The term puritanism is normally associated with austere and strict adherence to a specific, and supposedly pure, form of religion. Normally a Calvinistic form of Protestantism. However puritanism can be used to embrace other and different sets of strict beliefs.
Traditional puritanism is characterised by having a certainty of belief that you are absolutely and unquestionably right. Your truth is the only truth. Anyone who disputes the rightness of your cause is obviously wicked or possessed of the devil. There is no allowance for doubt and no grey areas. Other people are either fully with you, or completely against you, and hence the enemy. In the seventeenth century this led the Protestant Puritans to seek out new lands untainted with other people’s sacrilegious beliefs. It also led to witch burnings and the Salem Witch Trials. The core of Christian compassion being completely lost in the fervour of their cause.
In our own age, many people seem also have a strict and limited set of beliefs which they cling to without question or challenge. They are the modern puritans. They believe that they are the only possessors of the truth, and all who disagree with them are in some way evil or hopelessly misguided. They have an unwillingness to tolerate any counter arguments in any way, shape or form. They will pursue and hound those who publicly dispute their claims, and in extreme cases threaten physical violence.
Modern day puritans include:
- Islamic extremists
- Extreme environmental activists
- Those so called woke iconoclasts who wish to rewrite history to eliminate parts of our shared and inherited the past.
- Extreme feminists
- Extreme trans and bi gender activists
- And many more groups that adopt ideas as unchallengeable beliefs, as the only truth.
It is true that the modern day puritans, like those of old, who are normally at the limit of extreme in their views about their chosen beliefs. But they are very vocal, and in some cases, aggressive groups in our societies. They distort the valid arguments they may have with dogmatic belief and an unwillingness to engage in serious debate.
In my book, Modelling Mind, I argue strongly that while their are many truths in the world our Minds are incapable of fully comprehending them in the sense of: “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Even if what we believe is true, then it is impossible for us to be certain of that. So any claims to knowledge of any truth is blatantly nonsense and should be treated by us with great caution if not derision.
The physical and our social worlds are not fully accessible to our Minds. We might have ideas that are more credible, given the evidence that others, but we can’t have the certainty that the new Puritans crave. It is testing and strengthening the credibility of our views against all the evidence that allows us to go forward. Not dogmatic acceptance of ideas that can’t be certain.