Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ascetic contrasted with Puritan

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We need to understand puritanism, because it seems likely that the backlash against modernity will take a puritan form.

I assume this is likely, since all effective resistance to modernity is among traditional, orthodox monotheistic religious groups that have a strongly 'puritan' nature (with, for example, the Amish being actual old style Puritans). 

The Ascetic and the Puritan impulses seem similar, but have important differences; and indeed Protestant Puritans (from whom the name derives) were explicitly hostile to religious ascetic practices. 

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The ascetic impulse is ome of self denial and self control, the desire to be independent of this world in order to focus effort on another realm; a spiritual realm.

The puritan impulse is more of a set of prohibitions combined with a set of approved activities - it is a matter of channeling human energies and efforts.

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Thus the puritan is not allowed to do quite a large number of pleasurable and diverting thing; but is required to do another set of things, many of which are - or may be - pleasurable, but that is not their intended purpose.

So the puritan may not be allowed to read newspapers or attend dances; but is encouraged to read scripture and attend religious worship.

The ascetic, by contrast, may be trying to pray without ceasing, without eating, for many hours or even days.

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And with sex and marriage; the ascetic will be celibate, will work to extinguish the sexual impulse in all its forms; but the puritan will aim to marry and to have children.

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The ascetic life is a form of heroism - against the passions, the body and the world; while the puritan life is a form of discipline - in which worldly things are put to work for a higher purpose.

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It is worth thinking about puritan lives, because that is the likely alternative to, replacement for, modernity for most people; asceticism always being a rare, elite and minority activity, and altogether absent from many societies.

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