Thanks for the Puritans

As a nation we celebrate Thanksgiving as a time of family gatherings, overeating, and football. Oh, and as the official kickoff of the Christmas shopping season. Although the Christmas decorations have been up for some time at my local malls. Since just after Halloween, it seems…

Thanksgiving is, of course, about thanking the Source for all that is ours. Our blessings are many, especially in America, and we should never lose sight of how this came to be. Yes, we’ve got fantastic natural resources. Yes, we cleansed the land, more or less, of its aboriginal people, whose remnants now get their revenge at their casinos. Yes, it wasn’t too many years after the Puritans landed that their southern, largely Anglican cousins in Virginia began importing African slaves. So we’ve had our share of national sins.

I’d suggest that our sins were, and are, a reflection of what the Puritans knew full well: we are a fallen species, and we are prone to ignore God in our lives. But I’d also suggest that our success might have something to do with the special provenance He has given to America, the Puritan Nation.

And I make a bald statement that the American character was forged in Massachusetts, by the Puritans. It is a quintessentially Protestant character, focusing on the individual’s direct access to God, while not forgetting his duties to the commonwealth. But the Puritan’s first loyalty was to obey God’s laws, to worship Him, and know that His Son died for us all.

Not that an Anglican or Catholic can not be a good American, of course. Today that is certainly the way it is. But back in the early 17th century, it would have been difficult indeed to see the nascent American individualism in those traditions. Traditions that emphasized a royal hierarchy, more concerned with matters of this world than of the next. They subsumed the individual, not under God’s will as revealed in Scripture, but as interpreted by mere men with fancy robes and titles and cathedrals.

The Puritans, early adapters as they might be called today, recognized that the better path to righteousness was to live according to His word; not merely hear it preached once a week. We have broken away, far away, from this simple, humble concept of what Governor Winthrop called the new “city on a hill.”

Did I write “humble?” Isn’t it vainglorious to claim that our nation is a light unto the nations? Yes, it is, given what our public culture has become. But just because we fall far short of the ideal doesn’t change its nature. Wasn’t the early Massachusetts colony a theocracy? Yes; but humble in the Puritan recognition that it is God who is in control.



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