Puritanism without Calvinism

April 21, 2006 | 59 comments
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Three of the best books that I have ever read on Mormonism are not about Mormonism at all: Perry Miller’s The New England Mind, Edmund Morgan’s The Puritan Dilemma, and Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed. All of these books discuss Puritanism, not Mormonism, but they have convinced me that in many ways we are all Puritans just under the skin.

For some Latter-day Saints I suspect that this will be mildly insulting. They have a sort of Hawthorne-esque view of Puritans as brutal hypocrites and witch burners. (Some post-Mormons may like my comparison for precisely this reason, I suppose.) In many ways, however, this view of Puritanism has much more to do with 19th century Massachusetts politics than with seventeenth-century historical reality. In the decades when Hawthorne wrote Massachusetts congregationalism was going through a massive schism between Unitarians and old-line Calvinists. The debates were more than theological, as congregationalism was the established church of Massachusetts and both sides wanted control of the government subsidized churches. Ultimately the Unitarians won, but it was a hard-fought battle and stories like The Scarlet Letter were part of the general delegitimization of Calvinist Congregationalism. Much of the modern scholarship on Puritans, beginning with the work of Perry Miller, has been an attempt to rescue Puritanism from the image of mindless bigotry created by nineteenth-century Unitarian propagandists.

Of course, Mormonism rejects in emphatic and radical ways many of the main tenets of Puritanism, particularly the ideas of predestination and limited atonement. Still, many early Mormons were descended from Puritans or Puritan-dissenters and our spirituality includes many, many Puritan elements. Examples might include, our extremely plain style of meeting houses, our emphasis on sermons rather than liturgy (Puritan churches were also centered around a pulpit rather than an altar), our discomfort with crucifixes and crosses, our emphasis on education as a form of godliness, our strict sense of sexual morality, our obsession with journals, and even some early LDS iconography. For example, painted on the wall above the altar of the St. George Tabernacle is a huge all-seeing eye –once upon a time painted over by over-zealous local members and then restored on the orders of Boyd K. Packer — and the all-seeing eye was a popular symbol for nineteenth-century Mormons. Seventeenth-century Puritan meeting-houses also contained many an all-seeing eye staring down from the paintwork of the pulpit.

The most powerful point of contact with Puritanism, however, is Zion. John Winthrop wrote of the Puritan errand in the wilderness to create a godly city upon a hill. Mormons labored to create a Zion “on this the American continent.” Religion is not simply an inner private experience. It is a communal experiment that manifests its self in the godly community with a theocratic government. Mormons and Puritans disagree about the precise character of the community and the nature of the theocracy, but we are both besotted with Isaiah’s image of Zion in the last days.

In many ways Mormonism is a kind of Puritan spirituality without the Calvinist theology. Despite their differences, Brigham Young and John Winthrop strike me as kindred spirits, and to read about seventeenth-century New Englanders is to spend time in familiar company.

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59 Responses to Puritanism without Calvinism

  1. Mike on April 21, 2006 at 9:08 am

    I agree.

    What happened to Puritianism? Will Mormonism share that fate?

    Hopefully not.

  2. Kevin Barney on April 21, 2006 at 9:18 am

    Anyone interested in this topic might profitably consider Val D. Rust, _Radical Origins: Early Mormon Converts and Their Colonial Ancestors_ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), or his prior article on this topic in Dialogue.

  3. Dave on April 21, 2006 at 9:30 am

    Nice details, Nate. For a comparison of Winthrop’s city on a hill to Joseph Smith’s Zion, see here.

  4. Nate Oman on April 21, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I should have mentioned Rust’s book, which is very interesting. I do think that some of his conclusions may be undermined by the fact that in relatively closed communities when you push back enough generations everybody ends up being descended from everybody. Still Rust has found some striking stuff and I think he is basiclly right to see Mormonism as in some sense an heir to the radical Puritan dissenters. It is one of the reasons Mormon post-Puritanism is so much more fun that Unitarian post-Puritanism, even though in a sense we are both trying to get Puritanism without the Calvinism.

  5. J. Stapley on April 21, 2006 at 10:32 am

    I think it is important to note that while the 19th century Mormon’s were castigated for their aberent matrimonial and consequent sexual practice, the rhetoric on intimacy was really quite puritanical in tenor. A very odd coupling.

  6. smb on April 21, 2006 at 11:01 am

    You can also consult Rex Cooper’s thoughtful PhD–>book Promises Made to the Fathers: Mormon Covenant Organization from U of U press in early 1990s. Though Rust’s book was a bit odd, I have little doubt that there were threads of radical Protestantism in Mormonism’s founding generation. This should be distinguished by the Smiths’ ultimate antipathy for contemporary Puritans (Lucy liked the respectability of the Presbyterians, but she was severely disappointed by Alvin’s funeral sermon, and Joseph Sr and Joseph Jr were never fans of the Puritan heirs).

  7. Mike W. on April 21, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Not only did Winthrop talk about being a “city on an hill,” William Bradford’s Mayflower Compact was written as “a contract…based upon the original Biblical covenant between God and the Isrealites…[the Mayflower Puritans] saw themselves as the exceptions to the European betrayal of Christian principles, and they were conducting an exercise in exceptionalism” (History of the American People, Paul Johnson). Much of early Mormanism, maybe up until the 1950′s, was a similar exercise, together with that new covenant of a chosen people with God. There was also explicit references to a New Jerusalem: “Their isolation in the New World, their introversion, the harshness and dangers of their new existence, their sense that they were a new Chosen People of God destined to found a New Jerusalem — a New City of God in the midst of the wilderness;” these all a very Mormon experiences and attitudes also (Puritanism in New England website).

    Along the line of Mike’s question, Cotton Mather stated: “Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.” And “there is danger lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand into the wilderness” (more Paul Johnson).Might Mormon culture suffer the same fate? Will the prosperity weaken the church as it did the Puritan religion?

  8. Lamonte on April 21, 2006 at 11:26 am

    Nate – your comments at the beginning of your essay about “brutal hypocrites and witch burners” reminded me of a funny comment by the irreverent Rosanne Barr who grew up in Salt Lake City and once described Mormons as “Nazi Amish”. Of course I don’t want people to buy into that image but I thought it was a funny line.

    Just this morning a workmate and I were talking and I mentioned that we were a participatory church with no paid priesthood. He mentioned that as a boy he and his family were Quakers and they were simlar in that their typical meetings had the congregation gathering together and essentially counting on the spirit to motivate someone to stand and talk, otherwise it was a quiet meeting with no formal sermon. Being a novice about most other religions except my own (and perhaps even my own) I wondered how the Quakers fit into Puritanism. Are they the same?

  9. Nate Oman on April 21, 2006 at 11:36 am

    Lamonte: Puritans tended to hang Quakers…

  10. MikeInWeHo on April 21, 2006 at 12:43 pm

    “Mormon post-Puritanism is so much more fun than Unitarian post-Puritanism.” That line made my day. I suspect it depends on how “fun” is defined, although at least here in Blogland I would agree. Can’t imagine anything more boring than a Unitarian blog!

    The Quakers were persecuted by the Puritans, right?

  11. Lamonte on April 21, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Nate – Please expound on that – if you would.

  12. Jed on April 21, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    “Examples might include, our extremely plain style of meeting houses, our emphasis on sermons rather than liturgy… our discomfort with crucifixes and crosses, our emphasis on education as a form of godliness, our strict sense of sexual morality, our obsession with journals…”

    Actually these things are not uniquely Puritan, but are, rather, elements of the larger Separatist world out of which the Puritians came. The Quakers, for example, could be said to embody all these characteristics as well. Having not gotten my hands on Rust’s book, I don’t know how widely he casts the net, but I think in general the argument for Puritan descendancy is often configured too narrowly. The argument is often set with the time-honored tradition of American exceptionalism, a paradigm that is called into question every generation or so, and is at the current time suffering from another prolonged attack.

    “In many ways Mormonism is a kind of Puritan spirituality without the Calvinist theology.”

    In many ways, perhaps; but in many ways, not. The formal ritual the Puritans found so offensive survives outside of public view, in the Mormon temples. If temples lie at the heart of Mormonism, how Puritan can Mormonism really be? I agree that the Calvinist view of human nature may be the biggest divide, but since that view of nature was so crucial both Puritan and Mormon ways of thinking about sin and redemption, I question how such a view can be so easily shorn in discussions about the two. It would be like saying remove the vital organs from that guy over there, and then compare the two of us: look, we are pretty similar. The similarity is surface.

  13. Jed on April 21, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    “…but since that view of nature was so crucial both Puritan and Mormon ways of thinking about sin and redemption”

    I mean to say Calvinism is crucial for the Mormons negatively, just as Calvinism is crucial to the Puritans posively.

  14. Kimball Leigh Hunt on April 21, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    Even worse, a’ course, Nate Oman! As the Puritans, led by learned elders espousing a doctrinaire reading of Paul, hung Quaker WOMEN who would feel moved to venture north to extemporaneously preach to the people as moved upon by the Holy Spirit.

  15. Paul R. on April 21, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Nate: I too learned much about my own Mormonness in Morgan’s the Puritan Dilemma. The Puritans struggled to be in the world, but not of it, a dilemma that resonated with the seminary slogans of my day.

    #8, 9 and 14: We should be careful not to overplay the Puritans killing Quakers. I may be wrong on the number, but I think they only killed four (four too many, no doubt, but there were no mass executions. The Puritans hanged more of their own in the Salem witch trials than they did Quakers, if I’m not mistaken) including Mary Dyer a follower of Anne Hutchinson. Dyer converted to Quakerism after the Puritans banished Anne. Mary was eventually hanged for her refusal to either renounce her new faith or to stay out of the MBC. Puritans burned Quaker books, passed laws that called for the cutting off of the ears of Quakers who refused to leave the colony or abandon their faith, and sometimes ran a hot iron through the tongue of Quakers who would not quit preaching. Eventually Gov Endicott resorted to the threat of death to try and suppress Quaker missionary activity among the Puritans. That said, the Quakers could be rather forward in their missionary zeal. Quaker women were known to enter Puritan meeting houses naked and call out that we are all naked in the eyes of God and encourage the Puritans to listen to their inner voice. Other Quakers would simply try to shout down a Puritan preacher.

  16. Kimball Leigh Hunt on April 21, 2006 at 3:44 pm

    I’m going to conjoin brother Adam Greenwood’s blogging re the Saints’ stories promoting faith with brother Nathan Oman’s blogging about social history here to address this idea of Mormonism’s assuming the mantle/ picking up the torch from “American New Jerusalem founding” Puritans.

    General Authorities numerous times have quoted the following, originally out of an article in the Improvement Era of February 1939 entitled
    ______________________________________________
    Tolstoi and the “American Religion” ( — Thos. J. Yates)

    [ . . . Count "Tolstoi":]

    “The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis: If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and forth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”

    (And anyway [as Nate will of course know] the historical context of such things as Tolstoy’s daughter’s correspondence with a literary daughter of Brigham Young’s is fully outlined in the 1971 article by Leland A. Fetzer in Dialogue 6:1.)
    ==========================================

    And, in any case, I find all of this ironic (pseudo-intellectuals such as me’s fave word!) mostly ’cause of the good count’s having been exed from the Orthodox Church (Are you listening, Atheleia? lol) and himself’s been so squarely in that OTHER, the more Universalist camp!

  17. Paul R. on April 21, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Mike and Mike W.: Prosperity is no doubt a potential threat to Mormons. BY once said of the harsh desert environment of the Great Basin, that it was a great place to make Saints precisely because it was a harsh desert environment free from the material trappings of the world. But an important distinction between the Puritans and Mormons that led to a decline for the Puritans was the half-way covenant. To be a full member of a Puritan congregation one had to convince the Puritan leaders that one had truly been converted and were a part of God’s saved (although no one could be too sure, hence the underlying anxiety of Puritan society). A converted person and his/her children could be baptized. The problem arose with the 2nd generation of Puritans who lacked a desire to prove themselves. They were baptized, but what about their children? Some Puritan ministers settled upon a half-way covenant that allowed for baptism without the full spiritual conversion experience. Parents who had been baptized but had not yet experienced conversion could bring their children before the church, subject themselves and their offspring to the doctrine and discipline of the church and have their children baptized. However, they and their children would not be full-members, they would not have the right to vote in church affairs nor would they receive communion. The expectation was that the conversion would eventually occur, but for many it never did.

    In theory, Mormon missionaries try to ensure that the people they teach have a conversion experience that anchors them to the faith and each new generation of Mormons is encouraged along those lines. In reality, perhaps more than prosperity, it is our own version of the half-way covenant (numbers based missions) and parents who don’t train the next generation that will lead to decay, even as we tout that we are 12.5 million strong.

  18. Kimball Leigh Hunt on April 21, 2006 at 4:31 pm

    Since the lengthy comment I submitted twenty minutes ago disappeared into the ether, I’ll go ahead and try it again here, changing my e-mail address.

    I’d like to share an interesting example of (brother Adam Greenwood’s) stories-among-the-Saints-as-promote-faith as well as the social history (cited here by brother Nathan Oman) about Mormonism’s assuming the mantle and picking up the torch of the “American New Jerusalem” founding Puritans. Often quoted by general authorities is an article from the Improvement Era from February 1939 entitled
    _______________________________________________
    Tolstoi and the “American Religion” ( — Thos. J. Yates)

    [Count "Tolstoi"]:

    “The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis: If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and forth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”

    (And yet, for a discussion of the correspondence between a literary daugher of Brigham Young’s with the daughter of Count Tolstoy’s and of how the above tale embroiders the count’s much more nuanced take on Mormonismappreciation take Mormonism, see the 1971 article by Leland A. Fetzer in Dialogue 6:1.)
    ==================================

    But what’s uh ironically (psuedo intellectuals such as me’s fave word) interesting to me in all this is Count Tolstoy’s (who was exed from the Orthodox Church — Are you listening, Aletheia? lol) himself being more of the “Universalist” pursuasion actually.

  19. Edje on April 21, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    J Stapley, (5): Just as the 19th-Century Mormons were “castigated for their aberent matrimonial and consequent sexual practice,” so too the 17th-Century puritans. Relative to the theology they dissented from the puritans had a far more modern conception of marital sex and romance than their non-dissenting neighbors–respectively: sex is of God, you should enjoy it, you should have it often; and spouses should love each other as companions and not just as embryo incubators and economic co-operants. The puritans were thus looked upon as, to a degree, libertines who played rock and roll and did the twist.

  20. Edje on April 21, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Lamonte, Kimball, Mike, Paul… (8-11, 14-15): I second Paul R.’s observation that we shouldn’t overplay the puritan executions of Quakers. I am reluctant to condemn them for it because: (1) The puritans in New England were far less noose-happy than their trans-Atlantic neighbors, whether Anglican, Catholic, or puritan; (I think the total number of Quaker executions was six). Regardless of religious persuasion, all political power was centralized, all punishments were harsh. The overall New England treatment of Quakers by the norms of the day was quite lenient–even with the six executions.

    (2) What gets lumped together now as “persecution by puritans” includes a spectrum of reactions against a spectrum deviant behaviors. The Quaker executions are not a simple case of one group not like what another group is preaching down the road so they go on a crusade to kill all heretics everywhere. The puritans were quite active in stamping out heresy in their own communities but were usually willing to let folks recant or move to more tolerant communities (albeit minus an ear or with a hole in their tongue, etc.). Execution was quite rare and reserved for obnoxious repeat offenders, as Paul R. points out. These were folks who refused to accept exile (i.e., they came back doing the same things multiple times) and were actively and intentionally attacking the political, social, and theological fabric of the communities; i.e., they weren’t just living and letting live.

    (3) The first three or four generations of New England puritans lived on the edge of their means temporally and militarily. The wilderness was fecund but could be harsh; they frequently warred with the Indians. Religious and political disunity were not just abstract failings but potentially fatal military and economic weaknesses. Thus, theological “betrayals” were in many ways more charged then than now–just as it was in some ways for 19th-Century Mormons and for Captain Moroni in the late Almaic wars.

  21. Edje on April 21, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    (Jed, 12) “The formal ritual the Puritans found so offensive survives outside of public view, in the Mormon temples. If temples lie at the heart of Mormonism, how Puritan can Mormonism really be?

    I don’t think the puritans disliked ritual in itself, they just wanted things to be as simple as possible–but no simpler. They rejected what they perceived as unauthorized accretions to the gospel; the puritan “soul” was focused on covenants and didn’t want any ostentation creeping in between the worshipper and the worshipped. I think a puritan would feel right at home in a temple–the emphasis on covenant making, the formalized declarations of worthiness, the simplicity and democracy of dress (especially for officiators), the priesthood of all believers, and the progression toward greater intimacy/favor with God would be familiar and desirable to them.

  22. Nate Oman on April 21, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Jed: I am not sure that I get your objection. If I say that I inherited my red hair from my mother this is not a claim about exceptionalism but genealogy. To point out that lots of people other than my mother have red hair is beside the point. Hence, even it if is true that lots of other dissenters had practices and attitudes similar to Puritans this wouldn’t negate the claim that Mormons inherited these practices and attitudes from Puritans rather than from other dissenters (albeit often it would seem via New England dissenters from Puritanism).

    As for ripping the guts out of Puritanism, yes and no. Mormonism certainly rips the soteriological guts out of Puritanism, but important as soteriology is there is more to theology than soteriology, and as important as theology is there is more to spirituality than theology.

  23. Edje on April 21, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Jed (12; again): “I agree that the Calvinist view of human nature may be the biggest divide, but since that view of nature was so crucial both Puritan and Mormon ways of thinking about sin and redemption, I question how such a view can be so easily shorn in discussions about the two.

    In comparing puritan and mormon theologies, I agree that Calvinism looms large and irreconcilable. In comparing how those theologies played out in culture and community–in the puritan “soul” and the mormon “soul”–I think the difference is not so big. “Poore doubting Christians” ask whether they have been elected to grace since they don’t always feel that way; Mormons ask whether they are adequately keeping their covenants since they aren’t always on a spiritual high. The self-doubt is similar in both; the answer to both is also similar–keep struggling privately while actively participating in public religious life (in accordance with your covenants). So, although I think you’re right that the differences are real and significant, I think it goes too far to say that the similarities are merely “surface,” especially if we are comparing the respective psyches.

  24. Clark on April 21, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    Regarding simplicity of ritual, I think the temple was a bit of a shock to early Mormons precisely because of that. This is also why I suspect the temple is still a shock to many people who’ve been Mormon all their life. It really is a bit of a jarring contrast to how we’re like every place else.

  25. Mike W. on April 21, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Just a sidenote regarding ritual. I had a friend (former Catholic with lots of time in the Church prior to attending the temple) who recently took out her endownment. To prepare she read Nibley’s Temple and Cosmos. I think she was not shocked by much of what she saw and heard.

  26. Trevor on April 21, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    Hi, I’m a Calvinist. When I attended a service at a LDS church a few years ago I was struck at how familiar the service seemed to be. However, Jed’s comment that “the similarity is surface� is spot on. I also agree that the view of human nature taught in Reformed churches is vastly different than the view taught in the LDS church. I was dumbfounded when a missionary told me that babies and young children are sinless. It was such a novel concept to me. Blessings!

  27. Eve on April 21, 2006 at 10:21 pm

    I know very little about this topic, but Marilynne Robinson (author of the novels _Housekeeping_ and more recently, _Gilead_) has a fascinating and nuanced defense of Puritanism in her book of essays, _The Death of Adam_. The essay is called “Puritans and Prigs.” It’s definitely worth a read.

  28. Kimball L. Hunt on April 22, 2006 at 10:38 am

    Frustratingly my “testing” posts showed up all of the NEXT DAYnext day over in Julie’s string but they at least DID show up!

    Whereas two long posts I submitted here yesterday simply disappeared into the ether and have never shown up at all!

    (Wherein I quote the Improvement Era’s 1930s take on “Universalist” count Tolstoy’s defense Mormonism (which the Mormon writer somehow shaded as suggesting that Mormonism, should it survive unchanged, would supplant the original thrust of Puritanism as the “American religion” . . . .)

  29. Kimball L. Hunt on April 22, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Although a literary daughter of Brigham Young’s had corresponded with a daughter of count Tolstoy (who in his “Universalism” et cetera of course had become exed from the Orthodox Church — are you listening Aletheia!), the faith promoting take as had been given in the Improvement Era, to have been quoted by innumerable general authorities since, really would garner a mention in Adam’s string about specifically Mormon stories of faith, whereas the historiography of this legend of “Tolstoy’s being Mormonism’s arch defender” legend can be found in an excellent piece in one of the issues from 1971 of Dialogue, which piece also throws light on the nuances of the count’s actual belief.

    Tolstoi and the “American Religion” — Thos. J. Yates (Improvement Era, Feb. 1939 p94)

    [Count "Tolstoi"]:

    “. . . The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis: If the people floow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.”

    [See Leland A. Fetzer's 1971 "Tolstoy and Mormonism," Dialogue 6:1, 13-29]

  30. Kimball L. Hunt on April 22, 2006 at 3:12 pm

    Yes Edje and J. Stapley. And aren’t Mormons’ dating mores et cetera maybe more akin to the Puritan’s practice of allowing the “betrothed although not as yet not wed” to, What? Apparently check for compatibility /sexual chemistry? By lying together in a bundling board, with the maiden’s legs tightly wrapped than it’s like the Quaker’s sense of pietism wherein even their married would hope to be able to do without sex altogether.

  31. mormon fool on April 22, 2006 at 3:18 pm

    Good discussion in 12,19,23 in regards to preparing for the temple in light of different background religious influences. I recently attended Catholic services in conjunction with Easter services and I think attending the highly symbolic masses can help us appreciate the temple ceremony more. My comments are found on the new interfaith dialogue blog http://www.mormonandcatholic.org . Although I don’t go into much detail about specific connections, I did link to a BYU Studies article that does.

    I was recently playing at apologetics explaining that part of the reason Joseph Smith did not publicly announce the polygamy practice was because of the Puritanical sensibilities of Mormon converts. In other words, the converts were used to following a strict moral code with not very much tolerance for deviance and they would have resisted a quick introduction of radically altered mores. What is the collective wisdom of the bloggernacle about the appropriateness of painting this picture by invoking the Puritans?

  32. Jed on April 22, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    “I am not sure that I get your objection.”

    Nate: I am objecting to the assumption that religious parallels imply a genetic relationship. This is the mistake Brooke made. Parallels do not prove inheritance, though it is tempting to think that they do. This is true even when people occupy the same land and share the same blood. To say, for example, that because Puritans kept journals the idea must have traveled down the generations to Mormons is to overdetermine the act of journal keeping. Methodists kept journals too, and probably a third or more of early Mormon converts came out of Methodism. Without more investigation, we probably cannot say with assurance where the idea came from. It may make more sense to say the idea is Protestant, not Puritan. That is why I invoked Separatism. Puritans do not have a monopoly on their ideas.

    I think your search for points of contact with Puritans leads you to underestimate the very large differences between Mormon and Puritan religious worship, differences that cannot be easily discarded from the grab bag of points of comparison. Any two groups will exhibit similarities when closely compared. Differences when sought can be found too. But not all similarities and differences are equally important in defining what makes a thing what it is and what makes it what it is not. If the major differences are summarily dismissed we can easily make the weaker argument the stronger, turning distant cousins into close friends or even siblings. That is why I invoked the metaphor of disembowelment. To rip Calvinism or the New Birth out of Puritanism is liking ripping the Book of Mormon out of Mormonism. Without the organs you are nothing. Then you are not comparing essences but caricatures.

  33. Beijing on April 23, 2006 at 8:58 am

    “They have a sort of Hawthorne-esque view of Puritans as brutal hypocrites and witch burners. (Some post-Mormons may like my comparison for precisely this reason, I suppose.)”

    As a post-Mormon, I would like to say that your aside was inaccurate and unnecessary. I do not stereotype either Puritans or Mormons as brutal hypocrites or witch burners. I saw that your aside referred to “some,” not all post-Mormons, but you need to know that NO post-Mormons are wringing their hands with glee when seeing your comparison, even if they do misunderstand the realities of historical Puritanism. Post-Mormons by definition are not hateful toward the LDS church, we do not belittle it or its members, and we do not want to see it portrayed inaccurately. You must be thinking of anti-Mormons.

    “Mormon post-Puritanism is so much more fun than Unitarian post-Puritanism.â€?

    Also, as a Unitarian, I’d like to point out that our brand of post-Puritanism is a blast.

  34. Kimball L. Hunt on April 23, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    First (in another string) annegb coos about Italian men. And now this — shakes head.

    OK: half my ancestry’s Calvinist Swiss (turned LDS, of which the only thing even as much as Tyrolian might be the surname of Staheli?) and, yes, I’m now Deist and must take exception to your suggestion I can’t be nearly as fun as the next guy. Although I’ll admit the giant extravaganza dance thing at the 2002 Winter Olympics looked like a lot of fun, there’s probably just as much good clean fun to be had in, in, in — Where’s the stronghold of Unitairians, anyways?

    Vermont? That pretty much says it: Howard Dean, the chairman of my Democratic party’s (and internet guru: Maybe a note could be taken from “Rabid Dog Dean” on bloggernacle funding of a “no perks, no strings” Mormon studies endowment?) seems like is a good, clean, fun kinda guy. And Vermont abuts Utah alphabetically, which makes my task easier looking up Mormons’ and Unitarians’ statistics from both states from Adherents dot com.

    ( A . ) (the “meek” — )
    _______________________________
    Vt —
    in 1990 had

    a dozen congregations of 2,855 Latter-day Saints for 0.51% > tot. pop.Vt*
    ——>meanwhile “our survey** says!” those self-identifying as Saints to be presumably slightly less than 0.50% to thus garner the statistcal peg of 0.00%

    While Ut –
    in 1990 had

    two congregations with 477 “members” of the Unitarian Universalist Association
    ———————> or else 718 adherents the Association lists “adherents” for 0.04% > tot. pop. Ut*
    ————> meanwhile “our survey** says” those self-identifying as UU to be 0.10% > tot. pop. Ut
    ===========================
    ( B . ) (the more “boisterous” — )
    _______________________________
    Ut –
    in 1990 had

    2,924 congregations of 1,236,242 Church of Jesus Christ(LDS) members for 71.76% > tot. pop. Ut*
    ——–> meanwhile “our survey** says” those self-identifying as Saints to be 69.20% > tot. pop. Ut

    While Vt –
    in 1990 had

    all of 19 congregations of 1,506 “members” of the Unitarian Universalist Association
    ———————–> or else 2,056 the Association lists as “adherents” for 0.37% > tot. pop. Vt*
    —–> meanwhile “our survey** says!” those self-identifying as UU to be 1.10% > tot. pop. Vt
    _______
    *Glenmary Research Ctr: Churches & Church Membership in U.S., 1990
    **Kormin, B. & S. Lachman: One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society

  35. Nate Oman on April 23, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    ” To rip Calvinism or the New Birth out of Puritanism is liking ripping the Book of Mormon out of Mormonism. Without the organs you are nothing. Then you are not comparing essences but caricatures.”

    I don’t think so. To say that Mormonism is (in some sense) a kind of Puritanism with the Calvinism ripped out is not to suggest that we compare caricatures, but only to say that we are comparing things that despite their similarities are radically different. You seem to be reading me as making the claim that Mormonism is that same as Puritanism. This is not my point. Rather, I am saying that there are striking similarities (there are also striking differences; but this was a post on why Mormonism and Puritanism are similar, a fact that must be established for the point about differences to be interesting).

    I think that Brooke overstates his conclusions, and unfortunately this seems to have made some overly defensive about the Mormonism-Puritanism connection. I do think that Val Rust’s book provides fairly robust evidence that there are plausible connections between some large subsection of the early Mormon population and early Mormonism. Furthermore, to the extent that early Mormonism was an upstate-New York and Western Reserve phenomena, it was taking place in a world largely settled by New Englanders whose religious world would rather naturally be defined in terms of Puritanism — or more likely — various reactions against it. Obviously, this was not universally true. My understanding is that the Colesville branch was essentially settled by Pennsylvanians rather than New Englanders, and even heavily New England enclaves like the burnt-over district or the Western Reserve would have had lots of non-New Englanders. Still, the connection between Mormonism and New England and New England and Puritanism seems strong enough to make a genetic assumption reasonable, and place the burden of proof on those denying New England origins.

  36. Nate Oman on April 23, 2006 at 10:09 pm

    “you need to know that NO post-Mormons are wringing their hands with glee when seeing your comparison, even if they do misunderstand the realities of historical Puritanism.”

    This is only true by virtue of a definitional sleight of hand on your part that implies a level of precision in the defition of the term “post-Mormon” that does not exist. I am, of course, thrilled to hear that you don’t regard Mormons (or Puritans) as brutal hypocrits and witch burners.

    “I’d like to point out that our brand of post-Puritanism is a blast. ”

    Oh come on! Name me one Unitarian teaching past or present that is as much fun as Adam-God or Spirit Fluid?!

  37. Adam Greenwood on April 23, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve always thought that the church in southern deseret had a different feel to it than in utah and Idaho. Wonder what difference it makes that down here you had Scots-Irish/Southerners (one of the folkways that Albion’s Seeds identifies) assimilating to a post-Puritan template while further north it was Scandinavians assimilating to a post-Puritan template. Many of my ancestors were baptized Texans who decided to drive their herds to Zion, of all things.

  38. Kimball L. Hunt on April 24, 2006 at 12:42 am

    Nate’s “Name me one Unitarian teaching” is a straw man. As it’s as plain as day we Unitarians have no teachings–

  39. Jed on April 24, 2006 at 9:49 am

    “This is not my point. Rather, I am saying that there are striking similarities.”

    This may have been all you intended to say, but I think the post can be read to be making stronger claims. For example, in the last paragraph you say “Despite their differences, Brigham Young and John Winthrop strike me as kindred spirits, and to read about seventeenth-century New Englanders is to spend time in familiar company.” To say two people are kindred spirits is not to say that the two have similarities. It is to say something more. It is to say that the similarities outweigh the differences, that “despite” the differences the people are closer than not, friends rather than strangers, i.e. “kindred.” In my view the post exaggerates the similarities rather than simply points them out. The surface similarities are overplayed against the major differences.

    “Unfortunately this seems to have made some overly defensive about the Mormonism-Puritanism connection.”

    I don’t know who you are referring to exactly, but personally I have no problem with anyone making connections between Mormonism and Puritans. We would be foolish to deny the similarities when they stand out sold boldly and obviously on the page. The issue is what the similarities mean, and how these similarities fit in with the differences. If Winthrop denied contining revelation and Young we are nothing without the living oracles, are the two still kindred? The question is really a matter of frame of reference. Even without pointing to ideas like journal keeping and Zion, a non-Christian could look at Puritans and Mormons and call them kindred. This makes perfect sense. Their Christianity makes them kindred. Liberated Christians like Emerson could make the same observation. But for those operating within the tradition the standard of evidence is usually higher. I am not trying to defend turf, I just want to see the evidence. I also want philosophies to be viewed as wholes not parts.

  40. Nate Oman on April 24, 2006 at 10:07 am

    Jed: Why must philosophies be viewed as wholes not parts? I don’t see the problem so long as one is — more or less — aware of what one is doing. One can say that Plato and Aristotle are kindred spirits and even that there is a genetic relationship between them without somehow denying that they come to fundamentally different conclusions. Furthermore, it is no argument to point out that the relationship drawn between them is really nothing more than the relationship that one could draw between any two philosophers.

    If one cannot make comparisons without asserting identity (which seems to be the burden of your insistence that comparisons in the presence of difference are meaningless and mistaken) then I can’t see what the point of a comparison could possibly be. The point of comparing two different things to find their similarities is not to make some sort of sloppy claim about their identity. Rather, it is to use the contrast to draw connections between and attention to elements that would otherwise be ignored or seen in a wholly different way. Furthermore, given shrill insistence with which Mormons proclaim Mormonism to be sui generis, I would have thought that the danger is not that Mormons will somehow mistakenly believe that their religion is just like Puritanism but rather that they will assume that Puritanism has nothing useful to say about the origins and nature of Mormonism.

  41. Jed on April 24, 2006 at 11:29 am

    “Furthermore, it is no argument to point out that the relationship drawn between them is really nothing more than the relationship that one could draw between any two philosophers. ”

    The analogy presents a forced choice: either accept a genetic relationship between Plato and Aristotle (quite obviously true) or deny that their relationship is nothing more than that of any two philosophers (quite obviously false). The relationship between Mormonism and Puritanism is considerably more complex. We are not talking about a known connection between master and pupil where the incestuousness of ideas cannot be denied. We are talking about a gap of between four and six generations where family genealogy has been made to carry a huge burden of proof. A lot can happen in a hundred and fifty years. The Puritans were marrying the unchurched almost immediately. Forty percent of people on the Mayflower were unchurched–the story that never gets told. Ideas were coming from all over the map, making a direct genetic transmission with one group tenuous. It doesn’t mean a genetic connection doesn’t exist. It means a simple link may not make the best sense for ideas any more than it does for physical inheritance.

    “which seems to be the burden of your insistence that comparisons in the presence of difference are meaningless and mistaken”

    I certainly did not mean to say that comparisons are meaningless and mistaken. Nor did I mean to say that identity is the only alternative. Those are forced choices that I did not set up. I think you may be setting up a straw man, especially at the end where you talk about “danger.” I don’t see anything you have said as dangerous.

  42. Nate Oman on April 24, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    “To say two people are kindred spirits is not to say that the two have similarities. It is to say something more. It is to say that the similarities outweigh the differences, that “despiteâ€? the differences the people are closer than not, friends rather than strangers, i.e. “kindred.â€? In my view the post exaggerates the similarities rather than simply points them out. The surface similarities are overplayed against the major differences.”

    Jed this was the passage in your response that stuck out to me. I think that you are making the phrase “kindred” bear a level of identity that it need not bear. Kant and Plato are kindred spirits despite the enormously complicated genealogy between the two and the enormous differences in their philosophies. The point of saying that they are kindred spirits is to point out that despite their enormous differences they share a key point of view — that true reality lies outside of experience — that renders their two philosophies, despite their mainly divergent elements, in some sense similar. Furthermore, given their relative positions in the complex descent of philosophy, it is niether meaningless nor misleading to say that Kant inherited certain ideas from Plato, even if such a statement comes absolutely no where near exhausting the possibilities of what could be said about the differences and similarities of the two philosophies.

  43. Rob Briggs on April 24, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Nate, one of my interests is the 19th c. conflict between Protestants and Mormons. My sense is that by the mid-19th century, Protestants of nearly every strip had rejected the concept of the “city on a hill” — at least in terms of the establishment of a literal city. Their Puritan forbears had and the Mormons continued the practice.

    But my sense is that they viewed gathering to a literal city as a tired remnant of Puritanism which they had thoroughly rejected. So while Mormon gathered to literal city (Kirtland, Independence, Far West, Nauvoo or Salt Lake), for Protestants the whole idea was worse than passe. (Besides, being an upstart nation and insecure about their standing in the transatlantic world and even more insecure about whether their experiment in self-government would even survive, they were mortified with embarrassment by the antics of the Mormons.)

    But just because Protestants didn’t believe in the literal city doesn’t mean they had abandoned the Puritan concept of the city on the hill; they had simply transformed the locus from the city to the nation. Thus, for 19th century crusading Protestants, the American nation was the city on the hill and many of them dreamt of a Protestant America as an extension of that idea.

    Thus, the various Protestant crusades: abolitionism, anti-polygamy, prohibition, Sunday closing laws, etc., all of which were designed to put a Protestant stamp on the American nation. It was the Puritan city on the hill applied to the American nation.

  44. Rob Briggs on April 24, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Rust’s argument in “Radical Origins” seems to be that (1) the forbears of New England and Mid-Atlantic Mormons were Puritans and other Separatists, (2) these Mormons “inherited” an affinity for religion of the radical Separatist variety & (3) this explains their affinity for the Mormon message which can be seen as a continuation of that tradition.

    He doesn’t explain or provide evidence for how the 1st Mormons “inherited” this affinity. Presumably it wasn’t in the genes. If not in the genes, it must have been in the “memes.” Still, he doesn’t provide evidence for this either. It’s more assumed than demonstrated.

    Still, I liked it immensely for the background it provides on the New England Puritan and radical Separatist traditions. I find it fascinating that so many of the families (he demonstrates that conversion was frequently a family affair) of the 1st Mormons came from that radical Separatist background.

  45. Kimball L. Hunt on April 24, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    Well maybe what’s most germane to account for Mormonism is papa Smith’s sort of charismatic Universalism played against mama Smith’s more orthodox of — well what we’d call evangelical, Reformed Christianity, with the inspirations of the prophet being to meld two (and indeed just about any other otherwise contradictory strains within his zeitgeist).

  46. Rob Briggs on April 24, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    Adam: “I’ve always thought that the church in southern deseret had a different feel to it than in utah and Idaho. Wonder what difference it makes that down here you had Scots-Irish/Southerners (one of the folkways that Albion’s Seeds identifies) assimilating to a post-Puritan template while further north it was Scandinavians assimilating to a post-Puritan template. Many of my ancestors were baptized Texans who decided to drive their herds to Zion, of all things.”

    Adam, I’m very interested in this. I’m presenting at MHA on cultural studies of the Iron Co. Militia (c. 1857). Southern Utah was peopled by American westerners, American southerners (the Scots-Irish you mention) and British immigrants, most of whom were from the Celtic fringe of Great Britain, Scots, Ulster Irish, North Britons, Welsh and an additional smattering from the West Midlands. In other words, all of them were rough-and-ready.

    Adam, I’m interested in your southerners. If you like, please contact me at rbriggs2000 at earthlink dot net. Thanks.

  47. Rob Briggs on April 24, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    Adam: “I’ve always thought that the church in southern deseret had a different feel to it than in utah and Idaho. Wonder what difference it makes that down here you had Scots-Irish/Southerners (one of the folkways that Albion’s Seeds identifies) assimilating to a post-Puritan template while further north it was Scandinavians assimilating to a post-Puritan template. Many of my ancestors were baptized Texans who decided to drive their herds to Zion, of all things.”

    Adam, I’m very interested in this. I’m presenting at MHA on cultural studies of the Iron Co. Militia (c. 1857). Southern Utah was peopled by American westerners, American southerners (the Scots-Irish you mention) and British immigrants, most of whom were from the Celtic fringe of Great Britain, Scots, Ulster Irish, North Britons, Welsh and an additional smattering from the West Midlands. In other words, all of them were rough-and-ready.

    Adam, I’m interested in your southerners. If you like, please contact me at rbriggs2000 at earthlink dot net. Thanks.

  48. Jed on April 25, 2006 at 10:39 am

    “it is niether meaningless nor misleading to say that Kant inherited certain ideas from Plato”

    Nate: The argument for Plato and Kant as kindred spirits works because it goes right to the heart of their projects and does not skirt along the outside. The move to put truth beyond experience is no mere accessory to a philosophical platform. It is the platform. I do not think we could cogently argue that the two are kindred spirits if we were rely on the accessorial facts that they both think it is important to keep a record of their work, they both value bodily discipline, they both want an ideal community, etc. On the other hand if the core project is not the same we find it much more difficult to call people kindred spirits. We do not call Hume and Kant kindred spirits, though obviously a genetic connection between their philosophies exist. They may both believe that the mind receives impressions, but that fact does not make them bedfellows any more than belief in the Bible makes bedfellows of evangelicals and Mormons.

    Are Puritans and Mormons kindred spirits? I think the answer, again, depends on our frame of reference. We do not have the luxury of pointing to references of the Mathers in Mormon texts the way we can find Plato in Kant. The case is much more conjectural. And in my view the non-parallels are so central and sweeping that the affinity idea does not hold. To cite one example, we can easily argue that the Puritan hostility toward continuing revelation–no accessory fact–informed the same culture the Mormons found so alien generations later. The Puritans were, after all, the principle ancestors of the New England establishmentarianism that sought to banish the world of religious fanaticism. Quakers, Baptists, and Catholics were all persecuted under this system of beliefs. When it comes to core doctrines like continuing revelation, I think we have more in common with Catholics than the much-vaunted Puritans.

  49. Nate Oman on April 25, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    Jed: I guess that I think that it is a mistake to assume that theology is necessarily more central than other forms of spirituality. I think that there is a striking parellell between Winthrop and co leaving a Godless England in the hope of creating a godly community in the wilderness and Brigham and co leaving America to create their godly Deseret in the wilderness. I fully realize that the ecclesiology and soteriology were radically different, as was the method of colonization. Never the less, the stories and the way that the participants emplotted them are very similar. It also depends on when you take your snapshot of Puritanism, which was different in 1630 than in 1680.

  50. Beijing on April 25, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    “definitional sleight of hand on your part that implies a level of precision in the defition of the term “post-Mormonâ€? that does not exist.”

    I don’t appreciate being accused of sleight of hand when I am presenting the truth as I understand it. Is it definitional sleight of hand when Mormons sound an outcry against the media’s labeling of polygamist splinter groups as “Mormon”? Would you say that all Mormons should sit on their hands and silently accept the media’s choice to continue to muddy and smear the already not-universally-accepted definition of “Mormon?” Personally, I think it’s the right of any group to define what does and doesn’t fall under the umbrella of its label.

    Every self-described post-Mormon I have ever met has used the term to mean just what I said it meant. Peradventure you can find me one person who identifies as post-Mormon and admits that they enjoy the comparison of Mormons to a group that they perceive as brutal witchburning hypocrites, and if you can, I’ll back down. Otherwise, I’ll ask you to kindly cease the smears of post-Mormons.

  51. Nate Oman on April 25, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    Beijing: Well I recall an experience several years ago of having dinner in Berkley with a nice group of post-Mormons who likened the Church to the KGB. It is not quite the same thing as suggesting that we’re witch burners, but being compared to a brutal totalitarian dictatorship didn’t seem too far away.

    As for “Mormon” polygamists, there is a certain definitional sleight of hand involved in insisting that they aren’t Mormons. This is certainly true if one means by Mormon, a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to think that the Mormon means something like a follower of Joseph Smith or the like. Everyone has the right to make arguments about what words ought to mean, however the question of what they actually do mean seems to me to be a matter of social convention rather than group ownership.

  52. Beijing on April 25, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    I saw the word “disillusioned” in the post you linked to, but not the word “post-Mormon.” Did the folks who enjoyed the KGB comparison use the term “post-Mormon” to describe themselves?

    I agree that what words mean is due to social convention. Where did you pick up on the social convention of calling people who delight in inaccurate descriptions of the church “post-Mormons”? I don’t think such a convention exists.

  53. Kimball L. Hunt on April 25, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    Post-mos take Mormonism out one last time: “It’s not you, baby, it’s us. We — just need space.” Yet despite such courtesy, Mormonism’s goin round tellin people what heels post-Mormons are.

  54. MikeInWeHo on April 26, 2006 at 12:03 am

    That would be a great string for one of you powerful perma-bloggers to start: What is a post-mormon vs. anti-mormon? And what on earth is a “Friend of the Church” ?? I like to think of myself as one, but perhaps I’m just deluding myself. Another question: How many people blogging in here are active members? recommend holders? inactive? ex-communicated? seventies? An informal census of the Bloggernacle might be fascinating.

  55. Nate Oman on April 26, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Beijing: I didn’t suggest that post-Mormons are people who delight in inaccurate descriptions of the Church. I used the word “some.” This suggests that that I was discussing an accidental rather than a necessary characteristic of the hypothetical post-Mormons in question. Look, “post-Mormon” is not a phrase with some sort of clinically precise meaning that I have abused by suggesting that some who might be so described might get a bit of wry pleasure out of thinking of Mormons as Puritans. In my time I have committed many a rhetorical outrage on this blog, but I really don’t think that this is one of them.

  56. nate oman on April 27, 2006 at 8:46 am

    Kimball, next time I have lunch with Mormonism, I’ll ask it to be nicer.

  57. Beijing on April 27, 2006 at 3:02 pm

    I still think respect is due to the way post-Mormons define themselves, but since you reject our definition as not sufficiently clinical, I will stop defending the language and instead just defend the people.

    Some *Mormons* might get that same wry pleasure you speak of, would they not? As might some Evangelicals, some secularists, and others who have never been Mormon. There was no need to single out post-Mormons as the only group of people worth mentioning of whom *some* might be ignorant enough to think Puritans and/or Mormons were big into witchburning and mean enough to enjoy the thought. In fact we would be less likely than certain other groups you could have singled out, such as “anti-Mormons.”

    Language (rhetoric, semantics, logic) did not require you either to mention or to omit mention of any group that might accidentally have overlapped with the set of people who like to think of Mormons as witchburners. You could have just written “some may like my comparison…” and left the dig at post-Mormons entirely out. But you didn’t; you chose to single out one particular group, and I happen to belong to it. I don’t appreciate the smear.

  58. Kimball L. Hunt on April 28, 2006 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks, Nate! (& although I’ve been haunting some of your blogs for a couple weeks, this may be your first referenced of me. Anyway, since you and Mormonism seem to have a real rapport and a great deal of mutual respect and understanding, thank you for being a go-between. Oh tell Her sorry She and I’d had that personality conflict back then, but I think of Her often, remembering Her fondly , still feeling a lot of love towards Her! Smiles.) Anyways:

    I’ve always thought Mormonism and Calvinism had a lot in common. People who don’t perhaps hold some aspect of Calvinism in high esteem which they don’t see in Mormonism — or even vice versa — which would be fine. However the aspect I see in the both of em is their insistence for some kind of proof of God’s grace, in a sense, as exemplified in the individual’s actions, the measure of which is to be gaged by local religious authority and the community.

  59. Kimball L. Hunt on April 28, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Erratum: People who don’t think Mormonism and Calvinism have a lot in common perhaps hold some aspect of Calvinism in high esteem which they don’t see in Mormonism — or even vice versa — which would be fine.