Tuesday 20 November 2012

Ascetic contrasted with Puritan


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Wurmbrand said...

The next time someone badmouths the Puritans, one could ask whether the speaker approves of bear-baiting. The Puritans were early opponents of this cruel entertainment.


Of course, the cheap shot will be made that they opposed it not because of compassion for animals but because people had fun. As if the fun were innocent!

AlexT said...

There is a lot to admire about Puritans, but it has been pointed out that the modern day militant liberals are direct descendants of the original Puritan settlers (i am talking about the US now). A couple of historians that i have read theorised that there is nothing worse than the secularised Puritan, whose crusading, holier-than-thou, we tell everyone how to live mentality can very easily be shifted to evil purposes.
Having said that, the most encouraging Christian revival movements in the US the last few years, have been the Quiverfull and Patriarchy trends. Not all of them are Calvinists, but they all explicitly and openly use Puritan society as their ideal. Also, Mormons are often the direct bodily descendants of New England Puritans, Joseph Smith and his early followers being of pure Yankee stock.
So at the end of all that, i guess i'm trying to say that Puritans can do a lot of good, but when they fall, they fall hard.

Bruce Charlton said...

By Puritan I meant a non-denominational style such that for example Irish Roman Catholicism was a puritan thing in many respects. But beyond that, I begin to feel that it is the best that can be hoped for, from a Christian perspective and under modern conditions. It may well be Hobson's choice - some kind of puritanical Christianity, or nothing. (Since the state is hostile, ruling out Orthodoxy, which is non native anyway; and since Roman Catholicism is liberal excepting a few niches like SSPX. And among Protestants the only live churches are found among the distinctly puritanical evangelicals...)

AlexT said...

I wouldn't be so quick to rule out Orthodoxy. If anyone has experience surviving in the catacombs, both recently and historically, it's the Orthodox. Pre Constantine, Ottoman and Mongol occupations, communism, etc. It being non-native is open to discussion in my opinion, as Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Christianity looks very familiar to Orthodox eyes. Of course, that was a very long time ago, so i guess 'non-native' is an accurate description. Also, i would like to point out that traditionalist Orthodox groups are growing, and inspiring a strict interpretation seems to work with young people. The same can be said for the SSPX and the various sedevacantist Catholic groups. Looks like the religious of the future will be these two plus the Puritans. In my opinion,they will survive and even flourish. The downside is that mere Christianity will be almost impossibe, as all the groups i mentioned are stridently anti-ecumenist. It is often referred to as the pan-heresy in these circles. So, some good and some bad will come from this development, but it looks like the only way to survive for Christians is to be very Christian. Just like God said it would be. Why do we keep doubting Him?

Bruce Charlton said...

@AT - I would be delighted if Orthodoxy became a significant force in the West - but I don't see it. I would be delighted if the SSPX style of Roman Catholicism became mainstream - but at the only SSPX service I attended I was among the youngest persons present (contrasted with my conservative Anglican evangelical church when I feel just about the oldest).

Mere Christianity is not ecumenical - it is simply the acceptance that Orthodoxy, RC and Conservative Protestant denominations are valid paths to salvation; the belief that all these contain *real* Christians.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

...Roman Catholicism is liberal excepting a few niches like SSPX...
Roman Catholicism is not as liberal through and through as you seem to think. Catholic Tradition does not boil down to SSPX and Latin Mass. If it did, there would not be a Catholic Church anymore.

Liberals make much noise but we can already hear the noise fading, and the Good never makes much noise, but sometimes suddenly takes on the world like wildfire.