The Puritan question

A guest post by commenter JMSmith:

In an interesting post, Foseti returns to the Puritan Question, and affirms that “one key tenet” of Neoreaction is that Progressivism is a “nontheistic Christian sect.”  No doubt there is much to be gained by understanding Progressivism as a messianic movement, and much to be regretted in the fact that Progressive chiliasts were so long cosseted in the cradle of Christian culture, but Progressivism is not a nontheistic Christian sect.  It is that old skin-changer Gnosticism, now divested of Christian symbols, acting under a new guise suited to the sensibilities of nontheistic men and women.

I suggest that the real Puritan Question is, what exactly is Puritanism?  To frame the question in Aristotelian terms, we should ask, which attributes are essential to Puritanism, and which are accidental?  And then, more specifically, we should ask, whether Christianity (however loosely defined) is one of these essential attributes, or whether it was only accidentally, contingently, and temporarily associated with this essentially alien spiritual tendency?

My answer is, obviously, that the association was accidental.

Puritanism is another name for Gnosticism, and Gnosticism is a skin-changer.  As one writer put it, “there was . . . no gnostic canon of scripture, unless it was the ‘holy scriptures’ of other religions, like the Bible or Homer, which were employed and interpreted for the purpose of authorizing the Gnostics’ own teachings” (Brown, Heresies, 1984).  Another writer agrees that a “peculiarity of the gnostic tradition . . . lies in the fact that it frequently draws its material from the most varied existing traditions, attaches itself to it, and at the same time sets it in a new frame by which this material takes on a new character and a completely new significance” (Rudolph, Gnosis, 1982).

Before I develop this argument, I have to admit that Christianity is, for various reasons, highly susceptible to gnostic infections.  This is something the Church recognized and combatted from the very beginning, the antichrists of John’s Epistles being generally understood as Gnostics who were attempting to sell their esoteric doctrines wrapped in a Christian skin.  We can recognize Gnosticism in Christianity any time we see a sect of “super-Christians” propounding some radical renovation of the faith with the promise that this will lead to a radical renewal of the faith, or indeed of the world.  We can recognize Gnosticism outside of Christianity by the same test: a sect of enlightened “super-humans,” who have somehow transcended the mental and moral limitations that ensnare the rest of humanity, propounding some radical renovation of the social order, again with a promise that this will lead to a radical renewal of the world. (If that doesn’t describe Progressives, I don’t know what does.)

Wherever you may find it, Gnosticism/Puritanism has four essential characteristics.

Spiritual pride is the first essential characteristic of Gnosticism/Puritanism.  This is because it begins as a belief that the world is a corrupt and disordered place that is sunk in peccancy and error, but that there exists in the midst of this dolorous waste a small sect of saints who have escaped the near universal ruin of ignorance and turpitude.  The generic name for such saints who see themselves as stranded on the smoking rubble of the world is Gnostics or Illuminati, since they are men and women who claim that they are possessed of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue.  August Neander wrote that second-century Gnostics appropriated Christian symbols, but then changed them because they found the gospel too simple and accessible.  The great defect of this simplicity and accessibility, so far as the Gnostics were concerned, was that it did not present a mystery that they could penetrate by speculation and symbolic interpretation, and thus there was no esoteric understanding of the faith reserved for, and indicative of, an inner circle of spiritual adepts (History of the Christian Religion, 1841).  This is not to say that all Christians understood their faith equally well, only that the beliefs of the meanest Christian churl, insofar as these beliefs were orthodox, were the same as the beliefs of the very doctors of the Church.  The mysteries of Christianity are mysteries for all Christians, not secret arcana reserved for a privileged few.

Gnosis also normally entails unusual moral sensitivity.  This can be expressed in a fastidious repugnance for behavior that ordinary humans tolerate or ignore, or in rejection of conventional morality and indulgence in high-minded immorality.  The whole point for the Gnostic is to set himself apart from the great herd of humanity by claiming to view the world from a higher, and very exclusive, spiritual vantage point.  In his great analysis of the gnostic character of the early English Puritans, Richard Hooker wrote that they condemn the evils of the world “with marvelous exceeding severity and sharpness of reproof,” thereby leading others to believe that “such constant reprovers of sin . . . would never be so much offended with evil, unless themselves were singularly good” (Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1597).

Separatism is the second essential attribute of the Gnostic/Puritan movements.  This follows from spiritual pride and the claim to be in possession of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue, and it is expressed in conspicuous repudiation of the common customs, conventions and ways of the world.  In practice this means the customs, conventions and ways of the Gnostic’s own time and place, and the adoption of an assertively countercultural attitude.  Describing the Separatists and Puritans of Elizabethan England, Hooker wrote that they “affected to cross the ordinary custom in everything,” and that a Puritan would signify his election by “fashioning his own life contrary unto the customs and orders of this present world.”

The essence of Gnosticism/Puritanism is, in other words, to be in open revolt against the world as presently constituted, and to announce this revolt by purging from one’s own life whatever happens to be emblematic of that world.  Among the Puritans of Calvin’s Geneva, or of Hooker’s England, these emblems were “the most notorious badges of antichristian recognizance,” namely the ordinary offices, sacraments and symbols of Roman Catholicism.  “In rites and ceremonies,” Hooker wrote, “their profession was hatred of all conformity with the Church of Rome,” and thus they labored to “purify” the church of bishops, stained glass, infant baptism, Christmas, godfathers and godmothers, and whatever else they could impugn as a papist corruption.

Among today’s Puritans, which is to say among today’s Progressives, we see the same impulse to separate, differentiate, and purge.  The only difference is that in this case the ordinary customs they affect to cross, and the emblems they endeavor to purge, are the customs and emblems of traditional Christian society.  Among contemporary Progressives, indeed, there is an effort to “purify” their lives of every taint and tincture of conventional (i.e., bourgeois and Christian) morality, which they have the cheek and effrontery to denounce as “Puritanism.”  In a society that values chastity, unrestrained sexual indulgence is puritanical because “bourgeois hang-ups” over things like adultery are “notorious badges of antichristian recognizance,” and such badges must be purged.

The third essential attribute of the Gnostic/Puritan movement I can only think to call epistemological austerity.  As we have seen, a Gnostic believes himself possessed of esoteric knowledge and extraordinary virtue, whereas he believes that the world is sunk in error and turpitude.  He is an adept who has penetrated the mysteries and possessed the truth; the world is a whore freighted with “heaps of intolerable pollutions.”  It is, therefore, impossible for him to compromise with the world, to learn from the world, or to accept correction from the world.  What he requires, then, is a source of knowledge that is not, as part of the world, loaded with “heaps of intolerable pollutions.”

This is why, when the spirit of Gnosticism took the Christian form that we know as Puritanism, epistemological austerity was expressed in the doctrine of sola scriptura.  Puritans seemed at times to believe that the special revelation of scripture was the only revelation, the only source of knowledge on all matters.  This is extremely austere when compared to the traditional Christian view that scripture clarifies and completes the general revelation.  Again, it is worthwhile to consider what Neander wrote about why Gnostics were frustrated with the Christian gospel and sought to “improve” it.  Not only did it fail to present deep mysteries accessible only to an inner circle of adepts; it also failed to provide a complete cosmogony.  The Gnostics wanted a comprehensive theory of the cosmos—a totalizing mythology—and this is something that the Christian gospel does not provide.  Or rather, it is something the gospel did not provide until its symbolic secrets were unlocked by Gnostic interpretation.

If we turn to our modern Gnostics, which is to say to Progressives, we find the doctrine of sola scriptura revived as positivism, a species of epistemological austerity that maintains that that science is the sole and all-sufficient source of knowledge.  We also find it in a belief that there is nothing that we can learn from tradition.  This epistemological austerity is conspicuously absent in most of today’s Christians.

The last essential attribute of Gnostic/Puritan movements is that they are revolutionary.  They aim to destroy the wicked world that is, and replace it with a New Order.  This will be accomplished when they succeed in placing the disordered world under discipline, and in ordering it after the gnosis of their movement.  It is not supposed that placing the world under discipline will be easy or that all will welcome the revolution, but the true Gnostic is confident of success.  As Hooker put it when describing the Elizabethan Puritans, their gnosis being, so they thought, “the absolute commandment of almighty God,” they were assured that “it must be received, though the world receiving it, be turned upside down.” And because they imagined that they, like Israel of old, had been sent “to root out the idolatrous nations, and to plant instead of them, a people who feared God, so the same Lord’s good will and pleasure was now, that these new Israelites should . . . perform a work no less miraculous in casting out violently the wicked from the earth, and establishing the Kingdom of Christ with perfect liberty.”

Eric Voegelin famously described such attempts to establish the Kingdom of Christ by as “immanentization of the eschaton” (New Science of Politics, 1951).  Pellicani describes it as the motive behind such attempts as “a revolutionary spirit that tends to transcend, to deny and to annihilate the existing order in view of a totally new order of things,” and that views “revolutionary violence as a tool of purification and regeneration” that will “overturn the overturned world, purge society, [and] restore human nature to its original state” (Revolutionary Apocalypse, 2003).

And Progressives?  They call it spreading democracy, free markets and human rights.

129 thoughts on “The Puritan question

  1. Utter rubbish. Firstly, ‘ “with marvelous exceeding severity and sharpness of reproof,” thereby leading others to believe that “such constant reprovers of sin . . . would never be so much offended with evil, unless themselves were singularly good” (Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 1597),’ the important part is the leading other people to believe part. The Puritans themselves thought that they were just as sinful as the rest of humanity. As for the second “essence:” How does one form a more radical rejection of their contemporary culture than St. Anthony or monastics more generally? Well, there is one way, namely, saying that anger is murder, lusting for a woman is adultery, and the poor are blessed, i.e. in a similar state as the gods, to the ancient Mediterranean. Furthermore, Sola Scriptura does not mean that there is no other way of knowing or that there are no other revelations than the Bible, but that these must be tested against the Bible to determine whether they are legitimate or not. As for Calvinists rejecting all tradition, it is odd then that Calvin’s Institutes of Religion quotes Augustine and Gregory the Great copiously and that the English Puritans were quite fond of reading what Aelfric had to say about the Eucharist. The last essence ignores the fact that many Puritans sided with Charles I, and if loyal opposition counts as being revolutionary then Christianity as a whole counts for trying to upturn the values of pagan Rome.

    • St. Anthony rejected a corrupt society, not civilization or culture. And the corrupt society that he rejected, Alexandrian society, was convulsed by the Gnostic pneumopathology in so many varieties, each absolutely convinced of its righteousness, that it is hard to count them. There is a filiation from early Massachusetts Puritanism to modern Progressivism, in which the middle term is Unitarianism, which denies the Divinity of Christ and demotes him to a Harvard Divinity School Ph.D. and a “nice guy.” Eric Voegelin argued that Gnosticism was implicit in Christianity from the start, which is why it appears wherever Christianity has taken hold. That Gnosticism was implicit in Calvinism from its beginning is merely a variant of the same argument, in which case Calvinism is no different from Roman Catholicism or Orthodox Christianity. As human beings are Calvinism’s bearers, Calvinism is prone to human deviation, and it is therefore prone to the Gnostic deviation. As I read Smith, that is what he is saying.

      PS to Skeggy: The Catholic-Calvinist dialogue is the touchiest one of all. It is the test of Traditionalists, whether they can work together, or whether they are Gnostics. I offer you my hand. (TFB)

      • Quite so. I am convinced that gnosticism is in all its variations just one or another type of philosophically sophisticated sinfulness. All gnosticism – Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Greek, secularist, whatever – can be parsed as the sin of Babel, the sin of vainglory and rebellion, the sin of Lucifer and Faust. We should be no more surprised to find it cropping up in Christian cultures than, say, murder, envy or lust.

        Skeggy makes valuable points. Puritanism, and gnosticism, never fail to be admixed with truth, and with true righteousness. Society is never simple, more’s the pity (and thanks be to God); and error cannot but supervene upon a basic and general virtue, so that nor should we be surprised to find the Puritans and the gnostics of any age manifesting many excellences of character, and of true and honest piety. We must not err to think that the Puritans and the gnostics do not intend to be good and faithful soldiers of the Lord; nor should we err to think that they cannot ever be instruments of his Providence.

        The thing that troubled me as I read Dr. Smith’s essay was the reflection that the early Church, like the Essenes at Qumran (who were perhaps both sectaries of the same cult), thought of themselves as the Faithful Remnant, who rejected the Fallen and corrupt priesthood of the Temple, and looked for the restoration of the True Ancient Cult of Israel, exemplified in themselves. And what is more, they were correct in so thinking!

        It was but a step from these reflections to a recognition that many of the characteristics Dr. Smith finds in Puritans and gnostics are to be found also in orthospherean traditionalists.

        How then are we to tell the difference between a gnostic who is engaged in a Babelonian New Age project of mandating Utopia (sorry about the genocide, but to make an omelette you have to break some eggs), and a true restorationist, a traditionalist? I suppose the answer is that a gnostic utopian rejects tradition root and branch, while a restoratiionist reveres it. The utopian idealist seeks to create a new man; the traditionalist seeks to reveal and to enable the true man, man as of old. The utopian gnostic seeks to establish a New Age, while the traditionalist seeks to reestablish an old, Golden Age, from which we have fallen.

        Genocide is another tell, of course. If your project for humanity involves killing millions, you are almost certainly not a traditionalist.

      • If I misunderstood him, then I apologize. If he was saying that Calvinists and Puritans are apt to fall into heretical opinions due to their sinful nature, that of course is true and practically a doctrine of Calvinism. Also, if he was saying that certain Puritan sects fell into a particular heresy that was influential in the spread of Progressivism, that too is true, but is a far cry from saying that Progressivism is the essence of Puritanism. Also the Puritans did not reject civilization or culture either.

      • In response to Dr. Bertonneu’s Post Scriptum, I believe that traditionalists of Catholic and Calvinist persuasions can work together. In fact, I disagree with the comment commonly made on reactionary sites that even if we were to take over we would have to split into two countries: one Protestant, the other Catholic. Many conservative Presbyterians fought for the rights of the Catholic Stuarts. I hope nothing I have said on this site has been disrespectful to Catholics, rather than being a hearty defense of the faith of my ancestors for many centuries. I have great respect for the Catholic tradition and the many Catholic authors on this site and others.

      • Graciously said, Skeggy. As the child of both traditions, Catholic mother, Protestant father, may I suggest that often what divides us most is the fact that both sides use the same words but mean slightly different things by them.

  2. This is an interesting discussion of a very complex issue. I can’t help but think that the neo-reactionary theory on this matter has a lot to do with the fact that most neo-reactionaries are libertarians of the anarcho-capitalist variety or at least once were. On the American Right this idea of the Purtian New England as being a “totalitarian theocracy” has been popularized by many in the Neo-Confederate movement. Neo-Confederates see themselves as being heirs to feudal English Cavaliers. Their story goes something like, “the happy and ‘free’ agrarian antebellum South was destroyed by Northern Neo-Puritan Yankee fanaticism.” I note a degree of schizophrenia on the part of many Neo-confederates, on the one hand many of them see themselves as the true inheritors of old-England/Christendom but then on the other hand most of the political theory they rest on comes out of the Enlightenment, specifically the Lockean school. I also think it does serious injustice to the medieval economy to compare it to the society of cash-crop slaving owning plutocrats who held the reigns of power in the South. That seems to lend too much credence to the kind of modern-pop view of the Middle Ages, this being something so-called “paleo-cons” ought to know better in not perpetuating.

    Here I think neo-reaction runs into serious philosophical problems, because they still seem to assume a fundamentally Enlightenment based anthropology. The early Puritans were merely trying to maintain a social order in a hostile world. They were not any more “totalitarian” than any other social order that seeks to protect and perpetuate itself. Liberals find this to be an affront not because it is “total” but because the community’s substantive values are not liberal. Catholicism in the Middle Ages was “totalitarian” in that it touched upon every aspect of life, religious, political, economic, familial etc. The Puritans were the same way. Indeed, liberalism being the ruling ideology acts in the same manner, however subtly.

    The libertarian “historian” Murray Rothbard (who Moldbug considers one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century) bashes the Puritans as power hungry theocrats:

    Elsewhere Rothbard celebrates the transition of New England from the Puritan theocracies of the 17th century to the commercial societies of the 18th century as a triumph of capitalist progress over and against religious backwardness:

    Many other paleo-conners have also picked up this theme, notably Chronicles Magazine, many of whose writers years ago ran in the same circles as people like Rothbard.

    If I had to argue a cause for modern progressive liberalism, it would be the triumph of a commercial culture over any kind of religious-based culture, Catholic or Protestant. The other major culprit would be Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, namely Smith and Locke. But I am not ready to flesh out such an argument here. While as a Catholic I do not find a Protestant social order ideal, as there does some to be quite a bit of correlation between Protestant cultures and liberalism, Christians of whatever tradition ought not critique others (be it Protestant or even Islam) for being illiberal.

    • “Their story goes something like, “the happy and ‘free’ agrarian antebellum South was destroyed by Northern Neo-Puritan Yankee fanaticism.””

      I’ve heard this before and the best I can do for you, is asking you to read up on reconstruction. The primary focus of it was changing the religion, social structure, culture of the south(Succeeded in all 3). It was a moral crusade from New England with military forces to back it up. Once you understand what went on during reconstruction you’ll better understand the civil war.

    • To be fair, Rothbard criticized the secular-left religion for its excesses. He certainly appreciated religious-based culture:

      Establishing a religion has a specific meaning: paying for ministers and churches out of taxpayer funds. To ban even voluntary prayer from the public schools, or to ban the teaching of religion, is a pettifogging willful misconstruction of the text and of the intent of the framers, in order to replace our former Christian culture with a left-secular one. The banning of creches in front of local town halls demonstrates how far the secularists will go–indeed shows how totalitarian they are in their drive to ban religion from public institutions.

      I think he made an excellent case for Marxism and Progressivism as partly descendant from the Puritan/Pietist mindset. He unfortunately ignores the hefty Jewish input (maybe that’s why Moldbug, also a Jew, likes him). He literally traces the families who were once self-identifying Christians to their genetic scions, who abandoned God but kept much of the world-perfecting philosophy to which their forefathers adhered. And he demonstrated some of their virulent anti-Catholicism as exercised through anti-temperance and compulsory public schooling measures.

      The lectures in which he states that case are here:

      And unless you can demonstrate his lack of historian credentials, I don’t see why you put his profession in quotations. He was an honest economist and historian who was trying to find the truth out of what he read and observed. Even if you disagree with him (as I do, more and more) why do you slight a man his own profession because his historical analysis disagrees with yours?

      • I show Rothbard and his modern followers as much charity as Rothbard showed other scholars who disagreed with his views (see his “review” of Karl Polyani). Which is another way of saying that no, I do not have much respect for him. Nor can I understand why reactionaries would wish to claim such a radical liberal as their own. Rothbard’s understanding of pre-modern cultures is shallow. The two articles I linked to show him celebrating the triumph of captialist-modernity over theocratic-traditionalism. That is the progressive spirit distilled down into its purest form. People make much ado about his work on the Spanish Scholastics and their supposed contribution to what would later become Austrian economics. So what?

        I think he made an excellent case for Marxism and Progressivism as partly descendant from the Puritan/Pietist mindset.

        Again so what? Marxism’s origins in Christianity are obvious, Rothbard was not the first to recognize this, and his view into that relationship is surely not the most perceptive. I assert that it is the redeeming aspects of Marxist theory where one sees the influence of Christianity. The negative aspects are to the extent that Marxism adopted the capitalist notion of progress. Ironically on that point Rothbard has much more in common with the worst aspects of Marxism than anything else.

      • You don’t think Moldbug making a fetish of obscure texts doesn’t reek of gnosticism? OK, then, it’s just cherry-picking.

      • Additionally, Moldbug is always saying, “everything you know about X is untrue. I will show you the truth.”

  3. Moldbug simply doesn’t understand religion. Foseti quotes Moldbug:

    “If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that “liberalism” is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc, etc, etc, is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It’s a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines.”

    Anyone who thinks the resurrection of the dead is a “superficial feature” is insanely ignorant.

    • I’m not so sure of this. Interestingly, the debate between atheists Harris and Atran may be informative. Cognitively, religious beliefs do not entail fixed propositional content. This is a matter of what constitutes the unit of analysis. If you’re interested in theology, then of course the resurrection of the dead matters. If you are interested in linguistic anthropology and pragmatics, not so much. I suspect Moldbug is talking about an epidemiology of cultural practices and dispositions, not of ideal forms. In other words, the degraded product fallible humans tend to produce absent formal structure- a meme that is left to be selected-for by every process save reason and tradition as opposed to an idea selected for its consonance with reason and tradition.

      • For him a religion is just “a bunch of stuff you believe in.” So liberalism = Christianity. Hey, maybe it’s really liberalism = Judaism.

  4. Kristor,
    “the traditionalist seeks to reestablish an old, Golden Age, from which we have fallen.”

    Astounding and appalling. What Golden Age could you be thinking of?

    • The age when things were better because tradition had not been rejected. “Golden Age” was probably too strong a term, although in comparison to today’s burgeoning dystopia the late 50’s do definitely seem to glow a bit. There has never been a time I suppose when there were no men who protested the corruption of the patrimonial cult that depraved society and ended the halcyon days of yore. But such men are generally too wise to think that a restoration of the ancient regime would wipe away all tears from our eyes. To think that it could is to reject the patrimony.

      What is astounding or appalling about seeking to restore social order in accordance with Natural Law?

  5. This is great post. I have had a lot of frustration with the Christians for how readily they adopt progressive and puritan ideas and how they views attacks on those ideas as an attack on the body of Christ. Once upon a time Christians fought very hard against gnosticism/progressivism/puritanism/Pharisee-ism and it’s good to see people waking up to the enemy in their midst.

    I wish you luck.

  6. Thanks and you’re welcome, to the commentators who found this post enlightening.

    Skeggy Thorson@ Please don’t take what I have written as an argument that seventeenth-century Puritans were not Christians. I would say that they began as Christian Puritans, but some evolved into Unitarian Puritans, and later Progressive Puritans. Of course, when the evolution to Unitarian Puritanism occurred, many of the biological and spiritual descendants of the Christian Puritans of New England and elsewhere remained Christian. But those who did tended to become less puritanical, under my definition. In fact, they tended to become morally, politically, and theologically conservative. It is a great irony, and the source of terrible historical misunderstanding, that the word Puritansm is today associated with conservatives. Puritanism is inherently revolutionary.

    I have read some of the spiritual autobiographies of New England Puritans, and I agree that they sometimes expressed an exquisite sense of personal sin. Being under “serious impressions” or “soul concern” was, after all, a stage in their conversion experience. Many of these accounts are very moving, and their authors were perfectly sincere, others suggest to me a degree of moral fastidiousness that suggests spiritual pride. They seem well on their way to what the blogger Jim Donaldson describes as “holier than Jesus.”

    When I wrote that an essential attribute of Puritanism is “separation” from the world, I did not mean withdrawal. That’s what anchoritic and cenobitic monasticism is all about. Those monks were waiting for the end of this world in conditions that they believed were best for their souls. Puritanism is an activist movement that is intent on bringing this world to an end, and the Puritan symbolically separates himself from the doomed world by conspicuously rejecting its emblems and adopting emblems that are their opposite. The black clothing and solemn demeanor of seventeenth-century Puritans was, for example, a repudiation of the gaiety and levity one finds, for instance, in much of Shakespeare.

    Kristor@ Spiritual pride is a universal temptation, and we Orthospherians are by no means exempt. Looking at the example of the Essenes or the Puritans, we have to admit that restorationist and revolutionary movements are often hard to tell apart. As you know, all of the revolutionary movements of the modern age have promised to, in some sense, restore men and women to a state of primitive innocence. They have all taught that some evil has been introduced into the world (e.g. private property, the state, monogamy), that the revolution will root out this evil, and that the eradication of this “root of all evil” will permit the millennium to unfold. This of course parallels Christian doctrine, but there is a key difference. We believe that the New Creation will be the work of Christ, not men.

    Ita Scripta Est@ The valuable lesson to be learned from the neoreactionaries of the “Dark Enlightenment” is that the Enlightenment was not what it claimed to be. The history of modernity is not a story of the “triumph of reason over superstition and prejudice,” but rather a story of a messianic movement with its own superstitions and prejudices. Their mistake, I believe, is in representing this messianic movement as a transformation of Christianity when it is, in fact, a substitute. Just as there was a point in time when it no longer made any sense to speak of Christians as Jews, so there was a point when it no longer made any sense to speak of Unitarian Progressives as Christians.

    Red@ I recently read a newspaper article published in New York State in 1862, proposing that the best way to resolve secession was to expel New England from the Union. Everyone at that time recognized that New England was the source of all of the “isms” that were revolutionizing society.

    All@ There is a practical reason why this argument has to be made. Progressives have long identified orthodox Christianity with the “Religious Right.” They have persuaded plenty of people that Christianity is, essentially, a reactionary movement bent on establishing a “theocracy.” Now we have a second argument, coming from the Right, that Christians are all, essentially, Progressives. Both of these arguments cannot be right, although both may be wrong. The problem they create for us is that, taken together, they make orthodox Christianity appear morally odious from all political perspectives.

    • > Now we have a second argument, coming from the Right, that Christians
      > are all, essentially, Progressives. Both of these arguments cannot be
      > right, although both may be wrong. The problem they create for us is
      > that, taken together, they make orthodox Christianity appear morally
      > odious from all political perspectives.

      Don’t overestimate this second argument. I’m not exactly sure which argument you are talking about, since there are at least 2 critiques coming from the right for Christianism:

      1-> From far-righters which say that Christianism is too soft and that it allowed liberalism to take over -> This second argument is propagated only by a small group in the right, it’s the opinion that Nazis had of Christianism, and I seriously doubt that anyone outside of the reactionary blogsphere has even heard of it. Try asking a common person, and you will get tons of people that think that Christianism is reactionary and therefore they hate it. You won’t hear anyone saying that Christianism is too liberal.

      2-> Some Libertarians criticize Christianism for being too socialist -> but libertarians are irrelevant.

      The common population is not listening to all sides and getting arguments from far-righters and libertarians. The common population is feed exclusively liberal propaganda from the mainstream media. They will never hear far-right arguments, and will never hear libertarian arguments, because those groups have no influential media of their own.

      Anyway, the argument that Christianism created progressivism (and all Christians are progressives) is false and it is easy to prove: The crusades and crusaders are almost a complete opposite of modern western liberalism

    • I will admit that since Puritanism was originally an insult there is no precise definition of of the term. However since you admitted that there were puritans who did not participate in any of these essences and were still Puritans that means that none of them are essential to Puritanism. Again I will readily admit that some Puritans fell into deep heresy, but this is neither unique or essential to Puritanism. I also apologize for the utter rubbish comment, it was too harsh and uncivil.

      • Skeggy Thorson@ Don’t worry, I took no offense at the “utter rubbish” comment and my wife had a good laugh when I read it aloud to her.

    • Very interesting subject. I don’t think that the “success” of the Puritan project was due to any deliberate ideology or thought out plan. The Puritan ascendency is more an issue of being in the right place at the right time rather than a triumph of a pre-determined mission. Had the Puritans settled in Brazil, they’d be nobody, as would their cultural influence.

      I think Moldbug is right in that Left is a product of a de-Christianised Christianity. I don’t read much of Moldbug and can’t say much about his understanding of how he came about this notion but I think an alternate thesis of the Left’s ideological development needs to be put forward. In my opinion, the answer lies in biology not ideology.

      I don’t think that historians (or theologians) have fully grasped the magnitude of the effect that human cognitive limitation has upon the development of political ideology and history. Kahnemen, Tversky, Stanovich, Dorner and others have quite convincing data that human thought processes are not strictly logical and that the “rational man” is the exception rather than the norm.

      System I rationality, i.e. associative rationality, is the way that most people think. People tend to associate ideas rather than rationally determine them. To the average pious Christian, Jesus is all about helping people, forgiving and accepting and generally an all round nice guy. They associate Christianity with niceness. Therefore to be a good Christian you have to be nice. The Left is about being nice.

      Protestantism is particularly prone to this error since it gives each man his moral liberty. Amongst intelligent Protestants this produces superb quality individuals, amongst the average Protestant, it produces a “nice” person of dubious intellectual merit. Modern America, with its strongly Protestant and democratic heritage, is thus the product of an “associative Christianity”.

      Catholicism solved this problem by not letting the faithful think. The average Catholic is just as stupid as the average Protestant but unlike Protestantism, the Catholic is not allowed to think about his religion; it’s all about following the Party line: the party line developed by Aquinas, Augustine, Scotus and so on. The average Catholic gets “borrowed intelligence” and thus is a “rational” Christian, the average Protestant is on his own and becomes an “associative” Christian.

      This is just a brief sketch of the matter and I’ll probably go further into it on my blog when I get some time. You might be interested in this post on my blog.

      • While I think your critique of Protestantism has some merit, I disagree with your point about Catholicism “not letting the faithful think.” The widespread proliferation of intricate secondary liturgical aides (to take one example) among the ordinary lay coupled with the intellectual culture of monasteries/universities would seem to suggest otherwise. Eamon Duffy’s work on pre-Reformation English Catholicism I think pretty conclusively shows that Catholicism was hardly as regimented and intellectually sterile as you make it out to be.

      • @Ita Scripta Est.

        C.S. Lewis on why he did not become a Catholic:

        The real reason why I cannot be in communion with you [Roman Catholics] is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but also to what he is going to say.

        C.S. Lewis saw that membership of the Church resulted in a loss of intellectual sovereignty.
        One of the big problems with Catholicism its its insistence on the authority of the Church over the primacy of the truth. I know that theologians resolve the conflict by saying that the Church is always inerrant. Cue Galileo.

        Newman was the great exponent of Truth primacy. In many ways even though he joined the Catholic Church he remained a Protestant in his approach. But this is off topic.

      • Slumword

        Ah I see you’re bringing out the big guns by citing Galileo and Lewis at the same time against Catholicism. As regards Galileo and the Church you really ought not (especially on a blog like this) regurgitate Enlightenment myths. Though I guess the fact that what? 30 craters on the lunar surface are named after Catholic priests tends to dampen the old myth that the Church hated/s science.

        As far as the Lewis quote, it seems one could say much the same thing of practically any religion, state or ideology including Protestantism and liberalism. I think with Lewis it had more to do with an ingrained Anglo prejudice against Catholics.

      • Though I guess the fact that what? 30 craters on the lunar surface are named after Catholic priests tends to dampen the old myth that the Church hated/s science.

        Stop reframing. Who said that the Church hated science? Quotes please.
        The fact that the Church persecuted Galileo does not mean that the Church was waging a war against science in general, just a particular instance of it. The theological problem is how do you reconcile an inerrant Church against a specific instance where it was clearly in the wrong. Yeah, I know that Gallileo had his flaws and, also, many supporters in the Church. But when you strip away the polava, he was persecuted for his heliocentric theory which was true

        As a friend of the Church, it concerns me no end that the Church came within a bee’s dick of theological self-destruction on this issue. By the way, it’s an issue that has far too many apologists for the actions of the Church and not enough thinkers acknowledging that something went wrong in the whole process.

        JPII admitted that the Church was wrong on this issue. I suppose he was pushing an Enlightenment myth as well.

      • Slumlord@ Respect for “intellectual sovereignty” was not one of the Puritans’ strong points. They were hanging Quakers in New England after the Vatican had put the rack and the wheel into storage, and Rhode Island was to Massachusetts more or less what Geneva was to France. I don’t say this to condemn the Puritans, or out of fanatical regard for intellectual sovereignty. Every society sets a range of acceptable opinion, and most have tolerated heretics who did not flout public doctrine or proselytize. In some respects the Catholic Church has had to be more tolerant, simply because it was catholic. Sectarians can simply expel members who exercise their intellectual sovereignty too freely.

        I’m far from expert in this matter, but the quote from Lewis seems to exhibit some rather profound ignorance of the way in which Catholic doctrine develops. What the Church teaches in future must be consistent with, indeed implicit in, what it has taught in the past. And as the sedevacantist argument shows, papal infallibility cuts both ways. If what the pope says ex cathedra is true, then a man who says something false ex cathedra is not the pope.

      • The Church has never claimed to be inerrant in all things Slumlord. There is a difference between its exercise of authority in guiding the faithful and its pronouncement of dogma. While the former is a legitimate activity, it has never been considered to be done under a license of infallibility.

      • @John and JMSmith

        The Church has never claimed to be inerrant in all things Slumlord

        But the Church asserts its authority to teach. Therefore, by logical implication, the Church can authoritatively teach error: punishing, under the pain of sin, those who refuse to submit to it. See the problem? The Galileo affair highlights this.

        I think this is what Lewis was getting at. He arrived at the truths of Catholicism through the Protestant tradition. But Lewis, like other sincere Protestants, came to this position by an insistence on the primacy of the truth, not the primacy of authority. Newman held a similar position as outlined in his letter to the Duke of Norfolk.

        The situation, as I see it, is that the Church has not fully developed its understanding on the interrelationship between its teaching authority and its relationship with the truth.

        The Church once asserted that error has no rights, but neither does authority that is in error.

      • I would say that authority that is knowingly in error has no rights, and to this I would add authority that is knowingly talking through its hat (i.e. simply making things up). In the enlightenment criticism of Christianity, this was pretty nearly all that was meant by teaching from authority. Authority was a means to propagate lies and fairy tales. The best responses to this criticism pointed out that Christianity was not primarily grounded in logical or scientific demonstration, but in historical testimony, and a testator is the same as an authority. The ultimate testator is, of course, Christ himself, who spoke with authority about matters men could not verify, and we know what he said by way of testaments written down by men who also spoke with authority. I am not so simple as to imagine that the faith has not been infested with humbugs who have pretended to authority, but the epistemology of authority is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Indeed when we use the word faith, we mean faith in an authority.

        The epistemology of authority (or faith, if you like) comes down the question, which authorities have rights. Another way to state this would be: who among those who claim to be an authority is, indeed, an authority. I cannot answer, “those who are not in error,” since if I knew which were in error, I wouldn’t need an authority. So the epistemology of authority comes down to circumstantial evidence about the testator. In the case of Christ, for instance, performance of miracles and rising from the dead are circumstantial evidence that he speaks with authority on supernatural matters.

        For my part the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is a lot like the authority of some shrewd old fellow who gets things right more often than not. Unless I know that it is wrong, as I think the Church sometimes is when it strays into social science, and my priest sometimes is in his more whimsical homilies, I am willing to presume that what it says is true. Which is to say, I recognize its authority.

      • @ JMSmith

        With respect. The issue at stake here is not whom or what either of us think is authoritative, rather, does the Church contain a systemic error inside itself which could cause it to persecute truth under the guise of Authority? in my mind the Church hasn’t fully resolved the issue.

      • Slumlord@ If the Church could be shown to have an inherent tendency to abuse its authority (in that case, actually, pretended authority) by suppressing truth, that would be strong circumstantial evidence against its authority when professing (or, perhaps, pretending to profess, the truth). It isn’t logically impossible for an institution (or individual) to simultaneously tell no lies and yet suppress certain truths, but in practice lies and suppression of the truth tend to go together.

        I know this will sound Jesuitical, but one would have to recognize a need for some casuistry here. At least I think so. I remember a long thread some time back, maybe here on the Orthosphere, or perhaps on Bonald’s Throne and Altar site. The question was whether one should under all circumstances expose a wife’s infidelity to a cuckold. I thought it brought out rather nicely the way in which the value of truth-telling comes into conflict with other values, such as divorce prevention and the welfare of children.

        This comes down to the morality of the “white lie,” which essentially hinges on the question whether the good of truth should ever yield to some other good. I’m not raising this to defend any particular action or teaching on the part of the Church, only to suggest that many of us recognize that there can be circumstances when it is morally correct to shield certain persons from certain truths, at least for a certain period of time. I think the ethicists would say the morality of suppressing the truth depends on who benefits from the suppression, the one who is kept in ignorance or the one who is keeping in ignorance.

      • The Church is a special case. It’s raison d’etre is to teach the Truth and it fundamentally undermines its own credibility and authority when it fails to do so. This is a very, very serious issue. The danger is particularly perilous when the Church is blind to its own fault.

        I’m not doing this to hammer the Church, I don’t want it to the repeat the same error again.

      • I agree. I, too, do not wish to see the Church repeat any errors. Apart from unsystematic reading, what I know of today’s Church is what I see and hear in my own parish. There the problem is not teaching error with pretended authority, but rather teaching banality with a take-it-or-leave-it diffidence. As far as I can tell, based on more than a decade of homilies, we in the parish are free to think whatever we like, provided we are nice to other people–especially, as was suggested last week, women who abort their children. The problem is not dogmatic authority, but a lack of what Barth called “binding address.”

      • JMSmith:

        Slumlord is just steamed about Humanae Vitae. That’s why he views the Church as just too doggone tyrannically dogmatic, despite the near universality of the “isn’t that nice, aren’t we all wonderful, rainbows for everyone” experience on the ground at a parish near you.

        It is laudable of him, actually, and though it sounds snarky when I say it I actually mean it: because unlike the great majority of Catholics he actually cares about the Magisterium enough to actively dissent from it.

      • Hey Zippy, how nice of you to appear.

        My position on any particular encyclical is irrelevant to the argument at hand. It’s an ad hominen, Zippy; and yes……it is snarky.

      • Ah, OK. So multi-year public dissent from the Magisterium has nothing to do with viewing the Magisterium’s relationship to the truth as problematic. Got it.

      • Even if I were wholly supportive of HV, the fundamental issue raised by the Galileo controversy has not been solved. In that case the Magisterium was objectively punishing truth and upholding error.

      • As you probably know, at the time of the trial, in 1633, Galileo did not have the evidence that he needed to demonstrate the truth of what he maintained. He was not perfectly entitled to the “authority” he was claiming at that time, although the evidence was soon forthcoming. It is possible that the Church overreacted, but it was 1633, smack dab in the middle of the Thirty Years War. I like to think that I am a great friend of the truth, but I can see how a decent person might think that 1633 was not an opportune moment to unleash a revolutionary (and at that time still possibly incorrect) idea into European intellectual life.

      • But why put someone on trial for introducing a scientific idea into European intellectual life? And when is it a bad year to advance science? It will hardly do to say that no new thoughts are allowed because there is a war on. It was a dangerous time, to be sure, a time that required courage to advance ideas we now take for granted.

      • According to Owen Barfield there would have been no objection had Galileo presented his hypothesis as an attempt to “save the phenomena”, i.e., take account of and explain the way things appear and it was his refusal to do so, to instead insist that he was describing the reality beneath the appearances, that got him into hot water.

      • And when is it a bad year to advance science?

        Well, I can think of several instances where the authorities would have a duty to suppress “science”. For example I think it would be legitimate for the state to suppress the advancement of the development of abortifacients. Of course this all depends on what one considers “science.”

        to be sure, a time that required courage to advance ideas we now take for granted.

        That statement could go either way. There were many “courageous” people whose ideas we are now living with, and many of those ideas are having very destructive consequences.

        If some scientist made a discovery that had the potential to cause immediate social chaos, I think the US government would (rightly) behave in much the same way.

      • But who gets to decide which ideas are to be actively suppressed? Do we fight bad ideas with good ideas or with violence? Ultimately, it will come down to conscience rights.

      • Whomever it is that controls the media by which ideas are propagated. They will seldom see it as “suppression,” but the consequences of their editorial or curricular decisions result in the “suppression” of some ideas. This is inevitable, and probably for the best. It should be hard to put new ideas into circulation because most new ideas are not like the heliocentric model of the solar system. They are like phrenology, or healing crystals, or communism.

      • If some scientist made a discovery that had the potential to cause immediate social chaos,
        Just like economics, scientific inquiry needs to be subordinated to the common good. I think these issues of “who decides” are only problems in officially pluralist societies such as America (or Western society broadly.) Some appeal to conscience rights is not a solution in fact one could argue that such notions paved the way for liberal modernity.

      • Some appeal to conscience rights is not a solution in fact one could argue that such notions paved the way for liberal modernity.

        Liberal modernity was partly a reaction to a society that had quite readily accepted the contingency of the truth and its subordination to institutionalised authority. This is a very depressing comments thread. Christianity’s claim to the hearts of men is not based upon notions of societal convenience, rather, it asserts that it is True. You guys aren’t just defending the Church against Galileo, but you’re also defending the Roman Emperors who burned and tortured Christians for the sake of Roman institutional stability.

        Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        There is too much partisanship in this debate. Too many Catholics, on partisan grounds, want to prove the Church right at any cost. This shouldn’t be an issue of team Catholic vs the rest. The Church stuffed up on this issue. There is no way around it.

      • There is too much partisanship in this debate.


        It seems you have a problem with any kind of authority.
        You know what I find depressing, Slumlord? Repeating old myths and likening Catholics to tyrants and totalitarians for failing to lived up to the standards of modern liberalism. But no, you’re not partisan at all. You’re just interested in the truth.™

        Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        Yawn* What’s next are you going to start talking about the Crusades?

      • Galileo was punished on religious grounds not political. He was not just told to shut up, he was also told to recant. He was being punished for his ontology, not his ideology.

        This is bad history. Heliocentrism was not, itself, punishable prior to Galileo. Copernicus was encouraged, not punished. There were several heliocentrists who managed to avoid punishment. Furthermore, Galileo was not, in fact, “just” told to shut up. Rather, he was told to “tone it down” then he was “just” told to shut up. Not only did he disobey the instruction “just” to shut up, he responded by publishing a dialogue for the exact purpose of insulting the Pope for having the temerity to tell him to shut up—and the Pope, recall, was at that time a temporal prince allied with the prince of Galileo’s city of residence.

        His run-in with the Church was not about Heliocentrism. It was about authority. Galileo’s view was that the Church was wrong about Geocentrism, that the evidence was essentially certain that the Church was wrong, and that scholars, rather than the Church, were the proper judge of who was right and who was wrong. He was forced to recant Heliocentrism because Heliocentrism was the ideology which tempted him into disobedience, both temporal and spiritual. The recantation was an act of charity by the Church.

        Furthermore, Galileo was wrong. The evidence at the time favored Geocentrism. The claim that Heliocentrism was certain was farcical. Galileo’s own arguments were idiotic (this, incidentally, is a pattern: Galileo said many true and many arguably original things, not so many true and original things). And, if you believe in Relativity, we now know that the evidence for Heliocentrism could never be conclusive since, in the Geo vs Helio debate, there is no fact of the matter.

        The consistency with which Whig history turns out to be lies is breathtaking.

      • “His run-in with the Church was not about Heliocentrism. It was about authority.”

        As Charles Williams put it:

        “… the famous phrase about black and white –“we ought always to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so define it” – may allow of some discussion, though it is difficult to see in the end what other conclusion can be formally reached.”

        See also

        Which is one reason why I would not wish to be either a Jesuit or a geocentrist.

      • Given the promotion of conscience rights in U.S. health care by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which promotion I support, I am surprised that you would disparage conscience rights.

      • There are quite a number of things that the UCCB supports that I (and most Catholics here I suspect) do not support. There are quite a number of initiatives the UCCB promotes that have nothing to do with Church teaching and sometimes such initiatives even outright contradict Church teaching. “Conscience rights” are somewhere in between the two.

        The Bishops should have by all means opposed the mandate but not on the grounds they chose.

      • It is not just the USCCB that speaks highly of conscience rights. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis spoke of “religious freedom, viewed as a fundamental human right,” even gong so far as to say, “Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’…”

        Is Pope Francis right on this?

      • I think we have to be very careful when comparing certain American political ideas and terminology with Church teaching, too often these terms are equivocated and obscure important nuances. Thus when the Church speaks of “freedom” “rights” and “conscience” it often times means rather different things. Also just because there may be a point of contact between Church teaching and Americanism does not somehow mean that two are compatible. The Catholic Church including in the writings of modern Popes, simply does not subscribe to the American notion of rights. As Pope Benedict recently pointed out in Caritas in Veritate: “rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere licence.” This really indicts the heart of so much of Americanism. And as we have seen with Pope Francis who has also continued and extended this critique into others areas.

        In that quote you listed it seems that Francis is merely reiterating traditional teaching that others may not be forced to become Catholic. To be sure there has been much confusion on this matter post-Vatican II with many “interested” parties spreading error with claims that somehow the Church’s teachings constitute a blessing of the First Amendment, but that is not true. The Church has and still upholds the confessional state as the model. The bishops are foolish for basing their entire argument on “the Constitution” and “freedom.” Sure when you are in court arguing your case you appeal to the Constitution but in the public arena that should not be their main appeal. Historically so many American bishops want to be seen as “Americans first” and this is really the root of many of the Church’s problems today.

      • So when the Church appears in court and appeals to conscience rights, they don’t really mean that they believe in conscience rights? That it is just part of a legal strategy that hides the true meaning of their words? That Pope Francis doesn’t really mean what he appears to say?

      • It has nothing to do with belief. They are using the laws they are given.

        I am saying that Pope Francis doesn’t prove your point.

  7. I am quite confused by the use of the term “Puritanism” here. To me Puritanism is what you get in the first entry if you put it in Google: a group of English and American radical Protestants, which would therefore be right-wingers, not progressives. But in this text, Puritanism seems to mean proto-liberals. I would be really surprised if there was a real solid connection between the Puritans and Liberals. I think it is mostly coincidence, and that Puritan-style Protestantism in other non-Anglo-Saxon cultures would not have produced liberalism. In my Church at least (Presbyterian), Puritans were always viewed positively, but in this text they seem to be viewed negatively as proto-liberals.

    I am also confused by the term “Gnosticism”, the article in wikipedia about it doesn’t seam to be what this text talks about exactly:

    • Filipe@ The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example. My post uses the word in the second manner and argues that the recurrent spiritual tendency is, essentially, Gnostic rather than Christian. Like the word Puritan, the word Gnostic can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at about the same time as Christianity, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example. My post uses the word in the second manner and argues that Gnosticism and Puritanism are essentially the same. This is not to say that the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not Christians, only that there is no necessary connection between Christianity and Puritanism/Gnosticism.

      • “The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation,” which is the way most people understand the term.

        Alternatively, “it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency.” Which allows us to pour all sorts of negative meanings into the term depending on what spiritual tendency we select and dislike. Puritanism was a broad movement, not a well-defined sect, so one could select a number of tendencies. In the modern world “Puritanism” has negative connotations, so it is an easy target. Puritans are scarcer than Native Americans in New England, also making them an easy target. They are not here to defend themselves. “Puritan” is thus a convenient negative label for whatever characteristics one wishes to project on a group. Likewise, Gnostics are not here to defend themselves, and Gnosticism also has negative connotations. Fusing two easy targets is a simple task.

        Were some Puritans prideful? Of course, but most groups have their prideful members. Did they wish to reform and purify religion and separate themselves from society if necessary to achieve their aims? Of course, but that is not unique to Puritanism. So there are connections, but that hardly establishes identity. Nor does it prove that actively pursuing the building of the kingdom of God is a bad thing.

        Did Puritans wear black? Of course, but lots of people, religious and otherwise, did and still do. Puritans dressed conservatively and modestly, but black clothing was expensive and hard to keep black in everyday use. One might wear black for a formal portrait, but not necessarily in the fields or in the workshop. The dour, black-clad Puritan is an overblown and negative stereotype. Puritans had their faults, but let’s not get carried away in blackening their reputation.

        Harvard University began as a Puritan institution and is now a progressive establishment institution. But that does not mean Cotton Mather would recognize Harvard as authentically Puritan. Puritanism can trace some of its roots to the new learning of the universities of the time, so there is a connection, but not necessarily a bad one, unless you dislike universities in general.

      • If you wish to defend Reformed theology and the Christianity of early New England, my argument is the best you are going to find. The alternative is that Progressive Humanism is simply the telos of Puritanism. It is not as if New England was invaded by Unitarians and Transcendentalists. Reformed Christians either own these people or they don’t. I’m saying that they don’t (which means I’m on your side), and that the way to disown them is to disown their Puritanism. And the way to disown their Puritanism is to say that Richard Hooker, who actually knew these people, was correct.

        I am not condemning the people that we call Puritan. They created a prosperous and orderly society in New England, under very difficult circumstances. I am identifying certain elements in their thought, present from the beginning, but growing and secularizing over time, that became very hostile to the sorts of things readers of the Orthosphere tend to value. I argue that these elements are not integral to their Christianity, so that Christianity is not the mother of, say, feminism or vegetarianism. But if you wish to claim feminism and vegetarianism as a logical developments of Reformed theology, I guess I can’t stop you.

      • Filipe@ The term Puritan can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at the time of the English Reformation, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example.

        Could you explicit about which recurrent spiritual tendency you are talking about exactly? I could try to guess from what I know about the Puritans, but then I won’t be sure if it is what you were thinking about.

        Like the word Puritan, the word Gnostic can be used to indicate a particular religious movement that arose at about the same time as Christianity, or it can be used to indicate a recurrent spiritual tendency, of which this particular religious movement was an example.

        And the same here for Gnosticism. I’d also like to read your definition of Gnosticism. thanks

      • I think the post contains my working definition of the spiritual tendency of Puritanism/Gnosticism, which I argue are the same spiritual tendency. These are (1) a very strong sense of spiritual pride and self-righteousness, (2) symbolic separation of the adepts from the surrounding culture, which they reject as irredeemably corrupt, (3) epistemological austerity, meaning near-exclusive reliance on a strictly interpreted evidential base, and (4) an intention to revolutionize the world and usher in the millennium. One writer calls this “soteriological politics.”

      • > (1) a very strong sense of spiritual pride and self-righteousness,

        That’s quite a subjective criteria, because you can judge arbitrarely a group like that and there is no objective way to check .

        Anyway, if you talk with common people which were exposed to liberal propaganda, you will see that they are very prejudicious about different religious/cultures/ethnic groups, so billions would fit into this criteria.

        > (2) symbolic separation of the adepts from the surrounding culture,
        > which they reject as irredeemably corrupt,

        hahaha, this brings at least 2 things to my mind:
        a> Monastic movements fit in this description
        b> Well, considering our culture as irredeemable corrupt is pretty much a pre-requisite for being a reactionary, isn’t it? Or else one would be merely a “moderate conservative” or something like that.

        Anyway, the communists also think that our culture is corrupt (too capitalist form them).

        > (3) epistemological austerity, meaning near-exclusive
        > reliance on a strictly interpreted evidential base,

        Could you explain this more? I did not understand it.

        > and (4) an intention to revolutionize the world and
        > usher in the millennium. One writer calls this “soteriological politics.”

        The same could be said of comunism, political islam, liberalism, etc, … and maybe even cruzading Christianity. It should be present in any ideology which is expanding itself via force and power-struggle.

        Anyway, your points 1, 2 and 4 seam to pretty much define fanatism. (I excluded point 3 because I did not understand it).

        So in essence to me it looks like that you are trying to argue that fanatism caused liberalism … but maybe point 3 will clarify things.

      • Filipe@

        1) Certainly all of us are prone to spiritual pride, and every group will feel some degree of bigotry. Even liberals “pride” themselves on their tolerance and display a rather bigoted contempt for people who remain within particular national or religions traditions. So I am not describing a difference of type here, only a difference of degree. The groups I describe as Puritans/Gnostics are marked by a fanatical spiritual pride (as you note in your last line). One indication of this is that they lose all sense of charity for their opponents, and see those opponents as purely evil.

        2) As I said in another place in this thread, separatism is not the same as withdrawal. Separatism means to make your sense of moral superiority conspicuous by rejecting the conventions of your society and adopting a way of life that flouts those conventions. The medieval monk does not fit this definition because he was a part of medieval society. The special part he played in that society was indicated by his dress and tonsure, but he was not being countercultural. My sense of modern reactionaries is that they do their best to blend in and not draw attention to themselves.

        3) By epistemological austerity I mean an unwillingness to base beliefs on anything other than a very limited sort of evidence. If I said that I would believe nothing that was not clearly stated in the Bible, that would be epistemological austerity. If I said that I would believe nothing that was not printed in the New York Times, that would be epistemological austerity. This is important because a Puritan/Gnostic group can maintain its peculiar view of the world only be excluding some of the evidence. Many modern Gnostics exclude some of the evidence by closing off the transcendent.

        4) Communism, political Islam, and at least some forms of liberalism are Puritan/Gnostic movements, on my definition. And my post admits that Christainity has often been infected with the Gnostic impulse. If by “crusading Christianity” you mean the Christianity of the Crusades, I don’t think that was Gnostic. That was simply a desire to strike a blow against Islam (which had been hammering Europe), and to take control of pilgrimage destinations.

        Hope this helps.

      • Ops, one typo here: “…were exposed to liberal …”

        should be of course “…were *not* exposed to liberal ….”

      • > Even liberals “pride” themselves on their tolerance and display a rather bigoted
        > contempt for people who remain within particular national or religions traditions.

        Yes, but in a very targeted way. They are bigoted against european people that remain within a particular european national/religious tradition … they would never criticize the zulu tribesman for being too tribal. Which makes me root for islam in the islam vs liberalism conflict. I think that the facts are obvious: The liberals are trying to destroy us. So anything is preferable to liberalism.

        > One indication of this is that they loose all sense of charity for their opponents,
        > and see those opponents as purely evil.

        That could be said of nearly anyone with enemies.

        > The medieval monk does not fit this definition because he was a part of medieval society.
        > The special part he played in that society was indicated by his dress and tonsure, but he
        > was not being countercultural.

        Well, I have to disagree here. Maybe in the deeply christian middle ages the medieval monk was part of the society, but monks *did start* as something very countercultural in antiquity. The 3th century month was very countercultural. I also think that the contemporary monk is countercultural. Maybe they are currently ignored as being irrelevant, but I’m quite sure that that they are deeply at odds with western liberalism.

        > My sense of modern reactionaries is that they do their
        > best to blend in and not draw attention to themselves.

        Well, that just makes us countercultural pussies. The anarchist will display with pride his A symbol, his tatoos, etc. The communist will display with pride his che guevara T-shirt. OK, they are part of the liberal order, but before that, decades ago when they were countercultural, they also weren’t afraid. Also, many were arrested recently for making the Muslim Brotherhood salute in Egypt. So why western reactionaries (middle class/older ones at least) are nearly always cripto-reactionaries?

        I don’t know about others but I am simply demoralized. I do not believe that victory will come, in fact I haven’t seen a lasting right-wing victory in my lifetime (born in 1985), and we are deeply despised by the liberals, so I don’t see any point in making a stand: nothing will be gained, no reward will be received, no allies will come to my rescue if I am under attack, and the liberals will do their best to punish me. Better to duck and wait, and store money, the only advantage of the liberal society is that you can make a good buck.

        Western conservatism has been suffering defeats from liberalism since Napoleon, so that’s a pretty long string of defeats, 200 years already, with no stop in sight. At least the white liberals are dying out, so when they get reduced to zero we should hopefully get rid of them. The nasty side is that by them there won’t be many of us to enjoy the victory, I fear.

        But this is also a vicious cycle. Because we do not make a stand, we do not even try to defend ourselves as a group, that’s what makes it even easier for liberalism to keep targeting us, non-stop. They started with “square”, “prejudiced”. Next it was “racist”. Next it was “homophobic”. Now what was it? “islamophobic”? Their next way to insult us for trying to exist? That’s why I hope the jihadis will kill their ass…

      • It is easy to become demoralized but life is change. Look around and you will see that all of the strongholds of liberalism are under attack. Is there anyone in the country, other than tenured faculty, who claims that a degree in Liberal Arts is worth anything? Error will out and we live in an age based on error. Interesting times ahead.

        It is worth noting that the young, who cannot get a job, have no reason to pretend to believe the lies.

      • to Felipe: though a common utterance on many traditionalist websites it is not true that liberals have been on a consistent winning streak since Napoleon. Remember that Napoleon lost and the old order was restored till the revolts in 1848 all of which failed except in France and that lead to the second French empire which was no where near as radical as the first. Also Franco won in Spain, Salazar won in Portugal, and the communists lost in Greece. More examples could be mentioned but that should suffice to show that the Right has not always lost.

    • Historically, the Puritans were very much a movement of the left. Their position within English Christianity could be said to be analagous to that of the Anabaptists in continental Christianity. The Anabaptist movement is frequently referred to as the “left-wing” of the Protestant Reformation. In English history, the Puritan rebels against the Stuart monarchy and the Anglican settlement are the forerunners of the Whigs who became the liberals. In American history, New England Puritanism degenerated into the liberalism of Unitarian Universalism long before the German rationalistic “higher criticism” began to infect Protestant denominations in the late 19th Century. The Puritan millenialist vision of establishing the kingdom of God in North America, away from the worldliness of European Christendom, John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” is recognizable in secular form in Woodrow Wilson’s liberal call to America to “make the world safe for democracy.” That millenialism is characteristic of the gnosticism described by Eric Voegelin in “The New Science of Politics”, i.e., the rejection of the imperfect but divinely established representation of God’s kingdom in the here and now in the church in favour of a vision of establishing a perfect representation of that kingdom, of making the things which are ascribed by traditional orthodoxy to the “eschaton”, i.e., the world beyond the world of space and time available to our senses, “immanent”, i.e., available to us in the here and now. Thus Voegelin correctly regarded Puritanism as a form of Gnosticism.

  8. If the OP didn’t repeatedly put ‘Puritan’ after Gnostic, it never would have occurred to me that it was talking about the Puritans. The connection is assumed, not demonstrated.

    • You might want to look at the relevant chapter in Voegelin’s New Science of Politics. It’s not a demonstration, but its quite a bit more than an assumption.

    • The connection is assumed, not demonstrated.

      What a snide remark. Reasonable people can disagree about the arguments and conclusions, but Mr. JM Smith offered more than enough evidence to demonstrate a plausible connection.

  9. “If you wish to defend Reformed theology…”

    I do not.

    “I am not condemning the people that we call Puritan. They created a prosperous and orderly society in New England, under very difficult circumstances. I am identifying certain elements in their thought, present from the beginning, but growing and secularizing over time, that became very hostile to the sorts of things readers of the Orthosphere tend to value.”

    Then we are in agreement on that.

    I don’t see Harvard, for example as a Puritan school, though it once obviously was. Morning Prayers are still held, but sparsely attended, a vestige of the past. Harvard is indifferent, if not hostile, to many of the things the Puritans tended to value, though it still pursues Veritas in its own way.

    “There is a history in all men’s lives,
    Figuring the natures of the times deceas’d;
    The which observ’d, a man may prophesy,
    With a near aim, of the main chance of things
    As yet not come to life, who in their seeds
    And weak beginning lie intreasured.
    Such things become the hatch and brood of time…”

    (Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene 1)

    Is this not the case with Puritan and modern New England? Yet I do not venture to say which elements have caused the change observed.

    • Your experience confirms my argument, which is that Puritanism (i.e. Gnosticism) is an “alien spiritual tendency” that is only contingently connected to Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic. I do not say that Puritans were ideal Protestant Christians, so that anything one says about Puritans is true of Protestant Christians. In fact I’m arguing against that proposition. My argument is that the historical group we have been taught to think of as Puritans were Protestant Christians who were not simply Protestant Christians, but were rather a compound of Protestant Christian and Gnostic spiritual tendencies. Some of their biological and spiritual descendants are, today, Protestant Christians who have pretty much lost the Gnosticism (i.e. they are conservative). Others are Gnostics who have pretty much lost the Protestant Christianity (i.e. they are progressives). Protestant Christians can either own Progressivism or disown it. I’m showing you how to disown it.

      Your intentional misspelling of Catholic is, by the way, odious, self-righteous and self-absorbed. Criticism need’t involve scurrility.

  10. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/01/29 | Free Northerner

  11. Mike Flynn has a great series of posts (first one here) on the whole Galileo hubbub. JPII was probably wrong to apologize for the Galileo affair; but fortunately papal apologies aren’t part of the teaching Magisterium.

  12. Now that I better understand your original point, I can answer:

    > In an interesting post, Foseti returns to the Puritan Question, and affirms that
    > “one key tenet” of Neoreaction is that Progressivism is a “nontheistic Christian sect.”
    > No doubt there is much to be gained by understanding Progressivism as a
    > messianic movement, and much to be regretted in the fact that Progressive chiliasts
    > were so long cosseted in the cradle of Christian culture, but Progressivism is
    > not a nontheistic Christian sect. It is that old skin-changer Gnosticism, now divested
    > of Christian symbols, acting under a new guise suited to the sensibilities of nontheistic
    > men and women.

    No, I have to disagree here. You are trying to connect post-modern Liberalism (aka Progressivism) with an ancient spiritual tendency which you described as a revolutionary fanaticism. That’s just … false and superficial. In a superficial analysis it might seam right, after all, “revolutionary fanaticism” is a core characteristic of all of Liberalism. But the same could be said of Islam, Nazism, and a huge bunch of other completely unrelated stuff. Reducing Liberalism to “revolutionary fanaticism” is completely unhelpful, because this ignores all of those things that make Liberalism different from other “revolutionary and fanatical” movements, and those are the characterists that interest us the most.

    I’d also like to point out that your assumption that Liberalism came only from Puritanism has holes on it, for example: If Liberalism came from Puritanism, then how do you explain Liberalism in Catholic France, like in the French Revolution and after that?

    Wealth is a real indicator of Liberalism, the richer, the more liberal a society is. I just wonder how those arab sheiks keep Liberalism under control? Maybe because they are monarchies? Also the rich Japanese & Koreans are a bit liberal, but much less so than western countries of equivalent wealth, I also wonder why. One cannot exclude that Christianism also increases liberalism. If there is a Christian rich and non-liberal society that would be a good counter example, but I don’t think that there is any.

    I also don’t like the characterization of Liberalism as a sect, since it is not structured enough to be a sect. Liberalism is an ideology. That’s the correct definition. And what is helpful in understanding Progressivism is not focusing in what makes it fanatical, because fanatism is not something uncommon in the world. What I would really like to hear anyone explain is where is the origin of characteristics which are unique to progressivism, for example:
    * The sado/mazochistic desire to destroy the white people (via for example the import non-whites into white countries, while they couldn’t care less of ethnic cleansing of whites in South Africa for example)
    * The view that conservative Christianity is the worse devil which needs to be destroyed
    * A deep interest in irrelevant groups like bissexuals and transgender
    * A deep interest in making propaganda showing that there are no bad people in the world (except those nasty white conservatives)
    * A wish to decrease penalties for violent crimes
    and so on.

    Now, if anyone explain me that, that would be something interesting and unique.

    • I think that you are still misunderstanding my argument, and this is because you are conflating specific historical eruptions of Puritanism/Gnosticism for the generic spiritual tendency. As I state in the post, the connection between Protestant Christianity and Gnosticism that we find in the “Puritan” movement of the 17th century was accidental and contingent, not necessary. One could argue that Protestant Christianity is highly susceptible to Gnostic infection, but Gnosticism can appear in any number of spiritual traditions. That’s why I call it a “skin changer.”

      Gnostics are always fanatics, but not all fanatics are Gnostics.

      The answer to the questions you pose at the end of your comment is given in the line that I quote from Pellicani at the end of the post. Gnosticism is “a revolutionary spirit that tends to transcend, to deny and to annihilate the existing order in view of a totally new order of things.” Established nations, religions and moral codes must be destroyed in order to institute a “new order of things.” Take a look at this essay, recently linked by Bruce Carleton:

      • We, or at least I, have been arguing that your definition of Puritanism is wrong, That the tendency that you describe as essential was not present in all puritans thus is an accidental quality of Puritanism and I believe that the same could be argued for gnosticism but I don’t care to do so at this point. You assume that Puritanism just is Post-millennial, separatist Cromwellianism. Yet there were Amillennial, non-separatist Cavalier Puritans. Therefore Puritanism is not inherently revolutionary unless one defines Puritanism as only the beliefs of those Puritans who revolted, however that is just assuming the point of contention.

      • Drawing group boundaries in cultural history is a tricky business, so I think we should always expect some controversy in these matters. You know how this goes. You point out some members of the group who don’t fit my definition, I say that they are “no true Puritans,” and then you accuse me of the “no true Scotsman fallacy.” The problem with this is that the “no true Scotsman” argument is only a fallacy when it is, in fact, a fallacy. Every group contains nominal members. Conservatives recognize this when they accuse certain “Republican” politicians of being RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. When they do this, are they committing the “no true Scotsman fallacy,” or are they recognizing that there are many nominal Republicans? My definition stands provided I can eliminate certain nominal Puritans, what we might call PINOs. These would be people who were associated with my true Puritans by accidents of kinship, economic interdependence, or political opportunism.

        I have stated stated in several places that many of these PINOs were orthodox Christians, as can be seen in the fact that, when the Puritan spirit moved on to secular causes of social reform, the biological and spiritual descendants of these PINOs retained their Christianity and abandoned their Puritanism.

        It seems to me that every definition of Puritanism is going to have to exclude some portion of that historical group as PINOs. The alternative is pure nominalism, in which case there is not reason to talk about Puritans because they do not really exist.

      • The Puritans were low-church, iconoclastic protestants in England and her diaspora during the 16th through 18th centuries, that particularly focused on the emotionally and morally edifying nature of faith. One could also argue that they were Calvinists since the Arminians who could be considered puritans were few and their classification as such iffy. So these are the essentials of Puritans as they are true of all Puritans and distinguish them from other groups. I am not accusing you of any logical fallacy but rather debating about the character of a historical group.

  13. Pingback: Progressive Puritans | pundit from another planet

  14. Let’s not take the fun out of schism! What happens when a Unitarian realizes they don’t know what they’re talking about and sees the light, which is not available to all? Is he a progressive’s progressive, or a puritan’s puritan?

  15. The author seems to confuse the all-too-human prideful attitudes of certain Gnostics with the essential tenets of Gnosticism itself.
    They are not necessarily part and parcel.
    No one is immune to the sin of pride. As we may observe in the comments.

  16. I haven’t read all the comments but nobody seems to have referred to the Catholic dogmas of the faith in replying to this article. The Catholic dogma is that God created a good world. The Catholic faith teaches us that the material world created by God is good and has suffered no deterioration or decadence because of its distance from the divine. This latter belief is gnostic. Evil is the result of disordered will of fallen man and that nothing created by God for the benefit of mankind, such as tobacco and alcohol is intrinsically evil.This dogma is to some extent denied by every single other religion, including Puritanism.

    Belloc in his book ‘The Great Heresies’ stated that puritanism was an example of the Manichean heresy and differs from gnosticism because it divides the world into two, a material world and a spritual world. The material world is always evil and Good is always spiritual, although evil can be spiritual too. The so called traditional Catholics seem to have ressurrected the Catholic Calvinist heresy, Jansenism, which although declared a heresy some 200 years ago exercised its evil influence on Catholicism, especially French and Irish Catholics right up to Vatican II, and I’m sure that the traditional Catholic movements were founded by sympathisers with this heresy. The traditional Catholics are just as heretical in their teachings about baptism of desire as the Vatican II Church.
    Another dogma of the faith which protestants deny is that no one, unless it has been revealed by special revelation, is certain of their own salvation.

    • “The so called traditional Catholics seem to have ressurrected the Catholic Calvinist heresy, Jansenism, which although declared a heresy some 200 years ago exercised its evil influence on Catholicism, especially French and Irish Catholics right up to Vatican II, and I’m sure that the traditional Catholic movements were founded by sympathisers with this heresy.”

      I’ve heard this before. What does it mean? The Jansenists’ errors were few and technical in nature and don’t seem to be the focus of traditionalists’ objections to the current state of affairs in the Church. I suspect when people accuse traditional Catholics of Jansenism, they are really accusing traditional Catholics of not-nice-ism, for which Calvinism always stands in as a euphemism.

      • The primary critique against Jansenism, does indeed seem to be against the attitude involved rather than the theology. Before formulating the condemned statements such as “it is semipelagian to say that Christ died for all”, one needs to have the attitude that would let one think ‘what nonsense, to say that Christ died for all’.

        Another example of a Catholic attitude I’ve heard that has nothing to do with “Jansenism” but might readily get tarred as such: “Suffering for the sake of some higher good is always and everywhere to the benefit of its victim.” (taken from

        So, yes, the accusation is one of not-nice-ism. The question of whether the not-nice-ism is appropriate in a given instance, or not, will be for clearer heads to decide.

    • When we say that a thing is good, we mean that it has in it some power to confer a benefit. A benefit is something that perfects a man, that supplies a privation and advances that man some distance (typically a very short distance) towards completion. However, for the thing to confer the benefit, and thereby exhibit this goodness, the man must use the thing correctly or view it in its proper light. Thus one could say that tobacco is good, but not good for smoking; or that alcohol is good, but not good for drinking.

      It is possible to work this into a complete theodicy, although not everyone finds the results satisfactory. Earthquakes are good, but not good to be in; smallpox is good, but not good to contract; avalanches are good, when viewed from a safe distance; man-eating sharks are good, so long as they are deprived of men.

      What we learn from such an exercise is how little is contained in the claim that “nothing is intrinsically evil.” An object that is “intrinsically evil” or “evil by nature” would do harm under all imaginable circumstances and in all possible worlds. It would be, as we say, “good for nothing.” I am prepared to entertain the idea that there is nothing in this world that is “good for nothing,” but this in no way obliges me to say that the world is good.

      If I took a small child into our kitchen, I could say, “this is a good kitchen in which everything is good for something. There are the sharp knives; there is the hot stove; there is the coffee grinder, the toaster, and the steaming pot of coffee.” Nothing in the kitchen is “intrinsically evil,” but I would not encourage the child to play in that kitchen.

      Our kitchen can be a dangerous place, and so can the world. I think this is one thing that “traditional Catholics” are trying to keep sight of. Perhaps this sometimes gives rise to morbid fears, but morbid fear is not the besetting problem of this age. We live in an age of optimism. in which people are told to embrace the world and expect good things to follow. A lion is good in its place, but I would not tell my child to “embrace a lion” and expect good things to follow. Lions are dangerous, and so is the world. The harm inflicted by a contingent evil is no less a harm that the harm inflicted by an inherent evil (assuming such exists), and the world abounds in contingent evils.

  17. ‘Most heresies which have rent the bosom of the Church have attempted to disguise their errors under an exterior of affected piety. Jansenism, perhaps the most subtle of all heresies, won over a great number of adherents by its cunning simulation of piety. Its morals were rigid to the extreme; the exterior conduct of its promotors ascetic and apparently enlightened. It wore the visage of a Saint , while at heart it reeked with the corruption of pride’
    From ‘Liberalism is a Sin’ by Dom Felix Sarda e Salvany.
    This book is excellent on the importance of dogma and should be read by all Catholics.
    ‘It was always the capital error of every founder of a sect that he would have no bad fishes in his net-no bad men in his Church.’ From the Church of the Parables and the True Spouse of the Suffering Saviour’ by Josef Prachensky S.J. The Parable of the Net.
    Another excellent book which teaches Catholic doctrine before Vatican II and should be read by all post Vatican II Catholics.
    I am a pre Vatican II Caholic. Before Vatican II all Catholics believed in the following dogmas of the faith.
    1) Ever since the promulgation of the Gospel, baptism with water is essential for salvtion ;
    2) For adults, explicit faith in the dogmas of the faith is necessary for salvation;
    3) To belong to the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation.
    These dogmas were denied at Vatican II.The doctrine of salvation by baptism of desire and invincible ignorance are heretical and the post Vatican II Church is heretical, just as the Church was when it was dominated by the Arian heresy when the Church was saved by Saint Athanasius who clung to the dogmas of the faith and we have his infallible creed to prove that the doctrine of EENS was always the doctrine of the Church.
    Dom Lefebvre in his ‘Letter to Confused Catholics ‘ wrote that not only protestants but Buddhists and Muslims (idolators) could be saved by the ‘desire to do God’s Will’
    Dom Lefebvre not only denied the dogmas of the faith but the first commandment!
    The FFSPX, the CMRI, the SSPV and the Resistance all teach salvation by desire and invincible ignorance and are just as heretical as the post Vatican II Church. In fact they are worse because they hide their heresies under the cover of their attachment to the Latin Mass and their proud exclusive, sanctimonious , gnostic, puritanical behaviour which is not AND NEVER HAS BEEN CATHOLIC, because it denies the dogma of the faith that God created a good world.
    It amuses me that anyone would think that puritanical behaviour is Catholic, as puritanism arose from the rejection of the retention of ‘popish’ ceremonies by the Church of England. The puritans were persecuted by the Anglicans not Catholics. It was the puritans under Oliver Cromwell that expelled from their lands, starved, enslaved and persecuted the Irish Catholics Puritans continued their persecution of Catholics in the USA.
    The best description of the gnostic heresy and it’s implications that I have found.
    The dogma that God created a good world is a divine spiritual truth that cannot be denied or qualified. All the dogmas of the Catholic faith were taught by Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles and handed down from geberation to generation. With the apperance of each heresy they were refined by holy men to ensure that the original meaning remained uncorrupted. Catholics have to believe in each and every dogma of the faith. If you reject or deny ONE dogma you are a heretic not a Catholic.

    • Not quite. The doctrine of the “baptism of desire” goes back at least to Aquinas and Augustine (whom he quotes in that article; lazy to dig up a source), as does the doctrine of invincible ignorance. It was never dogmatically defined that one had to be a “full” Catholic to be saved. Although Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam seems to have a pretty straightforward ex cathedra pronouncement on the subject, Mark Shea, although treating traditionalists a little acerbically, deals satisfactorily with this pronouncement here.

      • I first encountered the concept of “invincible ignorance” in Addis and Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary (1893), who credit Aquinas. The concept was said to cover not only persons who lived in times and places where the Gospel was not known, but also persons blinded by cultural prejudice. “A Protestant who thinks the Catholic religion idolatrous, and cannot reasonably be expected considering his education, circumstances, etc., to think otherwise, is guiltless in the sight of God.” Because this was a humble dictionary, I presume this notion was not controversial in 1893.

    • It might be well to bear in mind that the Puritan was given that name because he was bent on purifying the Church–on purging the liturgy of Papist corruptions, on stripping the churches of idolatrous images, and on expelling the unregenerate from the eucharist. A pure Church would be a very fine thing, of course, for all of us wish to believe true doctrine and worship in a manner that is pleasing to God, but corruption and idolatry are not always so obvious and easily identified as the Puritans imagined. Orthodoxy lies somewhere between the blasted heath of the Puritans and the festering swamp of the Latitudinarians.

  18. You Sir sound like one of the gnostic puritans you crticise, or a jansenist. The Catholic Church was never established to be a Church of Saints on earth, an elect of God, but a Church for the conversion of sinners and the perfection and sanctification of the faithful. The people whjo followed Christ were the sinners, the publicans, adulterers, the prodigal sons, the lost sheep who were humbly aware of their own sinfulness. It was the proud, self-righteous, vainglorious, sanctimonious, holier than thou, pharisees who rejected and crucified Our Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord ordered us to be like him, lowly and humble of heart. The puritans and so- called traditional Catholics are anything but! They despise weaker men that are troubled and tortured by vices. They always think that their freedom from vice is due to their own superiority and self discipline and control and never humbly acknowledge that it is only due to God’s grace that they are not as wiched as others. Catholics should be like the publican ‘ Lord, have mercy for I am a sinner’ but are too frequently like the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not a sinner like the publican and extols his own virtues.

    • I’m sorry, Janet, I can’t follow your line of thinking. In your 3/17 8:22 post you seem to be reading people out of the church, and in your 3/18 2:23 post you seem to be throwing the doors open to all and sundry.

      If we take the word puritan in a neutral, descriptive sense, it denotes someone one who thinks the Church as fallen into some degree of laxity, corruption and error. This is a perfectly reasonable position under the right circumstances, because all institutions tend to decay in this way, and so require periodic renewal. It’s like a house that grows untidy and dirty slowly, and then is cleaned in a great burst of energy. With this in mind, a generic puritan is simply someone who thinks that the Church has fallen into laxity, and that it is time to “clean house.” And sometimes these puritans are right.

      If we take the word Puritan in a negative, evaluative sense, it denotes someone for whom the Church is never sufficiently pure. Laxity, corruption and error are like the heads of the Hydra: cut away one and two pop up in its place. They are the ones who exhibit spiritual pride because the the Church can never be good enough for them. They are not satisfied to clean the house. They have to burn it down.

      Now here is the way to distinguish the first sort of Puritan from the second. If the Church is in fact purified to some degree, the first sort of Puritan complains less and the second sort complains more. In fact, push purification far enough and the first sort of Puritan will cry out for greater liberty and tolerance. The second sort howls more loudly for the blood of heretics.

      My impression is that the traditionalists around here are of the first sort.

    • Janet, you seem to know the inmost hearts of a lot of Puritans and Catholics extremely well!

      But, you don’t know this Catholic, or any others I have ever known, or for that matter the Evangelical Protestants I have known. No serious Christian I have ever known, of any stripe, is convinced of his own righteousness. On the contrary. They don’t “despise weaker men that are troubled and tortured by vices,” they despise their own vices, that trouble and torture them. The more advanced their Christianity, the more are they troubled and tortured, and convinced of their own disgusting wickedness – despite their profound outward sanctity.

      Who thought himself satisfactorily righteous would have no use for Christianity in the first place, because he’d be confident he stood in no need of salvation. To be a Christian *just is* to be convinced of one’s own depravity, no? Why seek healing at the altar, else?

      The problem with condemning others for insufficient righteousness, as Janet condemns Puritans and Catholics (and Orthodox), is that the criticism redounds to the critic. It is itself just the sort of Pharisaical criticism that it condemns: “There go those awful self-righteous stuck up rule bound Puritans and Catholics! Why, they might as well be Pharisees. And those horrid Orthodox over there – why, they’re just the Eastern Lung of the Albigensians. Thank *God* I am not like any of them!”

      From one sinner to another: Pluck the beam out of your own eye. That’s the first step in cleansing the Church, and for that matter the last, and only. If we just all did that, the Church would be fine – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

  19. Puritanism is a gnostic or manichean heresy that believes that the source of evil is the material world eg. alcohol, tobacco, art, dancing etc. and not that the source of evil is in the disordered spirit of fallen man which uses the good things that God has provided for our benefit, for evil. This is in opposition to the Catholic dogma that God created a good world. As you have so aptly described above, people who believe in this heresy, believe that they are some kind of an elect , superior to the rest of humanity . Their morals are usually rigid in the extreme and they will expell those who transgress these morals from their community and entertaiment and pleasure is forbidden. Art, music, sculpture the theatre are regarded as sources of evil.
    These beliefs were the beliefs of the puritans that emigrated to the USA and have left a stamp on the national psyche and character. Other writers have explained it much better than I can, but for example the American habit of demonising national adversaries is one consequence of this belief. The Apocalyptic obsessions of Americans another result of this belief that the material world is evil and that in order to create the New Jerusalem on earth, this evil world with its evil inhabitants needs to be destroyed, leaving the pure elect few as the only survivors. Unfortunately, this horrible heresy has spread paticularly amongst so- called traditional Catholic communities who have adopted puritan attiudes to drink , smoking , dancing etc. They have isolated themselves from the rest of fallen mankind, wear weird clothes
    and generally regard themselves as superior to other Catholics, EVEN THOUGH THEY SHARE THE SAME HERETICAL BELIEFS ABOUT BAPTISM, FAITH AND SALVATION as the post Vatican II Church. The Catholic Church has since the third century discouraged apocalyptic obsessions. But these so- called traditional Catholics, who are anything but, have joined the puritan bandwagon and and as a result of the so- called apparitions at Salette anfd Fatima are sure of , and can hardly wait for, and urge and pray for, the coming chastisement which will be mercilessly applied to all of mankind with the exception of their own holy selves. G. K. Chesterton wrote some very good articles about this evil heresy which is puritanism.

    • The Puritans that came to New England did not think that the material world was the source of evil. They did think that it contained many “snares” that could drag a man down to Hell, but their basic attitude was that nature was theologically neutral. For the Puritan, knowledge of God was found in scripture and nowhere else–certainly not in the Traditions of the Roman Church, nor in which St. Paul called “the Book of Nature.” Of course this last matter flipped in the nineteenth century, when their descendants became Unitarians and transcendentalists who threw out the Bible and studied the Book of Nature exclusively.

      The Puritan’s reputation for as thin-lipped killjoys is not altogether deserved. They drank alcohol because the Bible explicitly approved drinking alcohol. They strongly disapproved of disordered sexuality, but anyone who looks at the genealogies of old New England can see that they were not sexually repressed. They kept the Sabbath very strictly until well into the nineteenth century, because that was Biblical, but at other times they could have a good time.

      When we encounter the word Puritan today (outside of history books), it has a meaning that first appeared around 1920. In the 1920s the some middle-class American protestants began to dance and drink and smoke, and to call the others that didn’t “Puritans.” Puritans in this sense of the word were simply middle-class Americans who declined to join the Jazz Age. By the 1950s they were “squares,” by the 1980s “social conservatives.”

      I am, of course, sympathetic with these so-called “Puritans,” who were forming a negative identity in an increasingly debauched and decadent culture. I’m not much for “clean living” myself, but I don’t sneer at those who really are. In any case, as the original post argues, the real spirit of Puritanism had long since left the Christian churches and was found among Progressives, who mixed Jazz Age morality with the assurance that they were an “elect”–or what the old Puritans called “a gathered Church.”

  20. You see you contradict yourself when you say that the puritans did not see the material world as a source of evil but they thought it had many snares that could drag a man down. It is not the snares that drag a man down but the free will of that man .We all live in the same material world and we are surrounded by temptations to indulge to excess in food, drink, material wealth, sex etc. Drinking wine for example is a source of pleasure to most people but others take it to extremes. Food is a necessity and eating well prepared food in the company of others is a great pleasure for most people but looking at the number of obese people you can see that people no longer eat to satisfy their physical needs but out of sheer greed.
    Catholics believe or should believe in the dogma (a divinely revealed truth) that God created a good world and not only that but :-‘The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, of course raised the goodness of all creation, and especially man, to a new level which means that it raised man’s faculties and their legitimate operations and arts in service to the love and worship of God. Christ , Our Blessed Mother and the Saints all possessed visible form and flesh. And even those spiritual realities such as God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, Angels and Virtues require a certain amount of representation, imagination and visualisation in order ‘to make them flesh’ for the sake of man’s growth in the spiritual life and in the imitation of Christ. God, in other words, did not make man’s imagination and his legitimate pursuits of artistic creativity for the pursuit of fantasy.
    The primary effect of Iconoclasm upon the soul is the destruction of that spirituality centred on the Incarnation and the humanity of Christ and turning into a sprituality which is Manichean, de-personalized , sujectified and interiorized. It terminates, in other words, in he classic spirituality of Gnosticism which seeks the God within.’
    Puritans are of course iconoclasts and destroyed so much art and beauty in the pre-Reformation English Churches and Cathedrals.
    I assume you are a Protestant and believe in Sola Scritura? How then do you reconcile your statement that the material world is theologically neutral with Genesis 4,10, 12, 18, 21, 25 and 31?

    • Janet @ I am, in fact, a practicing Catholic, although I was raised Protestant and clearly bear some traces of my theological upbringing. I have some historical knowledge, but in matters theological, doctrinal and dogmatical, I am strictly amateur. I tried to explain my understanding of the goodness and not-goodness of things in a previous comment (3/17, 3:41), and I’m going to leave it at that. I’m afraid I do not recognize the crypto-Jansenists that you call “traditionalists,” but I am a relative newcomer to the Church and do not understand all the factions and their quarrels.

      • Dear Mr. Smith, I am a pre – Vatican II Catholic. I am a witness to the fact that the post- Vatican II Church is not the Church founded by St.Peter which was based on the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the dogmas of the faith, which were believed by all Catholics for nearly 2,000 years but were abandoned at Vatican II. This is not the first time that the Church has been dominated by heresy. The Arian heresy would have destroyed the Church, if it wasn’t for the actions of one bishop Saint Athanasius who clung to the dogmas of the faith. We have his infallible creed which proves that the doctrine of EENS was always the doctrine of the Church, even though this is denied by the Church and every so-called traditional Catholic sect. They deny this doctrine in the teeth of all the evidence from the Scriptures; ex-cathedra infallible papal bulls like Cantate Domino and Unum Sanctum; Papal Encyclicals such as Mirai- vos and the Syllabus of Errors, all of which condemn reigious indiferentism.I was catechised by the Penny Catechism which was used to catechise English Catholics from the times of the Recusancy and makes no mention of salvation by desire and invincible ignorance.
        If Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus was not the doctrine of the Church, why does this phrase even exist?
        If I may be so bold as to recommend some books:-
        ‘While the Eyes of the Great were Elsewhere’ by William Biersach is a faithful account of the bewilderment experienced by faithful Catholics at Vatican II. Biersach and Coulombe have some excellent podcasts that can be downloaded for free fom Tumblar House.
        ‘Liberalism is a Sin’ -by Dom Felix Sarda and Salvany which has an excellent description of the importance of the dogmas and the consequences of abandoning them and can be read for free on the internet.
        ‘The Church of the Parables and the True Spouse of the Suffering Saviour ‘ by Josef Pranchesky is also very good , especially his explanation of the Parable of the Net and can be read for free on the internet.
        Thank you once more for your interesting article. I will pray that you will find the true faith .
        Best Wishes, Janet Rocha

      • @Janet Rocha

        “Dear Mr. Smith, I am a pre – Vatican II Catholic. I am a witness to the fact that the post- Vatican II Church is not the Church founded by St.Peter which was based on the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the dogmas of the faith, which were believed by all Catholics for nearly 2,000 years but were abandoned at Vatican II. ”

        At this point I will have to borrow a question commonly used in arguments between Eastern Orthodox splinter groups, and ask: You claim to belong to the True Church; in that case, what is the name of your bishop? What other people are in the True Church on whose behalf you are witnessing?

        After all, if there is a pre-Vatican II Church which is the Church founded by St. Peter (as distinct from the post-Vatican II church which is not the true Church), it has to have at least one pre-Vatican II bishop. Or, at least, a priest. If I wanted to find a pre-Vatican II priest (and, if I read your earlier argument correctly, traditionalist groups such as the SSPX don’t apparently count for this), where would I look? After all, if someone was going to find the true faith, and they were not presently baptized, they would want to be baptized by a priest from that true faith, not some apostate or heretical modern priest.

        If you are going to show up and harangue people on a forum that they do not belong to the true Church, you had best be prepared to explain where the True Church actually is. Otherwise, your preaching is just empty wind blowing. Say, for instance, I am in the Toronto area. I can trip over a Novus Ordo Mass every ten blocks. I can find a Traditional Latin Mass without much difficulty; I can also find an SSPX parish, though apparently even the SSPX are a conclave of liberal heretics. Is there an actual Church in my area that is not a conclave of heretics, or would I have to flee the spiritual desert of America and go to a different continent if I am to save my miserable soul?

  21. I am sorry but I had assumed from the quotation at the top of the blog from Joseph de Maistre that the blog was a Catholic blog. I found your interesting and very good article when I was looking for arguments to combat the heretical, puritanical behaviour and beliefs of so- called traditional Catholics.

  22. To answer Kristor. If you had read ‘ The Parable of the Net ‘ in the book The Church of the Parables would understand the different attitudes that the traditional pre- Vatican Ii Catholic Church adopted in respect to sinners who profess the Catholic faith and heretics.
    I am, I now realise, that very rare bird a pre- Vatican II Catholic who still believes in the dogmas of the Catholic Church which were abandoned by the Church at Vatican II.The dogmas of the Catholic Church are the teachings of Christ to the Apostles which were handed down from generation to generation and were carefully refined with each heresy that appeared by Holy Men so that the original meaning temained uncorrupted. The importance that the Church attached to the dogmas can be seen by the fact that they preferred that the Church be split in two rather than compromise on the Filioque dogma. Many modern Catholics think that this dispute arcane and of no consequence but in reality it has far-reaching consequences.
    As a Catholic I was taught that a Catholics had to believe in each and every dogma and if you denied one dogma you were a heretic and anathema.
    To prove that the dogmas were already defined by Jesus Christ you only have to look st the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galations 5, where he states that if anyone teaches a gospel different from that which had aleady been preached, even if that person is himself, another apostle or an angel from heaven that they were anathema.
    At Vatican II the dogmas of the faith concerning the necessity of baptism of water, explicit faith and membership of the Catholic Church for salvation were tossed overboard. Salvation by desire or invincible ignorance were never dogmas of the faith. If anyone could be saved by invincible ignorance then it would have been extremely cruel of Our Lord to command the Apostles to go to all nations, baptise and preach the gospel. A commandment that the Church has ignored since Vatican II.

  23. Dear Arakawa. I’m sorry if you thought I harangued you, that was not my intention, I only wanted to point out the errors of the Vatican II Church and the traditional sects.
    ‘ But yet when the Son of Man cometh, shall he , do you think find FAITH on earth.’
    It is the Catholic faith which is important, not bishops, priests the Mass and the sacraments. .
    A list of the dogmas taught by the Church and believed by Catholics until Vatican II.
    Some of the dogmas denied by the post Vatican II Church and the traditional sects:- 295, 249, 94, and 195 . In addition the traditional sects deny no 65. Some of the dogmas denied by the jansenists are:-nos.147, 186, 187, 188 and 189.
    This is not the first time the Church has been dominated by heresy. St. Vincent of Lerins in his essay Commomitory wrote that if ithis were to happen again the only recourse for Catholics is to adhere to the ancient teachings of the Church.
    The Japanese Catholics were deprived of priests, the Mass and sacraments for 200 years but they kept the Faith. Irish Catholics were persecuted and denied access to priests, the Mass and sacraments by the puritans and protestants for 400 years but they kept the faith. I refuse to associate with heretics, so I am a home alone Catholic. I read the Mass every Sunday in the pre 1955 Mass book. I pray the perfect contrition every night and pray to God that before I die, He will give me the grace to receive the last rites from a Catholic priest and not a heretic. But I know that many of my Irish ancestors did not receive that blessing.
    You do not have to accept my word for all this. The bulls Cantate Domino and Unum Sanctum and all the Papal Encyclicals condemning the belief in salvation outside the Church can be found online. With the internet, there really is no such thing now as invincible ignorance!

  24. This is dreadful. You cannot even research a list of Catolic dogma without them sneaking a heresy in the middle. Compare 189 in the first list with no 22 in God the Sanctifier in this list.
    The words and meaning have been completely changed!
    22.Sanctifying grace makes a just man a child of God and gives him claim to the inheritance of heaven has been changed into:189-God gives all innocent unbelievers sufficient grace to achieve eternal salvation.
    This is total heresy and denies the dogmas that baptism with water, faith and membership of the Catholic Church ate necessary for salvation and that a person in a state of original sin is denied the beatific vision. Please disregard the first list of dogmas. I’m soory but I hadn’t read the first list before I posted.

  25. I really disagree with the way certain Christians including the author defining “Gnosticism”. It doesn’t mean anything that opposes traditional Christian. I am a Gnostic-ish Christian and I believe Puritanism is as far from Gnosticism as possible.

    • It is hard for me to respond without knowing your definition of Gnosticism. Historically, a Gnostic was could be identified by his belief that nothing is what it seems to be, that the underlying truth can only be decoded with a special knowledge (or gnosis), and that the ability to decode this underlying truth is confined to a group of initiates. There are long passages in the NT that oppose Christianity becoming this sort of mystery cult.

      • One can, I suppose, build a religion solely on the reported words of Christ, but the Petrine-Pauline line of development clearly has a 2,000-year prior claim to the name Christian. Ultra-originalists usually wish to distance themselves from the 2,000 year tradition, which they naturally see as a grand mistake, and so they adopt some other name like Jesus People. This anarchic and anti-creedal form of Jesusism (to coin a name) revived in the enthusiastic sects of the seventeenth century, and these sects evolved into the Unitarians and Quakers that I discuss in this post. Enthusiastic religion is always gnostic because it proposes that individuals or sects receive a special revelation that supersedes the general revaluation of scripture.

      • Well yes and no. Some groups believe they are better than others, but Gnosticism also allows you to be free to follow anyone, and despite the group knowledge, we are not better spiritually than others. Puritans believe they are better than others though. Grouping ancient mysterious Gnostics in together with rational mechanistic arrogant Puritans who burned witches makes no sense.

  26. You have written one pile of shite , the tribe of levi in the bible were a gnostic sect of nasoreans or nazoreans from where John the baptist decended . John the baptist may have not been a real person although he represents an archetype ,a tribal archetype and a caste .

  27. Here’s the thing , John the baptist had a cult of sabeans and mandeans in the middle east named nazarean or nasorean. Its priest were named nasuri and the were identical to the priests of enki who were named pure fish . John the baptist was said to baptise Jesus and the rauh decended on him in the form of a dove . Now John the baptist was a manifestation of the hindu Murugan , the far Eastern dyonisis . In egypt Dyonisis was Osiris , who was eaten in the form of a eucharist so that one could share in his divinity , the same thing catholics do with their so called jesus . The reason being Catholicism was influenced by pagan gnostic practices . John the baptist was also reffered to as jnana meaning knowledge ( gnosis ) because that’s what his sect were teaching . Jesus infact said they have hid the keys and he stated that he would be raised like moses serpent . Now look at moses staff it represents the serpent or dragon power representing devine illumination . Moses gets his laws on Mount sini from the flame in the tree the serpent power , the tree is an ashur . I know what that means do you , egyptian pharohs had the serpent on their headress , every pharoh was the image of horus , representing the spirit and the sun or fire of the sun . Horus was Persian mithra the roman legions adhered to this practice . Constantine wanted to be seen as the image of mithra , he gave his power to popes and the pope is its image . The eating of the body of christ is from Osiris , Dyonisis , so is the mark of the cross on the head thats from Mithra , the good shepherd . Your purifying your catholism like you purify yourself using other people . Seen it happening ,


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.