What were the Puritans views on sex and morality? How do they compare to American values of today?
Puritan is described as one who lives in accordance with Protestant precepts, especially one who regards pleasure or luxury as sinful.
It is said that a widely known Puritan by the name of John Calvin (1509-1564) was cheerless and had a viciously malevolent theology based on total human depravity and the implacable wrath of God. An unhappy and unhealthy ascetic, he had ulcers, tuberculosis, and migraine headaches and considered life of little value and God as a harsh tyrant. Calvin set up a brutal political theocracy. No dancing, fancy clothes, and jewelry were allowed. He was in favor of death penalty for adultery. Even legitimate love was stringently regulated. Solemn weddings with no revelry were the beliefs that he preached to others. The Calvin marriage had two functions: (1) to produce offspring (2) to eliminate incontinence.
Another Puritan believer who was famous during his times was John Knox . He had Blue Laws of the 1650s, and was against Sunday amusements, smoking, drinking, gambling, fancy clothing. He also promoted public whippings, scarlet letters, execution for adulterers, and the Salem “witch” executions. Stern puritan traits were often only expressions that masked moods of mischief and romance. Sex outside of marriage was attacked. Puritans greatly enjoyed sex inside marriage and propagated the concept of the virtue of virginity.
16th Century Puritans tried to combine the ideals of love with the normality of sex into marriage. They also valued money more than leisure, and success more than culture.
After the 17th century. the Puritans as a political entity largely disappeared, but Puritan attitudes and ethics continued to exert an influence on American society. They made a virtue of qualities that made for economic success—self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy—and through them influenced modern social and economic life. For the Puritans, a person by nature was wholly sinful and could achieve good only by severe and unremitting discipline. Hard work was considered a religious duty and emphasis was laid on constant self-examination and self-discipline. Profanation of the Sabbath day, blasphemy, fornication, drunkenness, playing games of chance, and participation in theatrical performances were penal offenses.
It was the notion that Puritans were strict, formal, quick to judge and always on the lookout for anything mischievous. Anything too ostentatious, pretentious or blatant was immediately a source of discipline for the Puritans.
On this note, before making a comparison between the two, we must first ask, what is morality? Morality is concerned with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong. It is the perceived guidelines of a standard of how we live our life, how we act, how we think about things and the protocol of how things work around us.
This first example of immorality may be considered by many as one that does not have anything to do with morality, but if you give it more then cursory thought, you would most likely consider it a morality issue.
Luxury things are one of the most prevalent consumer items nowadays. In fact, many major industries stem from this market/ business. If you think deeply about it, WHY do consumers buy luxury items when there are existing items that could as well be the same quality and kind? Luxury items promote the notion that those who belong to a certain class or earning bracket are those who can afford such goods. They promote a certain image of the luxury item purchaser, that they are a “higher-class” or that they belong to a higher level of social status. This in itself could be seen as condescending.
In comparison to the Puritans, indulgence in wordly things are considered “evil” and unright. Today’s times propagate consumerism, luxury, indulgence, opulence. Whereas, for the Puritans, all these were wrong values as they believed in simplicity. Albert Einstein once said ” The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” But with the morality and values of America today, it seems, that people are more concerned about what they can receive or benefit over that which they can give. And this is contrary to what Puritans believe in.
With regards to sex, Puritans strongly believed in the sanctity of marriage. They believed that sex was only to be enjoyed if it was inside marriage. They valued virginity and upheld rigid values concerning physical intimateness outside of marriage. As compared to a majority of Americans, it seems that in today’s world, they are more open to sexual relations outside of marriage.
Many Americans do not believe in preserving their virginity for marriage. This is stark contrast to what Puritans believed in. Perhaps even in relationships, Puritans only believed in relationships with a purpose-one that was heading towards marriage. Where as young people, Generation X,Y,Z and baby boomers do not seem to always have marriage in mind when dating a prospect.
This only skims the surface of a myriad of values on sex and morality that separates modern-day Americans from Puritans but this shows the positives and negatives about two very different perspectives and what positive points we can pick up from each aspect.
McMahon, Dr. C. Matthew. “Puritan Roots: A Brief Sketch of the Values of Puritanism”.
- E. C. Hill. Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (2d ed. 1967).