Monday, June 02, 2008

Progressives versus Puritans

From the essay "Puritans and Historians" by Mark A. Noll in the book Christianity in America: A Handbook, c. 1983 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, published by Lion Publishing, Herts, England:
Only in the last century has "Puritan" become a synonym for joyless, repressive, and often hypocritical fanaticism. This interpretation arose during the Progressive Era of American history when so many intellectuals felt so confident about understanding the real roots of human behavior, which they deemed to be largely economic and psychological, and when they were hailing so surely the march of civilization from superstitious darkness to democratic light. The carnage of World War I, the moral crisis of the 1920s, and the economic collapse of the 1930s disabused most scholars of the idea that they were living in a new Golden Age. These shocks also created a climate in which the Puritans, who had understood something of human evil, the complexity of human existence, and the deeply engrained longing for the divine, could be studied more objectively. Yet the popular image of Puritanism created by the Progressives lingers on...

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