October 26th, 2020


Good Lord, deliver us

I have been reminded recently how much Puritans annoy me. In recent years, I have had cause mostly to be annoyed by the apostate puritans who run The United Methodist Church. Make no mistake, their beliefs may change as the winds of wokeness blow them, but their hectoring tone, their blaming and shaming, they’re take-it-it’s-good-for-you self-righteousness, are all puritan to the core.

The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.
-- H.L. Mencken
More recently, I have spent more time amongst the traditionalists who are leading the great out-migration from that same body. They’re orthodox as all get-out, but some of them share the same pompous, didactic, nobody-else-does-it-right, rulemongering nature as their progressive brethren. They love to talk about "biblical religion,” features of which might not be recognized at first by the actual denizens of the New Testament. They insist upon accountability, and then have special Exception Cards up their sleeve, which they use when others might cast a fishy eye on the way they like to do things.

Earnest young man in the mall to older man wearing a clerical collar: Excuse me Sir, do you belong to a New Testament Church?
Clergyman: Son, I belong to the Church that wrote the New Testament.
-- Actual event, Lexington, KY, c. 1975
Then beyond the Apostate and the Tub-thumper, there is the Scrupler; you know, the one who wants to rename the church Hallowe’en party a “Fall Festival” and doesn’t like people dressing up as witches and devils. Hey, did it never occur to you that we dress up like this to mock the forces of evil, not because we secretly hanker to be evil? Nope. “Somebody might be offended” is the Scrupler’s mantra. The fact that nobody else ever is tells you whose feelings are actually being protected..

Dost thou think because thou art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?
-- Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Puritans have no wit, and they fear all works of the imagination. Every great work of art, literary or plastic, must be explained. We must not miss the symbolism. Every sacrament must be hedged about with instructions, every ritual larded with cautionary prologue and disclaimers. Every story must have a moral. There can be no ambiguity, anywhere.

Wheel of Morality, turn, turn, turn,
Tell us the lesson that we should learn.
-- Animaniacs
The Puritan is often wrong, but never in doubt. Whatever he believes, he believes absolutely. Whatever he is for, he is for to the nth degree. Whatever he is against, he is against utterly. Whatever he doesn’t understand isn’t worth knowing. And the idea that other people with different ways or ideas might see something he does not, which might enrich his understanding of his own ways or ideas, is unthinkable: someone must be simply right, and all others must be simply wrong.

Such a method has the same dangers as any other; that is, it is quite sound when a master uses it, cheapens as it becomes popular, and is unendurable when it is merely fashionable. So Augustine’s predestination was safe with him, comprehensible in Calvin, tiresome in the English Puritans, and quite horrible in the Scottish presbyteries.
-- Charles Williams, The Descent of the Dove