Here, faithful blog followers, is a small reward. Thinking about these questions will help you immensely on the test tomorrow, AND give us a jumping-off place for some discussion later. I'm not giving you "right" answers here, but rather my own ideas on the subject. Yours should be different. (Remember, I am not interested in hearing from you what I already think. I want to know what YOU think, and why.)
Troubling Question #1: Why did the Puritans' "City on a Hill" go down the tubes?
There are lots of good ways to answer this, and most of them have to end somewhere around the "nobody's perfect" statement. It's hard to create a perfect society with imperfect humans. One answer has to come, though, from Christianity itself. Can anybody show me any place in the New Testament, where God tells Christians to separate themselves from the world and set up a government? I thought not. A religion that concerns itself primarily with the relationship of individuals to God is not going to make a good framework for a theocracy. Plus, have you ever noticed that in theocratic governments, it's always some human calling the shots?
Troubling Question #2: Why did William Bradford hate Thomas Morton so much?
Again, this can go a lot of ways, but we do have to consider how this relates to the "City on a Hill." If you are going to establish a Perfect Society, it helps if everybody's on the same page about what that is. Imagine how angry Bradford must have been when he saw Morton throwing parties and consorting with natives and (shudder) dancing. We just can't have a perfect City on a Hill with him whooping it up next door. Worse, people were starting to look at the activities at Merrymount and think, "Hmmm, that looks like more fun than listening to five sermons a week." Obviously, Morton has to go.
Troubling Question #3: What role does humility play in Puritan literature?
Most of the virtues practiced by the Puritans would be considered legalistic in even the most conservative churches today, but humility is one they got right. When we read Bradford and Anne Bradstreet, and even Mary Rowlandson, the striking thing we see is each writer's humility before God and before other people. Bradstreet, who clearly has a poetic gift, doesn't brag about it, and did not consent to the publication of her work. Rowlandson, who has been dragged into the wilderness and suffered atrocious treatment, says it's no more than she deserves. Bradford is so humble, he never even mentions himself by name in his history of Plymouth. More deeply, no Puritan writer will ever blame God for his or her difficulties, despite believing that both good and evil come from God. Why? Because the Puritans recognized that God's ways are not their ways, and God's thoughts are not their thoughts. They did not feel that God owed them an explanation, nor did He have to justify Himself to them. Who were they to call God on the carpet?
Troubling Question #4: What was Cotton Mather thinking when he said, "If a drop of Innocent Blood should be shed in the prosecution of the Witchcrafts among us, how unhappy are we! . . . But on the other side, if the storm of justice do now fall only on the heads of those guilty, Witches and Wretches which have defiled our land, How Happy!"
Cotton Mather has always bothered me. His writing borders on incomprehensible in places, and when we CAN comprehend it, we often wish we didn't. I have to keep reminding myself that belief in witchcraft and in supernatural explanations for natural things was not just common -- it was the default belief. It still troubles me that he could believe people like George Burroughs and Rebecca Nurse guilty of malevolence, based on nothing more than dreams and visions. The trouble with this kind of thing is that we're always ready to believe evil of people we don't like and disagree with, even now. Sigh.