Those Hypocritical Puritans!

My son's U.S. history textbook claims, "But the Puritans were hypocrites: the religious freedom they wanted for themselves they denied to others."

Sigh. What about using history to actually understand the way people in the past would have seen this issue, rather than shoving them into our own mindsets and categories? The Puritans wanted to be able to practice what they thought was the scripturally correct religion, not have "freedom of religion" for themselves. They wanted everyone to be free to worship God correctly (which they thought they understood how to do) and no one, themselves included, to be free to worship incorrectly. If you asked a Puritan, "Would you want to have freedom of religion for yourself if tomorrow you became a Satanist?" the Puritan would have said, "No! The civil authorities should force me back onto the path of righteousness if they can, and if they cannot they should keep me from corrupting others, by whatever force they need apply."

The Puritans were not hypocrites who thought they should be able to embrace whatever religion they wished while others could not; no, they were more like a math teacher who is sure he has the correct answer to a problem, and demands all of the students get that answer as well.

It is one thing to claim that, say, the Puritans shouldn't have been so arrogant as to be sure they had the correct answer: I'm with you on that one. But it is just silly to deem them hypocrites.


  1. Gene, how do you deal with this as a parent? Have you ever spoken with teachers? I'd be curious about your philosophy of such things.

    These kinds of things make me want to homeschool my future children...

    1. Hi, John. I just point the problem out to my kid.

      My kids were homeschooled and asked to go to public school!

  2. The history book literally had that quote, or you are paraphrasing?

    1. Well, quoting from memory: I might have gotten a word or two wrong, but it is close to exact. It definitely used the word "hypocrite."


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