Why America deserves better than Puritan values
A number of conservative politicians keep hearkening back to Puritan settlers as being the true character of America or as representing core American values. There are several huge problems with that stance.
First of all, America is a vast nation of 300 million people. The vast bulk of these people are not descended from the Puritans; and of those who are, most have since then moved away from Puritanism to bigger and better things. To claim that a tiny group of people, four centuries ago, represent the true values of a nation of 300 million people is ridiculous. Most Americans have never had contact with Puritanism, and of those who did most are now doing something else. As, I will later explain, they well should.
Secondly, America was never meant to be a nation stuck in a timewarp. It is meant to be a nation that changes and grows all the time; and it is this that has been the cause of America's enduring greatness. Its ability to grow, to adapt, and then to lead has made America the world's greatest country for over a century. As Jefferson said, "a little revolution is a good thing, God forbid that America should go without one for 20 years." It is this intention that has kept America from either sinking into hidebound stagnation and decline, as did a number of European countries, or exploding in the kind of brutal revolutionary movements that we've seen in Russia, China and Africa. Ongoing change is recognized as a factor, and a workable framework is provided for dealing with it constructively. This was a wise intention, and it worked.
Finally, many of Puritan values were wrong. They were severely violent and made laws about the size of the stick with which a husband could beat his wife. They hung people for simply having natural psychic abilities, regardless of whether or not they deliberately practiced witchcraft. They dealt brutally and deceptively with America's indigenous population, who had welcomed them and showed them how to survive in American continent only to be rewarded with systemic extermination and full-scale robbery of their land. I do not say, as do the relativists, that Puritan values do not apply to contemporary society. I say that the Puritan values are wrong absolutely, and that America would be a better country if it moves away from Puritan values entirely.
Many of the people who hearken back to Puritanism, either under the guise of American patriotism or of family values, also want to see the world end in our lifetime. What this means in reality is that they have less than nothing to offer for America's future. A person who cares about his family would not be wishing that the world end before his children have reached maturity, and a person who cares about his country would not be wishing that it meet a full-scale demise. The person who does has no business claiming to have either family values or American patriotism.
America deserves a better future than what these people have in mind, and it also deserves better people to run it. A person who wants an end of the world in our lifetime would not plan for the future and would implement policies that are short-sighted, destructive and ruinous. A person who thinks that Puritans had the right idea would inflict upon his country the same kind of brutality, bigotry and mendacity as did the Puritans. America deserves better, and the children deserve better.
Most changes that have happened in America since the time of the Puritans have been an improvement, not a degradation. America's greatest successes - its economic prosperity, its scientific and technological achievement, its military strength, its arts and entertainment, its political freedoms and the leadership that it has exercised in the world - had nothing to do with Puritanism and were initiated centuries after the landing of Mayflower. The real source of most of these was the European Enlightenment philosophy and its outgrowths - science, capitalism and democracy - along with everyone, man, woman, Christian, atheist, white, black, Asian, liberal, moderate or conservative - who worked hard to contribute to these pursuits. Others still come from political action, from investigation of human mind and human behavior, from creative or productive activity, and of course from incorporation of knowledge that was achieved in other parts of the world. It is time that more people see the actual source of America's accomplishments and cease giving credit for them to people who had nothing to do with them, to political groups that not only did not cause them but in many cases resisted them, or to a creed that existed in Europe long before America had existed and did very little to save Europe.
In short, stop looking back to a tiny and dirty period in America's history and look at everything else that America has accomplished. And then look toward the future with an eye for longevity, sustainability and livability. America's greatest days may still very well be ahead, but America will not get there by trying to act like the Puritans or by hoping for Armageddon in our lifetime. It will get there by availing itself of the genius that lives in the people and applying it toward creating a livable, sustainable and beautiful long-term future that anyone who actually cares about his family or about his country would want his children and his country to have.