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Last week, as my mother died in hospice, I was following a Cadillac Escallade. Its windows were tinted dark, and its back window had a message for the poor fool following. It said,

Not of this world
I did not know that my mother was dying at that moment, but it would not have mattered for the bitterness, nor the irony. After all, my mother loved her Cadillac Sedan De Ville cars, back when they were made of steel and absurdity. This person's entry into the competition for curb crushing weight and sky obliterating volume was just another harlequin at the fair.

What stood out was the message. The owner of the car took the time to brand it in such a way that it advertised and advocated an other worldly point of view -- one that troubled me immensely.

The peculiarity of the item added, I am sure, to the starkness of the inherent problem. The window glass was tinted black to ensure that the cabin of the padded bouncy castle was private, that it reflected inward, that no one could see in (or, if one is behind the vehicle, through to traffic). The white paint with razor thin lines mimicking a Batista-era moustache, and the vast tires competing for notice with the sparkling golden hubs, jumbled things so completely, so genuinely, and so unselfconsciously, that the whole masticated slush of populist philosophizing and proselytizing only managed to say, "I like hypocrisy, how 'bout you?"

I have trouble with the ichthus badges on the backs of cars, and I am a prayerful Christian. I am sure that all who read this know that the symbol of the fish was supposed to call to mind the word, "ichthus," which was an acronym in Greek: "Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ", (Iēsous Christos, Theou Huios, Sōtēr), or "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." However, the thing was developed as a secret sign during persecutions so that Christians needing aid could find one another. It was not advertising!

What is the fish symbol's purpose on a car? Is it to affect a conversion in the unsaved driver? If so, a symbol by itself is obscure, and the unsaved driver is going to have to decode it, consult scripture, go to a church, and then have grace. Is it to identify a persecuted individual for fellowship? If so, then how? Am I supposed to zoom up to pass the driver, honk, make an air genuflection, and say, "Me, too!?" Or is it to say, "Unlike you people, I am a Christian?" The latter, of course, means saying, "I have spiritual pride, and I dare you to out-do me."

Given my history, therefore, with the ichthus, this tinted placard made me even more puzzled.

The Puritains themselves gave us the "Puritan work ethic," but folks get that thing wrong. They did not believe in getting rich, and the belief in getting rich hasn't much to do with the PWE (I feel like I'm on familiar terms with it and so can use an abbreviation). First, the "work ethic" was not a positive value. Puritains, and some of their modern descendants, believed that they were Elect, that they were, in fact, the particular elect of God. They read the Bible for something called types. A type was not an allegory or symbol, but rather a repeated event that would be called by a single name. Thus, in Scripture, David would speak of the king, in the Psalms, but the same words would be a type and prefiguration of the Christ. So, also, the Mayflower folks read themselves as the Chosen fleeing Pharoah to establish Israel in a far land.

They established a "covenant" with God, and God would grant success to their nation with providence in accordance with their adherence to that covenant. As John Winthrop said on the way over to Massachusetts:

We are entered into covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these and those accounts, upon these and those ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath He ratified this covenant and sealed our commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.
When you are the particular saints of God, then Lucifer finds it worth his while to try to claim you. This is why the Puritains ended up becoming as ascetic as the monks and nuns that they hated in the Roman Catholic Church. The human body distracted, at best, or befouled the saintly devotion, and thus, "Idle hands (were) the devil's workshop" in America.

It's curious that we call the accumulation of wealth through slavishness "the Puritan work ethic," because it conflates two separate strands of their thought. On the one hand, they thought that success would be a sign of divine favor, because (and only because) they were types for the tribes of Israel, and, on the other hand, they thought that constant work was the best way to avoid gluttony, sloth, or, worst of all, lust.

The Puritains are gone. Their children are gone, too. The men and women who, upon encountering a mid-Atlantic storm, felt joyful that they might go to their real home, have gone on to that haven-home of eternity. The Puritain attitude toward the American Indian was psychopathically fractured, as the Indians could be the objects of pity or hatred, but they were not so consistently converted as one might assume. Remember that the Puritains were elect. The Indians were thus the Canaanites. It was as much a divine command to conquer the tribes, to the Puritains, as it was for the Jews to take Canaan.

The Puritains were also singular in their fascination with the End Times. Once one may read the Bible with types, all sorts of possibilities emerge. Curiously, everyday believers could couple their priesthood of all believers (and therefore an insistence on "plain meaning" and textual certainty) with Types to become the most offensively hermetic readers of the period.

Jonathan Swift would ridicule them in 1696's A Tale of a Tub by the figure of Jack, who is so zealous of cleansing his religion that he needed a new name for his legal principle, and

"he made a shift to find a very plausible name, honoring it with the title of zeal; which is perhaps the most significant word that hath been ever yet produced in any language; as, I think, I have fully proved in my excellent analytical discourse upon that subject; wherein I have deduced a histori-theo-physi-logical account of zeal, showing how it first proceeded from a notion into a word, and from thence in a hot summer ripened into a tangible substance."
"Zeal" licensed and forgave all. It would also be called "enthusiasm" and "phrenzy" -- the state of spiritual ecstasy that occurs when one is visited by the Holy Spirit. Revelation became proof by itself, and, as Swift argued in the same work (the "Digression on Madness," section IX),
"But when a Man's Fancy gets astride on his Reason, when Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses, and common Understanding, as well as common Sense, is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself, and when that is once compass'd, the Difficulty is not so great in bringing over others. . ."
In other words, after illustrations like Margaret Fell, who claimed visionary authority, as well as scores of less luminary individuals, such as Jane Leade, who anticipated what America would undergo in the Second Awakening, the remnants of the Puritains had moved into an area that might seem predictable and familiar: the individual believer with the greater revelation (and "greatness" seemed to depend upon dramatic deviation from the well known) became the most attractive. The values propagated grew more and more quietist, more and more pietist, and more and more millenarian.

That bouquet of defeat, withdrawal, individual piety, and dedication to both solitary revelation and millenarian fears, is the wine of American evangelicanism in the television age. It is especially the body of the assumption behind a coal-burning electric plant, a gasoline SUV of the gravest weight, and a blithe lack of concern for torture or loss of privacy for Them. In the case of the Puritains, they had a reason to feel defeated: they had won their war, only to see their New Jerusalem turn sour, and then they had lost the public. They felt dispirited and defeated, and it was natural for them to retreat to the concern for the individual. Our wealthy SUV driver, though, needs more understanding.

The Gospel admits no defeat. It allows no quiet waiting. The Gospel is active, and it is local.

Our folks are generally participants in a defeated cultural or political group. The political rhetoric that they entertain is that the World is run by liberals and secularists and the wicked who have taken over. They are also inhabitants of a siege church, whereby the spiritual warfare motif that was once rooted in a typological reading and required predestination is now extended to the daily struggle against inertia, appetite, error, and evil. The individual revelation is elevated to the point where the solitary congregation, with its minister, is an island in an ocean of wickedness, and this justifies -- along with a belief that the world is both evil and passing away -- sacrificing some moral laws for the sake of the eschaton.

We know the potency of this appeal. We should also know the toxicity. In English history, the withdrawn pietist was eventually brought together by George Whitefield's preaching, which became an extremely socially active (if prim) Methodism. Had Amy Semple MacPherson succeeded, perhaps something similar might have happened here, and each of the television evangelists would like to assume the mantle, but, in our age of increasing separation, it's quite doubtful. Therefore, we have -- those of us who believe in the polity and the Gospel of society -- to know that they are there, that their language is not gibberish, that they are used.

If we could ever tell these strangers and saints that their sanctity could be shown by keeping the place pleasant for their fellows, that their fellows are not demons, that as they do for the least they do for Christ, that the enemy is to be loved, then they might deserve their belief, and it could be that they won't have to paint their moral badges on their cars themselves.

Originally posted to A Frayed Knot on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 07:40 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  the reason why a "Christian nation" is impossible (11+ / 0-)

    I wish I could find it to quote it, but I remember reading an argument about how the reason a "Christian nation" is impossible was Christianity's emphasis on the otherworldly, because all the things that motivate people to get their heads out of their asses are "of the world": friends, family, country, etc.  Specifically Protestant beliefs like salvation through faith alone and a personal god offering personal salvation only magnify this tendency; you only need to get your own soul right and to hell (literally) with everything and everyone else.  American individualism and pioneer/woodsman mythology feeds into it as well: the belief that society represses and enervates and the only truly free person is out in the wilderness and lives for himself alone.

    People who think like that are incapable of forming any kind of nation.  Whatever tribal identity or "silent majority" they imagine exists is really just a projection of their own selves in a solipsistic house of mirrors.

    •  A pendulum in belief (vs. faith) (7+ / 0-)

      There is an element of what you say, of course, but there is another side to it. The same group that is quietist when in defeat is militant when not. Essentially, the quiestism and remove come after the defeat or success of theocracy.

      On the other hand, there is a separate belief in the body of Christian thought that goes back to the Gospel itself. Augustine's Civitas Dei makes the case for the individual's piety being the prerequisite for the moral state and the state's morality being a matter of no concern to the individual. I.e. if all of us are good people, then the state we live in will act well. If we are bad people, then it doesn't matter if we have the form of government that is appointed in the Bible.

      Although it appears to be quietist, it isn't: it's an argument for a separation of the divine and civil, which Augustine found necessary, and which we see endorsed by Jesus in his "whose name is on the coin" answer. It's this tradition that the Enlightenment banked on. William Law and other Establishment divines pushed it, and they did not like what Whitefield did (later).

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 09:31:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Sorry for the doubling: (7+ / 0-)

      Let me be plainer and more political.

      Today's evangelical voter is moving toward the Puritain retreat model. This is familiar ground that the voter never fully left. After all, the politicians who seek to exploit that voter use the siege mentality to excuse their policies and justify their immorality.

      However, with W. Bush some felt triumphant. They didn't feel it with him, mind you, as they always suspected his sincerity, but the moving into the foreground of Bachmann and Perry and other overt Dominionist and fringe theocrats shows the high heather they felt. They made common cause with the weirdest Opus Dei side projects and thought that it would be time to get some Godly laws.

      Kos's "American Taliban" and others referring to them as "Mullahs" all struck at the same note: they were feeling that it was time to take over. By 2014, I expect a lot more cellular pietism.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 09:36:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Proofreading nitpick (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The word is "P U R I T A N" not "puritain."

        We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.

        •  Wondered about that. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Geogre, RiveroftheWest

          I have always spelled it 'ain', and my spellcheck didn't catch it when I made a snarky comment about them last night, nonetheless 'an' seems to be the accepted spelling. Am I showing my age or was it always this way?

          You..ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. -Mother Jones

          by northsylvania on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:01:27 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Older/newer, reform v originary (6+ / 0-)

            By 1720, both spellings were around. Since the movement folks were maintaining the "ian" ending of a "Martian" or "Romanian," thus they had that -ain (no, don't ax me about the transposition, because I don't know). However, the pronunciation was short.

            All short vowels got shorter still in the great vowel. . . bump. So, the 1580's folk probably had an "ane" and the 1680's folk probably had an "an" in pronunciation.

            I was emphasizing my historical intent by maintaining the antiquarian spelling, but my American Heritage 4th ed. says that either spelling is acceptable, though -an is dominant now.

            Everyone is innocent of some crime.

            by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:24:46 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Great Vowel Shift, not bump (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              Otto Jespersen (Growth and Structure of the English Language) named the gradual--several centuries--change in English vowels the Great Vowel Shift.
              The Shift describes the change of vowels from spoken values which we typically associate with short vowels--like those of French and Spanish ("a" being pronounced more like "ah")--to what we now call long vowels.
              The shift occurred because vowels started to be formed with the tongue placed higher in the mouth.
              I don't think it's accurate to say that short vowels became shorter, though.
              English also kept the short sounds of vowels and has, as well, vowels controlled by consonants or other vowels (think of the value of the "a" in the words "far" or "fall") which accounts for the often hair-tearing (tear or tear?) complexity of its vowel system.

              •  GVS long vowels; short vowels shortened (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Oh Mary Oh

                After the GVS, which actually seems to have happened quite rapidly in English, a further shift took place. It has no fixed name.

                1. The GVS affected long vowels continent-wide, and they moved up and over.
                2. Short vowels during the same time in English grew shorter and lighter -- moving toward schwa in unstressed positions.

                Then, about 30 - 80 years after the GVS was over, a further shift took place. See how "tea" is pronounced "tay" before and "tee" after, how the noun "wind" is pronounced the same as the verb ("wind" a watch)? These vowels moved to their modern values. At the same time as that, short vowels in unstressed positions were even further dipthongized according to Albert Baugh.

                I have problems with Baugh -- a ton of them when he gets out of Middle English and starts in on ModE -- but this is well trodden ground, and anyone who does poetry of the 1660 - 1800 era will see this. . . "bump" occur. I'm flippant with my name, but not with the event.

                Everyone is innocent of some crime.

                by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 03:16:43 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I should have said unstressed (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Oh Mary Oh

                Even my reply to your reply missed out on a key feature: short vowels dipthongized in the GVS.

                Since Jespersen, folks have distinguished the overall process of vowel movement in English from As -> ME, which is not so clear (the regional dialects disrupt any serious rule) from the intense movement in the London Standard. My point about the second or third syllable of "puritan" is how fully its letters were pronounced, or how the letters represented sounds.

                The additional, post GVS shortening and dropping of unstressed vowels (after dipthongizing) occurs during the period in question according to Baugh. Now, Baugh thinks this also explains the "his genitive," while I think that's nuts. A. O. Curme thinks grammatical gender is involved or hypercorrection. Anyway, the thesis seems supported that unstressed vowels ended up as "uh/eh/ih" (trying IPA here would be cruel).

                Everyone is innocent of some crime.

                by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 03:34:10 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Thank you (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  The Geogre, northsylvania

                  I stand corrected but enlightened, which is always welcome.
                  Just couldn't bear (wrist to forehead) to see the GVS referred to as a bump!

                  •  GVS one of my favorite mysteries (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    I think the GVS, like the pyramids and the wheel, is one of the great Unsolved Mysteries. I mean, seriously: across the entire continent of Europe, synchronized, and languages that did not speak to one another, and they all move the same way in the mouth?

                    Occam is swapping his razor for a pocket knife.

                    (Oh, and why were the pre- pre- pre- Germanic peoples always running west? Just what was it in the East that was ugly and mean enough to make them hell bent for the setting sun?)

                    (Meant flippantly, of course, and I take correction as well as the next lump. For those who know these matters, I will go into any detail desired, but I never want to bore a general reader.)

                    Everyone is innocent of some crime.

                    by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 05:18:17 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  Nah. I'm using the Puritain spelling! (7+ / 0-)

          It was "Puritain" in England in the 17th c. In the USA, we have both forms.

          I actually used both forms in the diary. I believe I used "Puritan work ethic" vs. "Puritains." I.e. I was being even more nitpicky than thou!

          Everyone is innocent of some crime.

          by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:21:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Jesus was being sly when he said, "Render unto (8+ / 0-)

      Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." The person who had questioned him with the Roman coin was setting a trap for him -- deny Caesar and risk prosecution by the Roman occupiers; accept the legitimacy of Caesar and alienate his followers.  Of course, any good Judean Jew at the time would realize Jesus was saying, "All things belong to God; and therefore nothing really is to be rendered to Caesar." When I was still a believing Christian, this and many other sayings of Jesus in the Gospel led me to believe that a Christian's adherence to his or her nation must always be limited by the dictates of his religious beliefs.  Since I also believed that Jesus preached pacifism (it takes a real effort to argue otherwise of Jesus, although not of Saul/Paul with his Roman citizenship privilege), the implication was obvious.  Most of his ethical teachings are really pretty easy to discern, if not so easy to put into practice (charity toward all, identification with the poor, detachment from worldly goods, etc.).  The history  of Christianity since Paul took over has been the history of attempts to argue that Jesus didn't mean what he most obviously said (not unlike the history of Buddhism).  

      "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

      by Oliver St John Gogarty on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:20:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The trap. . . or not (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        native, RiveroftheWest, Oh Mary Oh

        Of course it was a trap, and one specifically charged in the language of the zealots, too. The authorities could have wanted Jesus killed by the Zealots as a Roman-lover, or they could have believed that Jesus's support came from the same branch of discontent with their rule as the Maccabees.

        I see the message here more than simply an evasion. I see in it a devaluation, entirely consistent with Christ's sermons, of money. The coin is irrelevant -- it started out as a thing of man (Caesar's, in this case) -- so why even worry about it? This is part of the redefinition of the Kingdom of God. Jesus announced that the Kingdom had come, that the age of temporal kings, of judges, of all secular authority had passed its date of importance.

        If you understand "kingdom" as the Temple or the city, then the Zealots are holy. If you define it as God's presence, then those things are no longer paramount.

        Everyone is innocent of some crime.

        by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 12:14:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  fundies spin this to justify anti-government (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Oh Mary Oh
        Of course, any good Judean Jew at the time would realize Jesus was saying, "All things belong to God; and therefore nothing really is to be rendered to Caesar."
        Since "Caesar" has no claim upon anything of this world, don't pay your taxes, don't follow the laws, don't engage the culture in any way, and devote yourself mind and body to executing God's will on earth ... by any means necessary.
  •  Condolences on the passing of your (12+ / 0-)


    Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

    by Denise Oliver Velez on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 09:39:35 AM PDT

  •  Thank you, Geogre. (5+ / 0-)

    Nicely written with thought-provoking thoughts and images. I appreciate your gentleness and evenhandedness, especially after some of the sneering at religion--any religion--all religion--I've read elsewhere today.

    There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect... --William James

    by oslyn7 on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:07:53 AM PDT

    •  Thank you (5+ / 0-)

      I appreciate that.

      The faithful have to realize that the atheists, even when they're as good as their word, are the neighbors we're told so often to love. The truly atheist should recognize the normative and ameliorative power of religion. The people who are estranged from religion, like the people who are embittered by whatever they think is anti-religious, need to realize that whatever wounds they have received will not be healed by inflicting more.

      At least it seems that way to me. The most fervent are often the followers, and they are often genuine. They do listen. They can hear. They do want what is right. They have been kept in an ice box, though. The loudest, on the other hand, are often the least genuine, the least sincere, the ones who mistake faith for close mindedness.

      I meet a lot of very fervent young evangelicals. I have no desire in convincing them in an argument. I have only the hope of showing them, by the way I approach them, that they are allowed to keep thinking, allowed to listen. Only they will change their minds, no one else, and I hope it is when their hearts tell them to.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:30:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre, texasmom

        I like to think that all I do is based on my commitment to following Christ in my daily life but I'm not evangelical about much of anything anymore...except for advancing the cause of conservation agriculture as a lonely hope for the grim future about to come upon Sub-Saharan Africa. Oh, and care for extremely marginalized populations like the People with Albinism here in Tanzania.

        I work with equal enthusiasm with whoever presents along the way--evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, nonreligious--and will give an honest effort to understand and appreciate their motivations in joining efforts with me/us with exactly what you describe:

        I have only the hope of showing them, by the way I approach them, that they are allowed to keep thinking, allowed to listen. Only they will change their minds, no one else, and I hope it is when their hearts tell them to.
        This, it seems to me, is a lovely encapsulation of what Jesus meant when he asked us to treat each other in the ways we ourselves wish to be treated.

        There is no worse enemy of God and Man than zeal armed with power and guided by a feeble intellect... --William James

        by oslyn7 on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 09:24:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I am sorry (4+ / 0-)

    for your distress. The last few years of life are extraordinarily difficult for the person going through them and for those around them. It certainly takes a while to process.
    Nonetheless this is an excellent analysis and one that is pertinent to these times. Stephen Fry claimed that the Puritans were run out of England, not for their religion, but because they insisted on inflicting it on others. Since our own version has seen a few defeats lately, and have nowhere further to run, one does wonder how they will react.

    You..ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. -Mother Jones

    by northsylvania on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:09:53 AM PDT

    •  They WERE run out (6+ / 0-)

      The Puritains of the Mayflower were run out exactly because they insisted that the Established church change to suit them. They announced "no more Patching." In fact, that language in particular ("patching") from The Remonstrance is satirized in the figure of Jack in A Tale of a Tub. The three brothers, Peter (RCC), Martin (CoE) and Jack (dissenters) are given a coat (Christianity) by their father, along with a Will (the Bible) that tells them not to mess with the coat. Peter begins changing the coat to make it fashionable by saying that the father's handyman said he overheard the father say.... Eventually, Jack goes nuts and decides to get back to the original. By this point, the coats are covered in stars and braid and all sorts of things, so he begins ripping willy nilly.

      If you have a Swindle or Snook, the Project Gutenberg site has a copy (without emendation). Most 18th c. professors have given up on teaching the book as "too hard." To which I say, "Cry me a river": it's my favorite book, and I'll teach it every time I get a chance.

      At any rate, a person can read just the "tale" parts of it, if one wishes. If one wishes the best edition, the 1920 Guthkelch and Smith OUP is still the critical text, but the best notes are probably Angus Ross's for the Norton.

      The Puritans in England would interrupt church services by yelling that the minister was a servant of the Whore of Babylon. They threw bricks through stained glass windows. They were, in short, obnoxious. They did not leave for "religious freedom," but for religious monopoly.

      Besides which, two decades later, they would be Cromwell's army. That army would also include Levellers (less a movement than a philosophy), Fifth Monarchists and an entire menagerie of other dissenters. All was New Jerusalem for about a year. Then came censorship, arbitrary arrest, execution of the king, etc.

      The worst thing to happen to the Puritains in England was winning.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 11:40:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  English cathedrals (3+ / 0-)

        are a lot less decorative than the French ones for exactly that reason. Occasionally one sees the corner of a painting that was covered up by a tomb at the time.
        Thank you very much for the link. I will certainly check it out.

        You..ought to be out raising hell. This is the fighting age. Put on your fighting clothes. -Mother Jones

        by northsylvania on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 01:17:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you! (8+ / 0-)

        Too often, Americans think history started in 1776.  

        Jefferson and Adams were closer in time to the religious wars of Europe than St.Paul and St. John were to Jesus' life.  By decades.

        They saw what happens when religion tries to assume the role of government.  They suffered from rapacious corporate greed and an indifferent oligarchy.

        So they kicked money and priests out of power, and wrote a Constitution to keep them out.  Government is the wall between the citizen and organized power.

        Today's Puritains would be Michelle Bachmann, the Aryan Nation and the GOP.  Even Calvinists weren't vicious enough for them.

        Joy shared is doubled. Pain shared is halved. Spider Robinson

        by nolagrl on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 02:08:01 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My sympathies for your loss. It's not an easy (5+ / 0-)

    loss for a child, no matter how old the parent.  (My Dad died 5 years ago at almost 99, but all his progeny of several generations still talk about him all the time.)

    As for the Puritans, I think some of them sometimes get a bum rap.  Recent scholarship, for example, has indicated that they weren't so, uh, puritanical about sex (inside marriage, of course) as they are usually made out to be.  Hell, even their now universally accepted name was originally a slur, a mocking term by the establishment for their desire to make the Church of England "pure" in the sense of no hierarchy, no "idolatry" in church decoration, no half-comprise with the theory of transsubstantiation.  As a recovering Catholic whose remaining Christian identification is with the Quakers and Unitarians if anyone, I can sympathize with those objectives.  

    Even with some of their more obviously kill-joy tendencies, there are some curious counter-currents.  For example, they were notoriously antagonistic toward the theater, both as a matter of basic if primitive morality (it involved make-believe -- I.e., lying -- and cross-dressing of young boys) and of public health (the gatherings at theaters were notorious promoters of V.D., riots, and plague).  In fact, two of Shakespeare's least likable and most hypocritical characters are widely acknowledged as satirical portraits of Puritans -- Malvolio in "12th Nt." and Angelo of "Measure for Measure."  Yet Shakespeare's elder and evidently much more favored daughter married a Dr. John Hall who is almost always described as "Puritan" or "of Puritan leanings or sympathies.  Yet there is considerable evidence (and none to the contrary) that there was a close & trusting relationship between the great playwright/actor/theater-owner and his Puritan son-in-law.   This is obviously just anecdotal evidence, but there is considerable more systematic evidence that at the time (just before the Plymouth Rock landing) there were Puritans and then there were other Puritans.

    One of the strains of the "other Puritans" not often talked about in this country is the one emphasizing equality that led to such movements as the Levellers and Diggers during the era of the English Civil War,  a strain that had a great influence on the traditional of equality among the American colonies and, through the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers taught throughout the colonial universities, on the Founding Fathers.  

    On the other hand, IMO, the one really pernicious effect of Puritanism on American culture is the anxiety about having wealth so as to demonstrate that God has chosen us to be among the elect.  One of the few positive things I can remember from my Catholic training prior to being really educated about religion by the Jesuits in college is the type of attitude toward the laboring and poor reflected by the new Pope, even if the rest of his  hide-bound traditionalism is repellant at best.

    "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

    by Oliver St John Gogarty on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 12:05:03 PM PDT

    •  The radicals of the 1640's (5+ / 0-)

      No one was more brutal to the Levellers than the Puritans after the victory. The wide variety of protestant movements we can call "Dissenters" all hinge upon a radical congregationalism and a faith in reform as an ineffable state of affairs. (Hooker's statement that anyone who sets out to persuade people that they are not governed as well as they might be will never lack an audience comes to mind.)

      During the coalition political era of the English CW, all sorts of groups tolerated one another, but we have some extremely diffident persons. The very zeal of their beliefs prevented compromise when there was power. Gerrard Winstanley (Diggers) would be oppressed by fellow Protestants, and the Quakers were persecuted by the Puritans in the ascendant as well.

      It's true, of course, that the radicalism of the era was wonderfully creative. However, I would not really thank the Puritan impulse, with its Calvinism, for the multitude of movements that had Anabaptist, anti-credal, and egalitarian roots. For that, I suspect we owe thanks more to the boom in education of the 16th century and, of course, the Internet printing press. Oh, and the blood of martyrs on all sides, which kept anyone from talking things out.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 12:24:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You are, of course, correct in what you say--I was (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre, Julia Grey, Oh Mary Oh

        painting with a broad brush.  But then again the label "Puritan" itself, especially in an era of so much political ferment with innumerable and shifting religious alliances, is painting with a VERY broad brush, which is the point I was trying to make.  For example -- since I know much more about the Elizabethan-Jacobean era than the CW era--what sense does it make to call both John Hall and the virulent foes of the theater at the time "Puritan"?   Or, to risk going into the CW era, who exactly on the side of Parliament was truly a "Puritan"?  To take the most obvious example, was Cromwell?  (Not a rhetorical question.)

        "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

        by Oliver St John Gogarty on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 12:54:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The usefulness is as a metonymn (5+ / 0-)

          "Puritain" denotes not merely a dissenting religious position, but a set of values and beliefs that were flexible. In a sense, none of the labels we use to talk about the emergent trade professions and the resistant agricultural concerns and the diminishing feudal artisans are correct, because all of them point to a cloud of values rather than any coherent dogma.

          Since we're now finding out that Shakespear was a money maker and job creator, maybe his dealings with the son-in-law are part of that. In general, the Puritains were associated with a belief in the emergent positions of mercantilism, rejection of Classical learning, and empiricism. Therefore, even where a Puritain is quite a wit and all around bon homme, like Andrew Marvell, we have to remember that "Puritain" is more than just prudery or fear of sex.

          For Shakespear's generation, the Puritains were a vital anti-Catholic force, and they were, as much as anything, anti-Catholic and filled with a sense of oppression from Mary's rule. They were the victims, and they could parlay that victimization into a majority political position eventually.

          In the Restoration era, on the other hand, "Dissenters" were the "new men" and "cits" who had more money than the nobility, but no education. They had an anger at fancy book learning, and they became the voices of mass markets over small markets.

          Everyone is innocent of some crime.

          by The Geogre on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 04:38:33 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  In psychiatry, most diagnoses are now seen as (0+ / 0-)

            "fuzzy sets," a concept first utilized in DSM-III and very similar to your analogy of the definition of Putitanism as a "cloud," which is obviously correct, IMO.

                     As an aside, another reason Susanna Shakespeare's marriage  to the "Puritan" John Hall seems odd at first glance  is that there's a great deal of evidence that Shakespeare's family of origin had strong Catholic sympathies and that Shakespeare probably shared them to some degree--Stephen Greenblatt has said that most of the time "Shakespeare writes as though the Reformation never happened." One cogent explanation was that it may be that Shakespeare's wife had Puritan sympathies, raised the daughters accordingly,* and arranged the marriage herself during one of her husband's long absences.  But, if that speculation is correct, WS, whatever his initial reaction, obviously accepted the marriage eventually--he travelled to London with Hall and eventually in his will gave Hall control over most of his estate. The whole topic is interesting, IMO, not just in the light it throws on WS but in the picture it gives of the complex religious cross-currents even within a very small family group.

                    Of course, you're right about WS being a money-maker and job-creator, but his ambition seems to have had a quite non-Puritan motivation.  His mother was a off-shoot of the most ancient and prominent family of Catholic gentry in North Warwickshire -- the Ardens -- and his father had been "mayor" of Avon and was applying for a coat of arms before some disaster struck and the family went into a political and, apparently, financial decline.  Once WS became famous and affluent,  he successfully renewed the application for arms and bought the second largest house in Avon.  His sonnets do suggest a disillusioned if not self-lacerating disdain for his profession, but much more from an aristocratic than a Puritan point of view.  Also, of course, his love sonnets are directed toward a, at least at first, teen-aged young man, whereas one of the most serious (and likely) charges laid against the theater by the Puritans was pederasty between the adult actors and their pre-pubescent crossing-dressing apprentices.

            *Not long before her marriage, Susanna was cited for recusancy.  Some people have seen this as a reflection of the Shakespeare family's Catholic sympathies, others as a reflection of the Puritan sympathies of Anne S. & her daughter.  

            "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

            by Oliver St John Gogarty on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 08:00:13 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Your pseudonymn is well chosen (0+ / 0-)

              I shan't go into the Hamet Hamlet. :-)

              WS's Catholicism is all but on the page, but what's curious to me is that Greenblatt does more than any other to show us that there is no "Shakespeare" in Shakespeare -- that we have only public faces and poses proposed as a method of social negotiation in an era of intensely public private selves -- and then goes on, nonetheless, to speak of the private Shakespeare as if he were accessible.

              Me? I always feel as if we are safest when we read each play as a specific political moment frozen in mid-action, and in that regard Shakespeare is an advocate of the Great Man in a way that we find repugnant. His weak kings are the thinkers, and his great ones are the deciderers, as it were. His code is thoroughly moral, but drenched with power.

              For the man behind those plays, the democratic and demotic urges of a priesthood of all believers, not to mention trade (WS's portrait of merchants in general isn't great) would be anathema, but the man behind the plays is a player -- a pose -- a mask.

              The private man is lost to us, and all I can see in what we do know of him is a cypher without a key.

              Everyone is innocent of some crime.

              by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 11:28:57 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Greenblatt's turn-around that you refer to was (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                The Geogre

                more than a little bit of a critical scandal, especially since many people assume it was a ploy by Greenblatt to make "Will in the World" a more salable and accessible book.  I have to admit that, as a long-time fan of Greenblatt's pre-WITW criticism, I find it difficult not to see his switch  in WITW in  exactly that way.  

                P.S.   It's my bias that WS invariably undermined the moral worth of otherwise powerful official leaders in the plays.    To take the prototype, there are innumerable signals in the plays about Henry V, the so-called "perfect image of a king," that Henry is actually an almost perfect hypocrite who sends thousands of his countrymen to death to distract the masses from the fact  that his crown is a usurped one.  And even before WS portrayed Henry V, in the beginning of one of his earliest plays, "Henry VI," he showed that Henry V's imperialistic war of mass distraction in France had been a failure that led to Henry's early death and the karmic accession of his infant and ultimately intermittently insane son, eventuating in the murderous chaos of the War of the Roses.  

                The truly virtuous leaders in Shakespeare tend to be literally illegitimate (The Bastard in "St. John") or to be at least temporarily outcasts (Edgar in "Lear").   It may be critically invalid to infer specifics about WS's interior from specific  details of he plays; but it would be very odd if a man worshipped power in any way who wrote plays in which both male and female pursuers of power are almost invariably weak, corrupt, evil, or, as with Henry V, ultimately ineffectual or worse.  

                "If you don't read the newspapers, you're uninformed. If you do read the newspapers, you're misinformed." -- M. Twain

                by Oliver St John Gogarty on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 01:19:48 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Well done. n/t (4+ / 0-)

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 02:59:53 PM PDT

  •  Clarification on Whitefield? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    I could do an update, although it's a clarification:

    George Whitefield's preaching helped turn the Dissenter energy toward Methodism in England. In America, Whitefield was not necessarily Methodist. One of my correspondents pointed out that he had a conversion to Calvinism and was a major force of Calvinist preaching in America.

    While Whitefield had been with the Wesley's from the start, the alliance was, by all accounts, uneasy. John and Charles regarded the "enthusiasm" as dangerous, but it was that very tent preaching and populism (if not anti-establishment sentiment) that diverted the continuing resentment of the dissenters as a political force. I am, by all means, simplifying, and I am speculating when I say this. I am speculating for the purposes of my thesis in this argument.

    Everyone is innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 03:25:56 AM PDT

  •  I'm glad I'm not the only one uncomfortable with (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, The Geogre

    the fish and the other bumper-stickers. About 20 years ago I went looking for a tiny gold cross necklace to wear, and, having seen the large wooden cross at the head of my church which had a circle around the crossed part, (and the name of the church included "family circle") I found it attractive and asked for one at a local jewelry store. The jewelry clerk got a weird look on her face and said, "Oh, you want one of those religious ones, then..."

    •  Jewelry or religious? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nuclear winter solstice

      I think they ought to put that straight up, because I went looking for a small cross not that long ago, and I found loads of heavy metal crosses -- ready for a motorcycle gang or a double gulp of Ever Clear -- but finding a simple cross was almost impossible.

      I can't understand how it doesn't occur to people that advertising and religion don't go together. Populist messages (hand painted "repent sinners" signs) are fully American, but the "We Pray Here" signs and the like don't seem to do anything except shout the wrong thing.

      (I'm always tempted to say, "What, there? You pray there, on the lawn? Why there, and not inside or at church?")

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 11:34:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, "steel and absurdity" is such (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh, The Geogre

    a perfect way to describe those old Caddies.  What a sweet little trigger for memory!

    •  Here's another: triangular smoker's windows (0+ / 0-)

      Those tiny right angle triangles at the front of the window always fascinated me as a kid, because the Cadillac ones would !pop! out and back, and never seem to pass through the space between.

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 05:30:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a beautiful diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Geogre

    An intellectually satisfying read for me over my morning coffee.  Thank you for your thoughts and observations, and sympathies on the loss of your mother.

    •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

      I hope for comity above the fight. However, I have a lot less good will for the leaders and the ones completely immersed in power politics than I do for the rank and file believers.

      --A thought just occurred: The Puritain reading is to begin with a view that the Bible must be literal and plain, but that there are types which are doubly significant or embedded in their significance. Then, once they read an identification in typology, they act upon it as if it were literal.

      1. God really told the Jews to conquer Canaan.
      2. Those OT leaders who lagged were cursed for it.
      3. Those settlers of Judah were types for we Puritains -- the true inheritors of God's kingdom.
      4. Our new land would be equivalent to Canaan.
      5. It is literal and plainly true that we must conquer the Indians and drive them out.

      That reading error, where a figurative reading becomes literalized and then forms the basis of another metaphor, is Swift's method in his parodies. Oooh, I've got some thinkin' to do, because I might have stumbled on a real idear. (The Scribblerus Club of Swift, Pope, Arbuthnot, Harley, St John, and Parnell had a common method but no common theme or targets, and this might be a good way of writing up an introduction to the group's satiric sensibility.)

      Everyone is innocent of some crime.

      by The Geogre on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 05:29:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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