As I mentioned a few weeks ago I am reading the marvelous book Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer. I am still in the first section, about the Puritans but I am already seeing myself in this book. It has been a very long time since I read anything about the original colonists, as most of my reading has been military history. I am very happy that this is the first book on the subject I have picked up. What a wonderfully well written and thoughtful book.
The theory of the book is that there were four "folkways" that cause the regional differences in the way Americans act and think. The first part of the book is all about the Puritans who settled mostly in the Massachusetts area. Most of the things they did were based around their unbelievably staunch religious beliefs. Many of the things they did and believed in brought back so many memories of my childhood. Until the age of about 14 or so I was raised in a Baptist church environment and went to a Baptist school. Some of the experiences were good, some not so good. But as I have aged, I have looked back on that period of my life and wondered to myself countless times "why did they do that"?
The answer, it seems, is in history. I think to answer my questions about certain rituals or methods of teaching or preaching, it is incumbent on me to do more reading on the topic of what are the origins of the Baptist church. To me, if it can be discerned where the Baptists came from that I or others raised in that environment would understand better why certain things were done, condoned or condemned.
I simplify here, but when I was young and impressionable, the Baptists when teaching me used what I now call the "scared shitless" technique. They aren't alone in this. One of my children is now in Catholic school and they do the same thing, but not to the extent the Baptists used it on myself. For the uninitiated, it consists of every day asking forgiveness of past sins, preaching to the masses that hell is, in fact, a very bad place and that we are all damned there if we are not "saved". Being "saved" meant to accept Jesus as your personal savior and living your life emulating him and his teachings. Not a day went by in that institution where these basic tenets were not smashed into everyone's heads at least a couple of times. I am not bashing the Baptists here, just telling you the way it was. And I don't want to give the impression that in the Baptist school I was at that religion was all that was discussed. I received a top notch education at that school.
Just as an aside, the Baptist sect I was involved with didn't worship Jesus per se. After I was 14 or so I moved over to an Assembly of God school. There, they worship Jesus with a fervor I was not familiar with. To them, Jesus is the end all. To the Baptists when I was growing up, Jesus was more like a revered minister or philosopher - part of the trinity. The Jesus fixation just wasn't as prominent.
Back to the Baptist school. One day all of us kids were shuffled into an auditorium for our weekly (or was it bi-weekly) chapel services. They showed us a film about a person who was burned at the stake for Calvinist beliefs. I honestly can't remember who the person was, but I vividly remember the scene where the person was burned. That memory was dusted off while I was reading Albion's Seed. Why did the Baptists show me that film? Because they were partially, at least, CALVINISTS. There is a big debate, it seems about the origins of the Baptists in America, but there is no doubt that the Puritans were Calvinists.
For those who want the quick and dirty about John Calvin, here is the wiki on him. For those raised in a Baptist church, you will very quickly notice the parallels between the belief system of the Purtians and the Baptists of the modern day. Baptists do have different sects across the country and their own systems vary some, but the basics are strikingly close to Calvinism.
It is also apparent that the Baptists that I was involved in took a smattering of Anabaptism as well. Anabaptists believed that infant baptism was not valid, rather a functioning adult must choose full immersion baptism as a way to cleanse sins and unify with Christ (or god). I also note a smattering of Arminianism tenets in the Baptist doctrine that I was involved in.
Even if the religious aspects don't interest you as much as they do me, Albion's Seed is a great book to read - and an easy book to read. The language used is modern and unassuming. I was also very interested to find out what the Puritans ate and the sports they played. I will keep posting on this book as time allows.
For now, lets just say that I am happy to finally understand many of the things that went on in my childhood.
History holds the answers to many questions.