Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comments on the idea "New Puritanism"

In a recent article, commentator Orson Scott Card, either out of ignorance or lack of historical perspective, attributed the rise of those people in America professing "no religion" to a "New Puritanism." He cites a study by Trinity College investigators who found an increase in the percentage of Americans claiming no religion from 8.2% in 1990 to a most recent figure of 15%. At the same time, the study claims that the number of Americans claiming to be Christians declined, over the same period, from 86.2% down to 76%.

In making his comparison between the current non-religionists and the Puritans, Card focuses on his perception of the zeal of the Puritans in imposing their religious views on others, claiming that the non-religionist act in the same manner. Unfortunately, this shallow analogy is not supported by any competent historical analysis. Puritans were deeply religious and in America has a highly organized church structure that persists in many ways today. The Puritans were Calvinists at heart, and people of deep personal piety. Their Puritan ideas can be summarized in five words; depravity, covenant, election, grace and love. (See Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Page 23).

Without going into a long discussion of Calvinist theology and religious tenants, it is a disservice to the religiously motivated immigrants to America to compare them to those who profess no religion today.

Now, what of the those professing no religion today? Are they content to sit idly by and ignore those who profess a religion? In this regard I must agree with Card, they do exhibit the same zeal in their non-religion. It is not a coincidence that the area of the country reported as being the most non-religious, is also the area where those persecuting religion also live. Vermont is named as most non-religious state in the U.S. It is also a focus for the anti-marriage and anti-religious so-called Gay Rights movement. Card's description of them is appropriate:
They bristle at the slightest sign of Christians laying hold on the machinery of the state -- while having no compunction about using the power of the state to establish their own dogmas in the schools and in the courts.

Believing in no god, they have no law to check them; whatever they think to do, they will try to do, and their fury when they are resisted knows no restraint.
Although the tactics of the non-religionists is similar to that of any oligarchy, it is unfair to compare them to the pious Puritans and their strong beliefs. The immorality of the non-religionist should not be compared to the morality of the Puritans.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not defending his criticism of the Puritans or the comparison to atheists today, but Card's issue with the Puritans (and this might be unwarranted) is that they were not very tolerant of other people's religious beliefs. They were a fairly small group of people and were quite insular. They were devout and generally good people but they were rigid towards other people, especially other religions. They escaped persecution only to turn around and not be tolerant of other beliefs. They were, like you said, very important for the eventual founding of our nation.

    I think Card's comparison is mostly valid, it's just not the most appropriate, as you said.