Puritans are alive and walking among us


A few years ago I got a contract for my first novel and went to New York to meet with my publisher. I was excited but also intimidated, as if my future depended on this encounter. When I saw that the editor was almost my son’s age in his twenties, I relaxed – until she offered some revisions.

“I love your novel,” she said, “but we still have to make some edits.”

His biggest overhaul involved my choice of villain. I had charged Irish scoundrels with a plot in 1589 to kill Queen Elizabeth I. “But many Irish people hated the queen,” I said. The editor held firm, but I was not a complete milk toast. “Why not the Irish? I asked.

In a roundabout way, she explained to me that making the Irish bad guys wouldn’t be in my interest: pick assassins who don’t exist anymore, killers who don’t buy books. The publisher she worked for has long managed not to offend buyers. Once back home in Alabama, I did some research and replaced Irish with Puritans, who also hated QEI. According to reputable historians, the last traces of Puritanism died out around 1730. I assured my editor that the Puritans had not existed for nearly three hundred years.

But today, almost a quarter of our way through the 21st century, I look around and realize that I was wrong. Puritans. Do. To exist. Puritan thought emerged, zombie-like, until it was now a foundation of modern life. Puritans live and thrive in all areas of society – in our churches, our governments, and our homes. A little research, like the one I did as a novelist, reveals puritanical attitudes toward rich and poor, toward women and children, and toward religion and the state.

The Puritan view of the poor was far from charitable. According to the Guardian, the English Ye Olde Puritans believed that poverty was “not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failure to be condemned…” On the other hand, the same article states that wealth, n is “not an object of suspicion…but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will. In other words, if a man is poor, it is his fault. If he is rich, then God smiled upon him. Adding insult to injury, if a fellow Puritan should suffer an accident or misfortune, friends and neighbors would not rush to help him. Putting the unfortunate in stocks or l avoiding completely were more likely to happen. Crowdfunding would have been out of the question.

The seeds of Puritanism found rich soil in America, richer in some bedrock than others, and Alabama provided a primo loam with just the right mix of sand, silt, and clay. Our state, like four other Southern states, does not have a minimum wage law but follows federal law where necessary. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as in 2011. For 40 hours of work per week, 52 weeks per year, one can earn $15,080. If the poor are poorly educated, bootstraps are harder to come by. It doesn’t help that Alabama ranks in the basement, in terms of education. Using categories that include high school graduation rates, preschool enrollment, college readiness, and math and reading scores, US News & World’s latest Pre K-12 rankings Report puts our state in 45th place, worse than Mississippi. If you don’t like the USNWR, here’s the data from the Kids Count 2021 book: In economic well-being, Alabama is 39th; health, 45th; education; 42nd; and family and community, 45th.

In addition to contempt for the poor, the Puritans also considered that more than half of the population – women and children – had fewer rights than men. A woman was even considered inferior to her male children. Is the situation better today? A recent state law banning abortion makes no exception for rape or incest, essentially forcing a woman or girl to carry a child to term even if the pregnancy is the result of a traumatic act such as rape or incest. This “forced birth” shows contempt for half of the state’s citizens. Now a pregnant woman is essentially a slave of the state. The state legislature has surpassed the Puritans – Alabama women are now less than an embryo.

Like the Middle Eastern and Sharia countries of today, the Puritans developed laws that followed religious teaching. Those who oppose abortion will cite their belief that life is precious. Human life begins at conception, they say, but that’s a religious belief, not a scientific fact. How come religious beliefs play a role in creating laws and precedents in a nation where “Congress will make no law respecting the establishment of a religion”? Is the Supreme Court now filling that void? Moreover, if life is sacred, how can capital punishment be justified? Can anyone satisfactorily explain how life is sacred in the womb but not in the execution chamber?

HL Mencken perhaps said it best: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy. When Puritans are in power, only Puritans are happy.

Prattville resident Linda Fisher is a novelist, retired public school teacher, and former owner of a small business, a candy store.


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