. It is also one phase in a revolutionary tradition that goes back at least as far as the Renaissance. As years and decades go by, the target of the revolution changes its name and even its identity. Once upon a time the enemies were feudalism, the Catholic Church, and the 'Dark Ages.' Later on the hostility was first directed against kings, then capitalists, then domineering Caucasian males. Underlying all these evolutions and transformations, however, is a basic formula: In each case there is a ruthless ruling class that exploits an endless series of victims - laymen, peasants, workers, the environment. Since 'man's inhumanity to man' has been part of the human condition as it is known throughout history, the socialist revolution will never run out of enemies."

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  8. There's a reason why, though of British-Isles origin, I am part of the Continental Reformed tradition, rather than that of the Isles. It is precisely because of the legalism in the Puritans and the Covenanters, with their confessional statements against card-playing and stage plays, etc., that they lose me, not to mention all of the other Puritans' and Covenanters' excesses. No thanks; I don't want to live in a theocratic dictatorship so brutal that it gained Hitler as an admirer (Hitler admired Cromwell greatly). Thus I am of the Dutch Reformed tradition, and within one of the sanest branches of it, one not given to much extra-biblical nonsensical dogmas.

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  9. I have a feeling that all this Puritan, Leftist, etc, etc type of thinking can be reduced to the kind of temperament that hates before it loves. A normal spiritually healthy person loves first and then hates (if it does) what offends that love. The Puritan mentality seems to me to hate first and love, if it comes at all, is dependent on the initial hate. It's the product of a damaged (maybe self-damaged) soul that is actually closed to the living God even if it expresses itself in religious terms.

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