Princeton defines Puritanism as “strictness and austerity in conduct and religion”. This is a understatement, when referring to the Puritan people of the 16th and 17th century. Based on the idealism of Anglican Christianity and the beliefs of a man by the name of Roger Calvin, Puritanistic incorporation of fundamental values based on the bible makes it seem quite like an extremist-like sect. Puritan life requires unwavering devotion and unfaltering faith – a difficult ambition to achieve in mid-1600 English society. Oppression by the Anglican Church was overwhelming, not to mention prevalent sinful behavior that plagued the continent – contradicting core puritan beliefs. A leader of the puritan movement, John Winthrop, aimed to create a “city upon a hill” – a community united under the covenant of god. Said community was unobtainable in England, for lack of space, and oppression by the church. A group of separatists led by Winthrop aspired to start a pure society, free of malicious behavior and catholic corruption; a utopian society based purely on god’s word, the bible. Thus, the Massachusetts Bay colony was formed in the New World, the Americas, an ideal place for Winthrop’s “City upon a Hill”.
The puritan way of life has fascinating similarities to modern-day American society. It can be seen how Puritan ways transcended throughout American culture, and still are the core of governmental ideologies and some American families today. Puritans took the word of the bible as their creed – and followed its teachings accordingly. The strict idealism of god and his power placed fear in children, for they believe their faults will be treated with adverse repercussions. God was everything to the puritans. Breaking a covenant with god would have extreme consequences. Fear of god placed righteousness in the hearts of the people of the Massachusetts Bay colony. This fear helped mold an exemplary society among the puritans, sin was treated with harsh punishment, church attendance was mandatory, and education became free, for the citizens of the colony were required to be able to read the bible.
This righteous way of life improved the colonies prosperity. Families were growing, lifespan was increasing, and literacy rates were close to 100%. The average Puritan family had about 6 kids, and the average age for a woman to give birth was 20 years old. Puritan childhood was a difficult road, compared to modern day American childhood. A male child of a farmer would start at the average age of 5 years old. More children means more work was done, so some families (mostly farmers) had many children for the sake of economic opulence. The model American nuclear family was born.
Puritanism was very ascetical, and with no corruptions in the New World, society became a ideal place for childhood. The fear of god that was instilled into children followed them throughout their lives, and was passed along to their offspring. The puritan church threatened even children with eternal damnation. Children respect their parents out of fear, some believing that they would be killed for misbehavior(as some were). The simple belief in a theological higher being instills a fear in any human, no matter who you are. Fear can be used as a form of manipulation, as it still is used today – in almost every religion in existence.
Fear of god inspired Puritan children to be obedient, not to mention the discipline inflicted by the parents. Unlike today in America, physical force was used as a tool of discipline; parents would beat children for the slightest faults. Like today, education was free, and attendance to grade school was mandatory. Only a elect elite (always of the wealthy social class, and always male) got the chance to go to a college, and usually graduated as ministers. Mothers were very involved with the schooling of their children, provided they were financially capable of spending valuable time away from the family business venture. Today, we are fortunate to have a unisex general education system that focus’s on many forms of intellectual growth other than the pure intent of literacy to read the bible.
Since Puritanism is just a form of Christianity, (the #1 most believed religion in the country) there has to be obvious similarities in today’s culture. In modern day American families, one can see the close relationship to Puritanism. Christianity in the American government is rampant, over 89% of U.S officials believing in Christianity or some sect of Christianity. The founding fathers wanted a separation of religion and government, but in any civilization with religion, it’s impossible. Researching American decisions, backgrounds, and choices will show to produce a mix of Christian influence. Even today, our president is a devout Methodist. His anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research views, are some examples of the fundamental beliefs of core-christian views that transcend through politics and affect decisions of our leaders – and most importantly, the citizens. As we know, our leaders Religion and politics are an issue that has been rampant throughout civilization.
According to a 2000 census, 76.5% of Americans believe in some form of Christianity. If we are to look at the similarities of puritan childhood with that of today’s society – we must examine the dogmas’ that they believed in, and how the today’s dominant American belief (Christianity) has changed from Puritanism. The Puritan utopian society is (and was) unobtainable. One would have to go through many psychological studies to prove why, but the simple answer is that: Nobody is perfect. Greed spurred Winthrop’s utopian demise, therefore eliminating the fundamental ideas of Puritanism in the New World. Today’s advances in the technological, economic, and theological realms have warped the idealism that – the “city upon a hill”, is even a possibility. Christianity today has taken a more liberal view than that of the ideas of the 1600’s and 1700’s Puritans, Catholics, and Anglicans. The 10 commandments of the bible are still interpreted to be the law of Christians, and they are passed along from generation to generation and mold the childhood of many American children.
Of course, American children are not all Christian. Generalizing American childhood is a difficult task – while there are obvious aspects of similarity, the transfusion of cultures that have came to America make it a difficult feat. This brings the role of spirituality into play, and how widespread it affects mankind. Only 1% of Americans claim to be agnostic or atheist, their families moralities are molded by society, the masses and the government says what’s right and wrong – they follow and live their lives accordingly. Almost all religions have a defined set of moralities that they follow and they are all similar. Puritan children follow a set of similar set of morals and fear the same divinity as most modern American children do. There is a commonality in all our beliefs, whether formed by religion, society, or instilled at an early age by parenting; we are all seemingly similar in our morals and ways of life.