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Quit Blaming the Puritans!

Discussion in 'General Religious Debates' started by Sunstone, Apr 5, 2020.

  1. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    In America, it is popular to blame the Puritans for our repressive sexual moralities -- to the extent that they still exist in some groups. The notion is that such values as "one should not have sex before marriage", "a non-virgin female is a less desirable mate than a virgin female", and "sex is dirty or sinful" were hammered into American culture first and perhaps foremost by the Puritans (who began their migration from England circa 1630).

    The truth is radically different. In fact, the New England Puritans were arguably one of the more sexually liberal groups of their time. For instance, while they did not often promote sex before marriage, they very seldom stigmatized it either. It was common for couples to have premarital sex and even to break-up afterwards before going on to new partners. That's not to say that every Puritan man and woman was engaged in premarital sex or engaged in bed-hopping, but significant numbers of them were. At least about a third had premarital sex, and a fraction of those had premarital sex with multiple partners. We know at least a third had premarital sex because historians have gone back, looked a wedding dates and compared wedding dates with the dates of couple's first childbirths. They have found about a third of all Puritan couples had kids born significantly sooner than nine months after marriage -- i.e. the woman was most likely pregnant on the day of her wedding.

    For the Puritans, the key moral factor was -- NOT whether you had premarital sex -- but whether you married your sex partner should you or she become pregnant.

    The Puritans were adamantly opposed to bringing illegitimate children into the world. And with good reason: Illegitimate children were almost certain to be raised in poverty at a time when there was no social safety net beyond church or private charity. Thus, the Puritans put serious emphasis on marrying if and when the woman got pregnant -- if not before.

    How did the Puritans get such a bad reputation for being sexually oppressive? One influence were misreadings of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter". People in the 1900s tended to read into the novel their own moral values. Hence, they missed the true nature of Hester Prime's offense. In the novel, her offense is to refuse to name the father of her child (thus allowing the community to force him to support the kid). But as folks misread the novel, her offense was to have sex out of wedlock -- a taboo during most of the 1900s. That mistake was one source of the Puritan's bad rep.

    Another source was Henry Mencken, an immensely influential newspaper editor and publisher active during the 1920s. Mencken was highly prejudiced against the Puritans and blamed them for all sorts of undesirable American cultural traits, including the relatively repressed sexuality of his times. Basically, he smeared them every chance he got, and his smears stuck.

    Now, it is undeniable that American culture at one time was quite sexually repressive. It still is in some quarters. But if that sexual repressiveness did not come from the Puritans, then where did it come from?

    I might (or might not) soon post another thread answering that question. In the meantime, where do you think that cultural trait came from?


    FUN FACT: The Puritans had a practice called "bundling". It would require a lengthy explanation, but you should look it up. Shocking! Terribly shocking (if you assume they were totally repressed sexually, that is.)



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  2. ChristineM

    ChristineM "Be strong" I whispered to my coffee.
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    Only tangentially related but worth watching if only because of Stephen Fry

     
  3. Left Coast

    Left Coast Well-Known Member
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    Any recommended links or books for accurate information on the Puritans?
     
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  4. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    The problem with the Puritans wasn't their sexual mores, but their religious intolerance.
     
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  5. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    Almost everything I have stated in the OP either comes from a university course on the history of American sexuality that I took years ago, or from various and sundry books, articles, and essays that I have read since then. That is, I cannot think of any one book, article, or source where you would find even half of what the OP is based on. HOWEVER, you will find some insightful references-in-passing to the Puritans in Stephanie Coontz's absolutely outstanding study of the institution of marriage. I cannot recommend her book too highly.

    Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
     
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  6. Mestemia

    Mestemia Advocatus Diaboli
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  7. Mestemia

    Mestemia Advocatus Diaboli
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    BUt
    But
    The Devil Made Me Do It!

    Yeah,That's it
     
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  8. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    Not so radically different at all. While I've never heard that Puritans believed "a non-virgin female is a less desirable mate than a virgin female", or that "sex is dirty or sinful," they did have specific rules about sexual behavior, and intolerance in general was almost a byword.


    "Some strong religious beliefs common to Puritans had direct impacts on culture. Education was essential to every person, male and female, so that they could read the Bible for themselves. However, the Puritans' emphasis on individual spiritual independence was not always compatible with the community cohesion that was also a strong ideal. Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643), the well educated daughter of a teacher, argued with the established theological orthodoxy, and was forced to leave the colony with her followers.

    Puritans were opposed to Sunday sport or recreation because these distracted from religious observance of the Sabbath. Other forms of leisure and entertainment were completely forbidden on moral grounds.

    The Puritans exhibited intolerance of other religious views, including Quaker, Anglican and Baptist theologies. In 1660, one of the most notable victims of the religious intolerance was English Quaker Mary Dyer, who was hanged in Boston for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. She was one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs.

    Puritans in both England and New England believed that the state should protect and promote true religion and that religion should influence politics and social life. Certain holidays were outlawed when Puritans came to power. Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659. Puritans objected to Christmas because the festivities surrounding the holiday were seen as impious.

    Card playing and gambling were banned in England and the colonies, as was mixed dancing involving men and women because it was thought to lead to fornication.

    Puritans condemned the sexualization of the theatre and its associations with depravity and prostitution. Puritan authorities shut down English theatres in the 1640s and 1650s, and none were allowed to open in Puritan-controlled colonies.

    Puritans publicly punished drunkenness and sexual relations outside marriage. Couples who had sex during their engagement were fined and publicly humiliated. Men, and a handful of women, who engaged in homosexual behavior, were seen as especially sinful, with some executed.

    Spouses were disciplined if they did not perform their sexual marital duties, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 7 and other biblical passages."

    source
    AND

    "Toward sexual intercourse outside marriage the Puritans were as frankly hostile as they were favorable to it in marriage. They passed laws to punish adultery with death and fornication with whipping.
    (p184)
    source


    .
     
    #8 Skwim, Apr 5, 2020
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
  9. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    As you know, you are quoting Wikipedia passages based on Mary Beth Norton's general survey of American history. What makes you think Norton is a superior source on the specific question of Puritan sexual practices? For instance, does she mention the study that showed a third of the brides during the Puritan period were most likely pregnant on their wedding day? What does she make of the practice of bundling? Has she any comments on how the agrarian economy influenced Puritan sexual morals? What are her methods for determining that the laws against fornication -- which were ubiquitous among nearly all Christian cultures during the age of the Puritans -- were enforced by the Puritans any more often than similar laws were enforced by, say, French Catholics of the period? etc. etc. Have you thought this through, Skwim?



    Edmund S. Morgan, in my opinion, seems at first glance to be a superior source to Mary Beth Norton on the specific question of Puritan sexual practices. However, I think anyone who follows your link will discover like I did that your quote is cherry-picking. Again, passing laws is not the same thing as enforcing them. Every Christian culture of the time had laws on its books against fornication, etc. How often did the Puritans enforce their laws compared to other Christian societies, groups, and cultures?
     
  10. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    Consorting with the devil?! WITCH!
    Burn him!
     
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  11. Skwim

    Skwim Veteran Member

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    You mean better than your un-referenced memory? *chuckle*

    Well, for one thing I have the original sources for the material I quoted.

    (48) Bremer, Francis J. (2009). Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press

    (83) Bremer, Francis J., ed. (1981). Anne Hutchinson: Troubler of the Puritan Zion. R.E. Krieger Pub. Co.​

    (90) Norton, Mary Beth (2008). People and a Nation: A History of the United States, Volume 1: To 1877, Brief Edition. Cengage Learning.

    (93) Barnett, James Harwood (1984). The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture. Ayer Publishing

    (96) Miller, Perry; Johnson, Thomas H., eds. (2014). The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings. Courier Corporation.

    (97) Johnson, James Turner (1970). A Society Ordained by God. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
    Keeble, N. H. (1987). The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England.

    (98) Bremer, Francis J.; Webster, Tom, eds. (2006). "Savoy Assembly". Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 533–534.

    (99) Foster, Thomas (October 1999). "Deficient Husbands: Manhood, Sexual Incapacity, and Male Marital Sexuality in Seventeenth-Century New England". The William and Mary Quarterly. 56 (4): 723–744.

    (104) Rogers, Horatio, 2009. Mary Dyer of Rhode Island: The Quaker Martyr That Was Hanged on Boston Archived 15 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine pp.1–2. BiblioBazaar,


    What do you have?

    Had no reason to. I had sources. :D

    Sorry, but as far as this subject goes your credibility here is kind of shot.

    .




     
    #11 Skwim, Apr 5, 2020
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2020
  12. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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  13. Sunstone

    Sunstone De Diablo Del Fora
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    One of the fascinating challenges when studying the history of American sexuality is to sort out American idealism from American practices.

    For instance, the New England Puritans were like almost all Christian societies of their time in passing anti-fornication laws. In their case, fornication (sex outside of marriage) was punishable by flogging. A few historians now and then point to those laws as grounds for concluding the Puritans were just as uptight about fornication as nearly everyone else at the time. But when you dive into it, not only were the anti-fornication laws rarely enforced beyond their first few years in place, but there is solid evidence that about a third of Puritan brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Puritans were not as opposed to fornication in practice as they were opposed to it in theory.
     
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