Simply because Puritans are often given a bad rap, here are ten things that you can appreciate that have been either directly or indirectly influenced by Puritans over the centuries. In case you didn’t know, the Puritans were a group of Protestants arising during and just after the Reformation. They are known for their strict moral code and influence on the formation of America as a country.
The word ‘Puritan’. Not to be confused with purist, someone who prefers something to be done without contamination from outside sources, if that makes sense. A puritan in the modern sense can be applied to overly moralistic people. It arose as a derogatory term for this new group of Protestants. Good start? Nice legacy bro.
Memento Mori. Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’, memento mori is a genre of art, literature, etc that stresses the shortness of life. Whereas carpe diem suggests that people make the most of life (this can be quite positive in a modern sense but was seen as surfeiting sensual pleasures back in the day), memento mori directs people’s attention to the condition of their soul in light of the immanence of death. Shakespeare may have even tried his hand at it.
Sexuality. You know that nice Christian apology for sex that tells people sex isn’t bad but is rather meant to be celebrated as a gift from God? After a little Wikipedia-funded research, I have found that Puritans held the same celebratory views of sex, within marriage of course!
Mission. Despite some utterly despicable relations with Native Americans, some Puritans had a positive missionary focus to reach the people around them. Not only Native Americans, but also different people groups in the Pacific.
Thanksgiving. Being a New Zealander, Thanksgiving is something I know little about. How awesome, however, would it be to have one day a year just to focus on giving thanks for that which is good? There’s something in there about affirmative relationships with Native Americans too. Also, the original Thanksgiving was not just celebration but thanks that acknowledged God’s providence!
Virtue Names. I’m a sucker for these. And if procreation is something that comes about in my seventy years then one or six of these will follow (don’t worry; that includes middle names). Some are still popular today: Joy, Hope, Faith (girl AND boy). Consider also Charity (Chastity?), Truth, Justice, Felicity, Freedom, Prudence, Self-control… Actually, Sophie is a virtue name. Let’s stick with that one.
Pilgrim’s Progress. There’s comes a point in your Christian walk when you say to yourself: I can’t actually move further in my faith until I have read John Bunyan’s classic. I myself have been there. It was a bit of a kick up the bum, but not one that was unneeded. Bunyan wrote in a time of persecution, and a lot of it from jail, with all zeal and fervor. My Penguin edition notes that in countries where the Bible was translated as first work of literature, this was usually next. Again, this emphasises the awesomeness (and perhaps death) of virtue names.
Anne Bradstreet. Apparently America’s first published poet was a woman. Feminism win. Anne was a prolific writer who didn’t shy away from putting God at the center of her writings. Not only that, but she is a prime example of the fruit of the education of women, which a lot Puritans endorsed. She probably influenced Emily Dickinson too, who is an existential babe.
Abolition of Slavery. One of the most important, albeit incomplete, happenings in recent history was somewhat sourced in New England, a collection of states that were settled predominantly by Puritans. Quakers probably got it right earlier, but hey, the Puritans caught on in the end and contributed to the greater good.
John Milton. Probably my favourite Puritan, this guy has had an immeasurable effect on the English language and literature. You may have heard of Paradise Lost, the last great epic poem to be written, which centres on the Fall. He also wrote some amazing sonnets, like the mighty On the late massacre in Piedmont and the profound On his blindness. Interestingly, he was politically active and non-Trinitarian.
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