Authoritarian Theocratic Government is not an answer

PURITAN-CALVINISTWe sometimes forget about how intolerant new inhabitants to the New World were to difference both in thought and behavior that strayed in anyway from collective conscious of church doctrine, authoritarian and theocratic.

The Puritans arrived in the New World in 1629. A group of Puritans, led by John JOHN_WINTHROPWinthrop, began the Massachusetts Bay Company while still in England, then sailed to Massachusetts in 1629, taking the company charter with them.

John Winthrop’s Puritans were basically seeking religious freedom. Disillusionment in the church of England and the King drove their desire to seek a home in the New World.

To make a long historical story shorter there were different colonies of Puritans from Virginia to the area of Rhode Island. Some colonies were not as successful as others,. There existed many different variables that either allowed more success’ and failures.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was one that it can be said to prosper. The interestingM_BAY_COLONY story of this colony to me was the structure. It was a ‘company’ and one owned by the colony. On the flip side of the coin the colony its governing was based in the dictates of religious leaders. Strict adherence to Puritan philosophy was demanded. It was one of a collective thought. Anyone who was suspected or known to stray found themselves in a devilish predicament and in the worse situation face death. The Puritans were authoritarian and theocratic. Puritan Congregationalism was the official—and only—recognized religion.

A crime considered especially heinous was speaking against the religion. This is a controversial topic in a country said to be founded on freedom of religion. If anyone spoke against Puritanism, the culprit would have a hot awl gouged through his tongue. [4]

There was not too much room for religious disagreement in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritans defended their dogma with uncommon fury. Their devotion to principle was God’s work; to ignore God’s work was unfathomable. When free-thinkers speak their minds in such a society, conflict inevitably results. [1]

Descent from the dictates of religious leaders and one could find them tried for heresy and if found guilty could mean branded with the letter “H”, public whipping, banishment from the colony or the humiliation of the public stockade.

A thief would be branded with the letter “T”.

So strong were the Puritan adherence to the dictates of their religious leaders that any strange or viewed non conformity was seen as the work of the devil. This was the root of the Salem Witch trials. Witches were burned or hanged mostly women but recordings of men as well, they were heretics.

“Massachusetts Bay Colony was a man’s world. Women did not participate in town meetings and were excluded from decision making in the church. Puritan ministers furthered male supremacy in their writings and sermons. They preached that the soul had two parts, the immortal masculine half, and the mortal feminine half.

Church attendance was mandatory. Those that missed church regularly were subjectPURITANS-CHRUCH to a fine. The sermon became a means of addressing town problems or concerns. The church was sometimes patrolled by a man who held a long pole. On one end was a collection of feathers to tickle the chins of old men who fell asleep. On the other was a hard wooden knob to alert children who giggled or slept. Church was serious business indeed.

Adulterers might have been forced to wear a scarlet “A” if they were lucky. At least two known adulterers were executed in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Public whippings were commonplace. The stockade forced the humiliated guilty person to sit in the public square, while onlookers spat or laughed at them. Puritans felt no remorse about administering punishment. They believed in Old Testament methods. Surely God’s correction would be far worse to the individual than any earthly penalty.” [2]

Divorce presented the Puritans with a dilemma. Not only was marriage a civil matter it was a divine institution based in Christ. It has been reported that on average a marriage lasted for approximately twelve years. Marriages may end due to death of a partner, adultery or desertion. Choosing to remarry in all these cases was permissible.

In reading about the Puritans it seemed clear that peoples of the Massachusetts Bay Colony feared the theocratic and lived in fear of accusations one to the other.

gossip_puritansPerhaps the cruelest punishment for slanderers, nags, and gossips, when simple gagging wasn’t enough, was the brank, sometimes called the “gossip’s bridle” or “scold’s helm.” This was a sort of heavy iron cage, that covered the head; a flat tongue of iron, sometimes spiked, was thrust into the mouth over the criminal’s tongue. Less sophisticated areas made do with a “simpler machine—a cleft stick pinched on the tongue.” Either system pretty much insured silence. [5]

The Puritan theocracy pretty much had everything covered. If a man found guility of fornicating with a barnyard animal (apparently not uncommon) not only did he face death the animal(s) that were his victim were culled and slaughtered. Of course identifying the animal(s) was often problematic. Animals were a valued commodity. Diligence to this matter was crucial. There existed great fear of Satan dropping a seed of evil in a colony from the prodigy of a fornicated animal. A infamous case was that of a sixteen or seventeen old Thomas Granger who was was convicted of “buggery with a mare, a cowe, two goats, divers sheepe, two calves, and a turkey”, according to court records of 7 September 1642. Granger was hanged, the animals were slaughtered. In other words the Puritan Congregationalism took Leviticus 20:15 “And if a man shall lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast” literally.

An example of edicts that we would find today as outrageous are:

  • 1638 the Massachusetts Bay Colony required every town to “dispose of all single persons . . . .”
  • in 1636 Connecticut ordered that no single man could live alone without the consent of the town
  • individuals who had undesirable conduct were placed in “good” homes where they would be disciplined and guided; “for example, a widow who had borne a child 3 years after her husband’s death was whipped 10 stripes and ordered into some good family where she may be under Congregational control
  • taught that family was heirocracal, that is it was patriarchal, that is the father ruled in all areas, decisions of the marriages of their daughters, inheritance etc. [3]

Age of consent varied from seven to ten years of age. I know that sounds just plain awful and I am sure for young girls it was but with that said people didn’t live all that long of a life back then.

My own Mother was married at thirteen years of age in the late 1930’s having her first child just after her fourteenth birthday. Economics of the family was a major driver. She had been working since dropping out of her 5th year at school and my Father had been working in a coal mine since the age of nine and a half. Both came from large families and it was desirable that they leave the roost.

Now why did I write this snippet about the Puritans? The first reason is to point out we have evolved in some positive ways. Second is to hope you the reader has made a connection that theocratic dogma is not a desirable way to govern a country. Thirdly one might imagine the kind of life if Puritan Congregationalism had completely survived in America. Would America have been an Islamic like theocracy? We should all rejoice that the Founders understood why separation of church and state is important.

Roger Williams preached separation of church and state. He believed in complete ROGER_WILLLIAMSreligious freedom, so no single church should be supported by tax dollars. Massachusetts Puritans believed they had the one true faith; therefore such talk was intolerable. Williams claimed taking land from the Native Americans without proper payment was unfair. Massachusetts wasted no time in banishing the minister. [1]

ANNE_HUTCHINSONAnne Hutchinson was another banished from the Bay Colony. “It is important to note that even though her views were construed as dissent by the rulers of the Puritan colony, Anne had never intended to offend anyone. Her views were simply those of an educated individual with a healthy attitude towards a Church she wished to actively participate in and help flourish. Anne’s creed was simple, perhaps too simple, and this is what worried the leaders of the colony; after all, how could you control a flock which did not feel they had to abide by a strict set of rules to gain admittance to heaven?”

The laws of the theocracy of Puritan Congregationalist did not die overnight. The public punishment in open air venues took many years to die completely. Public hangings survived well into the late years of the ‘Old West’.

The five basic beliefs of the Puritans that live today in varying degrees are: Predestination, Males as Leaders of the Family, The Devil, Church Membership and Free Schooling. [6]

To end on a more positive note the Puritans philosophy gave us the following quotes.

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

[1] The New England Colonies: Dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
[2 ] US History, Puritan Life
[3] Campbell University, Colonial Family in America
[4] Puritan Way of Punishment by Emily Robbins
[5] Colonial Crimes and Punishment by James A. Cox
[6] What were the five basic beliefs of the Puritans by Katherine Hartman