Historical Views on Puritanism
The Puritans were a people who believed in religious freedom and peaceful coexistence.
The Puritan mind adopted revisionist and new-historical values.
The Puritans’ reason for migration was that they refused to accept the authority that went beyond the revealed word.
They never intended to completely sever all relations with the Anglican Church, however, they were nonconformists by nature, and they sought to perfect themselves through deep understanding of their religion.
The Puritans were the carriers of a heavy burden.
Religion was the most paramount issue in their lives.
It is said that "Puritans considered religion a very complex, subtle, and highly intellectual affair." They had highly trained scholars and religious leaders who made no distinction between lackey or lord.
Thus even their sermons were conveyed in such a way that the destitute and uneducated were able to understand.
They were also advocates of knowledge and education, and believed that the lack of it would not bring salvation.
They built “Free Grammar Schools” and "contributed their pecks of wheat" to build Harvard College.
It seems like the Puritans were, indeed, “the city upon a hill.” They did not realize, however, that when values and religious theories are taken to an extreme the moderation medium no longer exists, and the city foolishly hides behind the hill.
Puritans became inhumane extremists in their religious beliefs and started to interpret writings of providences in a most imaginative way.
They started to believe in witches and the evil omens that they brought with them.
No one was able to refute their existence, and some scientists in England believed that witches were the explanation of scientific phenomena.
The laity were the ones who rooted witchcraft beliefs as they read books like Cotton Mather's Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions.
Soon, it was as if a conflagration erupted in the village.
The Puritans had an obsession and an unbalanced fascination with the unseen world and the bad omens of witches.
There were some Puritans who tried to stop the fire and fervor of witchcraft belief.
However, they were not able to express themselves loudly because doing so would jeopardize their lives by the hysterical witchcraft zealots.
Many people were hanged and killed by the mere accusation of being called a witch.
This testimony was enough to condemn a person.
Puritans originally believed that they only acted upon the revealed word.
However, killing innocent humans by a false accusation was based on evil “inspirations” of the devil’s word.
The Puritan mind was gradually changing.
They became religious extremists as well as individualistic extremists too.
Puritans believed that the Bible was God’s word and the only means of communicating to people.
They denied the belief in godly visitations or revelation by divine inspirations.
They believed in the miracle of creation and nature.
Yet they strictly prohibited the belief that God was in nature or that He communicated to people in nature.
They prohibited the belief in antinomianism and they did not know how to react with the antinomian Anne Hutchinson.
She believed in the “inner light” and this belief shook all the principles of Puritanism.
She was an extreme individualist who threatened the social order of Puritans and who believed in the direct access to God which would deny all justification of the church.
Her beliefs were destructive to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and her twisted view of Puritanism went too far than expected.
Hutchinson and her followers were banished from the colony which showed that the original beliefs in religious toleration and peaceful coexistence were distorted.
John Winthrop sought to keep relations with the Catholic Church and with the divine Scripture.
He did not believe that mere inspirations were enough to shape the Catholic religion.
Another dissenter that challenged Puritan ideals was Roger Williams who saw that individualism and the connection to the New England Church was building a society based on contradicting beliefs.
He believed that the colony was committing an illegal act since it did not pay the Indians for their land.
He was convinced that the civil government had no legal right to punish religious radicals.
He moved to Plymouth and one year later, he was banished.
His response to banishment was "that the civil magistrates had no power to punish persons for their religious opinions" which was a statement that referred to the Christian salvation belief that "no power on earth was entitled to prevent any individual from seeking Christ in his own way." This belief threatened the civil government since it completely severed all connections with its authority.
The witchcraft crises and the banishment of dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams are events that describe the evolution of the once strong strain of Puritan ideology that became a weakened and tainted one.
Some historians believe that Puritanism was a good cause that went bad.
Others say that the problems of the Puritan Colony were inevitable.
They say that mistakes had to be made in the first settlements so that future civilizations could learn from the past.
Puritanism is, in a sense, the seed of Americanism.
Without one, the other would not exist which is the great phenomena of time.