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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Puritanism today.

"Puritans took from Hebrew scripture the concept of 'God's people,' an entity saved as a whole, so long as it could be called back from sinning as a whole. Yet the radical protestantism of the Puritans said that salvation was a private matter worked out by each soul with the Spirit." An article in a scholarly journal about religion in early New England? No! It's Garry Wills, in the Times Magazine, explaining the roots of the religious movement that adores President Bush.

Best thing about the article: Its description of the "halfway covenant" — and why Jonathan Edwards hated it. But is this what Edwards had in mind? "What makes religion so salient in time of war is that it acts the way revivals did for Edwards — a spark leaps from pole to pole. Individuals merge in the joint peril and joint effort of facing an imminent menace."

Do we need to blame Evangelicalism for the pervasive tendency to invoke God's blessing when troops go to battle? Well, perhaps in American history we do. In his book Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, E. Digby Baltzell observes:

Rarely have modern Catholics viewed war, as the Calvinists and Puritans did, as a moral crusade against evil. (They once did, of course, in the Crusades.) Catholics, like most Episcopalians, have been reluctant fighters. Thus, in our own Civil War . . . the Northern Episcopalians, in the Catholic tradition, were reluctant participants; the descendendants of the Puritans, crusading idealists against evil; and the Quakers, perfectionists above the conflict.

For more on Baltzell — and how Unitarians have awkwardly inherited the Puritan zeal against injustice and the Quaker reluctance to fight — click here.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 30 March 2003 at 4:04 PM

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