Meekins: A Review Of Pilgrims And Puritans (1620-1676)
By Frederick B. Meekins
The Brothers Collier (Christopher Collier and James Collier) begin their Pilgrims And Puritans (1620-1676) by observing of American history texts in general, "Students become lost in a swamp of factual information, and as a consequence lose track of how those facts fit together, and why they are significant and relevant to the world today...We believe that it is surely more important for students to grasp underlying concepts and ideas that emerge from the movement of history than to memorize an array of facts and figures."
Whether the attempt to undermine interest in the relevance of America's past is part of an organized plot or merely the result of incompetent teachers or educational methodologies is another issue. But regardless of the problem's origin, one of the groups most misunderstood as a result has to be the nation's Pilgrim and Puritan Forefathers.
Most contemporary treatments of these Protestant sects capitalize on this state of ignorance by characterizing them as harsh, legalistic disciplinarians having little compassion and finding even less enjoyment in life. But even though many of us would find aspects of the Puritan outlook a little too stern for even our conservative sensibilities, these pious pioneers were hardly the proverbial sticks in the mud depicted by leftwing academics and popular entertainment.
The Colliers are careful to point out that the moral intensity characterizing the Puritan approach to life was the result of a sincere desire to serve God and seek His will for their lives. As such, these devout Christians did not shun life's wholesome pleasures as often thought; after all, the first Thanksgiving celebration lasted for three days. Rather, as the Colliers point out such recreations were to hold a place of moderation as a way to refresh the mind and the body for them to continue on in their wholehearted service to God.
It has become fashionable in historical studies to reduce the motivations of past movements and figures to materialistic components such as economics or power. The Colliers do a commendable job of emphasizing the superiority of religion over these factors in the lives of the Puritan and Pilgrim colonists and how their Biblical assumptions impacted all aspects of existence to create a comprehensive worldview that influences us to this day.
Often what is perceived as the Puritan preoccupation with sin and personal depravity are viewed today as impediments to social progress. However, the Colliers argue that these Reformed doctrines actually served as part of the inspiration for a number of those things that make this country worthwhile.
Taking the reality of sin seriously, the Puritans endeavored to set in motion a social order established accordingly. To prevent the ecclesiopolitical outrages characteristic under the divine right of kings, the power of the institutions enacted by the Puritans had to be circumscribed by the decrees of God's Word and clarified and delineated in documents known as covenants which the Colliers note laid the foundation for America's constitutional system of government by spelling out expectations for both the governing and the governed.
Despite the achievements of the Puritans, most of us cannot help but feel a bit suspicious of them in light of what we have heard of their alleged excesses. Though not excusing these, the Colliers place these incidents within a balanced historical context.
For instance, the Puritans have gotten bad press over the Salem Witch Trials throughout much of American history. But while it is regrettable any time an individual is unjustly accused, one might suggest the same thing is being by those out to malign the Puritans without a proper consideration of the facts.
Of the infamous Witch Trials, the Colliers observe, "In fact, it was not nearly as important as the legend makes it.... As sad as the episode was for those who died and their families...this outburst was not typical of New England. Witchcraft scares were rare there in comparison to Europe, where thousands of people were burned or hanged for witchcraft." We must remember that we ourselves have not progressed much beyond these tendencies towards fanatical paranoia as anyone familiar with political correctness and the crusade against sexual harassment will attest.
Firm believers in the fallen nature of man, the Puritans and Pilgrims would be among the first to admit they had shortcomings. But by admitting to and guarding against such human frailties, these devout forefathers bequeathed to us a legacy that has so far withstood the test of time and will continue to ensure the blessings of liberty for decades to come if students of American History learn of their accomplishments through balanced and accurate sources such as Pilgrims And Puritans (1620-1676) by Christopher and James Collier.
Copyright 2003 by
Frederick B. Meekins
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