What Puritans Believed to Be a Sin

by Christina Strynatka
The Puritans arrived in New England in the mid-17th century and brought with them radical views on religion.

The Puritans arrived in New England in the mid-17th century and brought with them radical views on religion.

Puritans, a subsect of Christianity, shared the normative belief that everyone was born with Original Sin -- the first sin in humanity committed by Adam and Eve. However, they held a much stricter view of it in that they believed that Original Sin colored everything -- people's thoughts, feelings and actions. Such examples include proclivities to excessive drinking, sexualized dancing and being suspicious of others.

Who Were the Puritans?

In the 16th century, a segment of the Protestant population in England was in discord with the ruling church over perceived impurities. This group believed that Protestant believers were too loose and lax in their beliefs, and so they sought to intensify church teachings. With their belief that Calvinist strains of utter depravity resides in each person, the group of Protestants broke away from the church, sailed to New England and started what is now called Puritanism.

Calvinist Influences and Original Sin

Original Sin, as all Catholics believe, dates back to when Adam and Eve transgressed against God in the Garden of Eden. From there, Catholics diverge into two beliefs, with believers also falling into the middle zone: Original Sin meant that each person born after Adam and Eve were innately and utterly depraved in every sense; or people born after Adam and Eve could cleanse themselves of Original Sin by partaking in baptism and confirmation. Calvinists fell into the former category, as they believed that only God chose to whom to give salvation. Because nobody knew which people God chose, the belief was to live as though you were one of the chosen. In that sense, Puritans were strongly influenced by Calvinists; they diverged by proclaiming that the relaxed religious views Protestants took were linked to this depravity. They viewed consumption as acceptable, but not to the point of drunkenness. Likewise, activities such as dancing and socializing were also permitted unless they led to oversexualization or adultery.

The Unpardonable Sin

Nathaniel Hawthorne called "the separation of the intellect from the heart" a truly unpardonable sin; even though his statement invited many criticisms, they all agreed that a sin may be unpardonable if the sinner doesn't ever repent to the point of death. Upon closer examination, it cannot be that impenitence is the unpardonable sin, as the character Chillingworth in Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, attempts to atone at the end of his life. Sheila Dwight, in her essay, "Hawthorne: An UnPardonable Sin," concludes (1970) that the unpardonable sin must be destruction of one's heart. In the Puritan sense, this can be extrapolated to mean unpardonable sins are those committed by straying from trying to fulfill God's expectations of what merits salvation. For example, Holy Matrimony, one of the seven sacred sacraments, meant that a man and a woman were to be faithful to each other for their entire lives. Willfully intending to commit adultery was blasphemous in two respects: simply, it broke the covenant a couple made to God; more deeply, it meant that the sinning party placed his or her own needs above those of obeying God's will and earning salvation.

Salem Witch Trials

One of the greatest paradoxes exhibited by Puritans was to transgress against their neighbors despite the Bible saying not to. They believed that a select few were chosen by God to be saved and that only God knew who these people were, yet they persecuted citizens they believed to be in contempt of God's will. By doing so they were essentially "playing God". Puritans carried this on to such a great extent that they looked for witches -- people who they believed physically carried out the devil's wishes and, therefore, intentionally set out to destroy one's heart and separate it from the intellect. Some of the common "sins" committed by witches included theft, having a poor reputation, being possessed by the devil and causing illness or death in another person. Dozens of people, mostly women, were convicted and sentenced to death.

About the Author

Based primarily in Toronto, Christina Strynatka has been writing culture-related articles since 2003 with her work appearing in "Excalibur," "BallnRoll"and "Addicted Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Cognitive Science from York University.

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