Monday, September 24, 2012

On Puritanism, and Finding Myself in the Corner

            Puritanism is a tricky subject, I've discovered.  I haven't even begun to do what would qualify as research on the subject, but two issues have crept up in the little bit of reading I have done.
            The first, which surprised me, is that the term "Puritanism" is a bit more wiggly than I'd realized.  Somehow I imagined that a large number of English folks, who'd all read Calvin, got together and started being English and Calvinist at the same time and called it Puritanism.  From what little I'd already known about religious developments and revolutions, I should have known better than to imagine it as nearly so tidy.
            The second might be a bit more obvious.  Really, it has to do with prejudice, and the apparent convenience of having a scapegoat.
            Scapegoats work great when you'd like to avoid the unpleasantness of confronting reality.  Let's just say, for example, I lose my temper on a given day.  Easiest thing in the world to respond (even if only to myself) by saying something like, "Well, I was raised in a very emotionally volatile home, and my parents yelled a lot, and so I'm just like this.  I have a bad temper, and there's nothing I can do about it."  Scapegoats: mom and dad.  Imaginary redeemed: me.
            So when I notice sexual discomfort in myself and those around me, when I feel myself cringe at the sight of an unattractive/elderly/same-sex couple kissing in public, I can thank Great Britain for having graciously provided me with the Puritans.  Ready-made scapegoats upon whom I can heap my own physical and sexual unease.

            Recently I read The Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan.  I want to talk about the book for two or three posts, but I realize it's not a book I can count on having been read by most people.  So it would seem that a brief summary, with some historical notes, would be in order.
            But these complications...that I don't really know what the term Puritanism refers to...that I have loaded a term, whose original referent I don't know, with so much personal baggage...they worry me.
            So I'm just sort of pausing for a moment.  I realize the whole month of September has been a pause so far.  And I do want to correct this problem of lack of knowledge with some reliable facts and reading.  But I am in reading deprivation right now (from The Artist's Way), and I'm a little intrigued by my feelings about the Puritans.  Come to think of it, it might be a similar feeling to what most Americans have about Muslims.  A whole lot of emotions worked up about a concept which might not even exist.
            Think about that.  It's like getting all worked up because you think, say, the German side of your family was Nazis, only to discover they fled Germany before the worst of anti-Semitism had erupted because they were terrified by the xenophobia gripping their country.  You know that phrase, "All dressed up, and nowhere to go."  It's kind of like that.  "All worked up, and no one to hate."  Because they're not there.  In the corner I direct all of my judgment for nasty, fearful, repressed monsters, I have looked, and I find not Puritans there.  Only parts of myself.