Most people like to demonstrate that Thanksgiving was formed as a conciliation and celebration of community and charity through redistributive feasting. They say Thanksgiving was the American version of the ritualizing of fall feasting. It was a sharing with the heathen that helped them. Or it was a means of communalizing common faith, natural laws true to all in their mind.
Meh, I don’t think so. The Puritans had been in power in England. They were very unhappy with the Catholics. Though Cromwell, a Puritan, would bash the Catholics and promote protestants, he was too heretical as well. I mean everyone knew Henry VIII created a church, Anglicanism, just so he could divorce, and just so he could consolidate monarchy over papacy. The Puritans were not succeeding in England anymore and were being persecuted. They just wanted to live as separatists and follow their rather narrow and rigid view of fidelity to God.
Whether Puritans loved the Indian heathens or not is ridiculous. With rigid dress codes, rigid practices of faith, and desire for separatism they didn’t care a damn for Indians but saw them as necessary means to survival. Which doesn’t mean you wouldn’t take their food or help if it were offered. If there are no atheists in foxholes, realistically, there are no religious separatists during starvation, with neighbors holding food.
Historically, Puritans formed in reaction to the ascendance of Queen Elizabeth. They arose from the Marian exiles who fled the country, England, when Queen Mary was crowned. They fled to the Neherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and to a lessor degree Poland, Italy, and Poland. Queen Mary wished to restore Roman Catholicism as the only legal religion. Elizabeth came after Bloody Mary and restored protestantism. Yes, it was a difficult time for religious variance in England and the continent. The reformation wasn’t a pleasant, quiet revolution. Atheists tend to talk about the inquisition, the crusades, and the holocaust as proof of the horrors religion invoked. One need only visit the 1600’s to witness the debasement of human freedom through religious politics.
The Synod of Dort was in 1619. Consisting of representatives of eight foreign and Protestant churches, they were to decide on the legitimacy of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius had posted some objections to Calvinism, to which the Puritans held dear. Calvinism, as you recall, was the belief that people were saved or not by god’s grace, regardless of good works or faith. This predestination of salvation meant you couldn’t buy or pray your way to heaven. Nor could you deny grace once it was given. The trump card was you could be serious and hope for favor but not count on it. The irony is you have no choice yet you must obey. Specifically, the five articles of remonstrance, or objections, are:
- election (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the rational faith or nonfaith of man;
- the Atonement, while qualitatively adequate for all men, was efficacious only for the man of faith;
- unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
- grace is resistible; and
- believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.
Arminianism was heretical and Remonstrants, as they were also called, were forbidden to preach that part of the gospel in government supported churches which were most of them. The remonstrants agreed but said they were compelled to preach it in their own churches.
This becomes the basis for free will in American Calvinist religion. Baptists, Anabaptists, Congregationalists, and Unitarians will all pick up on the ability of people to choose or lose their salvation. This is the dual birth of American positivity and pragmatism.
Bear with me. In reaction to this, the term antinomianism was used to describe, pejoratively, protestant groups that felt they could abandon or change the laws of their tradition. Also called “judaizers” or “legalists,” antinomianist was coined by Luther to bash extreme interpretations of Lutheranism. It was in reaction to this that he wrote his 258 theses.
Antinomianism is the belief that Christians are liberated from the observance of moral laws when God’s grace is active. The belief was first attributed to St. Paul, who declared that his opponents “slanderously” had charged him with saying, “And why not do evil that good may come?” (Rom. 3:8).
Frankly, early gnostics believed in separation of body and spirit to allow serious physical pleasures and sexual licentiousness without regard to the salvation of the spirit. This easily roots to evangelicals who believe one can commit any number of physical crimes so long as they repent, so to speak. Pure antimonianism becomes Christian and Judaic anarchism.
Lest you think this lighthearted, there became several versions of antimonianism–and you can see why it is important to the modern movement evangelism:
- Dualistic Antinomianism (Gnostic): This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and the soul’s health…
- Spirit-centered Antinomianism: …puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct.
- Christ-centered Antinomianism: …argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing.
- Dispensational Antinomianism: …denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written.
- Situationist Antinomianism: …says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at times disregard.
So, you have this weird situation with the Puritans where they believe in school and education, to read the bible for one self and to convert children who were stained with original sin from birth, public education was not Catholic yet, but hated their Quaker compatriots because Quakers believed the spirit came from within and not the bible.
It was difficult for Edward Morgan to tolerate nonPuritans on those early voyages to America but he needed skilled craftsmen. John Winthrop preferred to keep the ships pure, free from corruption. They had to build a commonwealth rather than a “city on the hill.” In their attempt to develop a civilized society de novo they had to accept nonPuritan coopers, sawyers, and surgeons. Pilgrims remained separatists and had no desire for corrupters regardless of utility. This is the key to their ambiguous relation with Native Americans.
“The position of the Puritan leadership basically asserted that in the absence of an immediate sense of God’s presence, right actions are the surest sign that one has received justification from God and therefore assurance that one is saved. In their mind, a conscious effort to obey the Law of God will be a sure sign that the person’s will has truly been transformed by the Holy Spirit.
This reaction against Calvinism is tense in dichotomy. One can and can’t choose salvation. Though predestination might be true, one doesn’t know it in advance. The best bet is to work hard, stay serious, and accept the presence of corrupting-others. Fake it to show it. The Puritans themselves were forced to reform the salvation-by-grace-alone theology in order to survive materially and accept the presence of nonconformers.
It is Puritanism in the US that made precedent family and marriage, as an organization for the greatest devotion to holy union with God.
So while, Calvinism has a horrid effect on religion, it lost power in its diaspora as exemplified by the Puritans versus Pilgrims. I give thanks to that. Thanksgiving, to me is the gratefulness of the expansion of one’s world through experience of the other. Hell may be others, but it also defines us.
Jim Newman, bright and well