Humanity is complex, to say the least. We are capable of committing acts that can either be benevolent and selfless, or sickeningly heinous. One of the most renowned shows of cruelty at the hands of people are the various punishments dealt out by the Puritans. Arriving in the Northeast, their “purer” form of Catholicism significantly shaped the lives of Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries. To control their communities they used unjust and unnecessary means, all justified by their deluded religion.
To this day, the word “puritan” connotes both rigidity and a generally narrow view on life. The dictionary definition of Puritan (the capital refers to the actual religious group) includes, "...demanding the simplification of doctrine and worship, and greater strictness in religious discipline” (Source A). Simplification of their religion would be an understatement of what the Puritans did. Basically, acts were separated into good or evil, approved by God or frowned upon. In this robotic fashion, with no gray area, cruel ignominy was shockingly popular, and used in unworthy situations. An example lies in Source B, a still from the movie adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s magnum opus, The Scarlet Letter. (Although classified as a fictional work the novel is known for it’s factual representations of the Puritans’ behavior.) For committing adultery, Hester Prynne is assigned a lone standing position on the town scaffold, essentially to be put on display and judged while nervously clutching her new baby. To add ridicule, she is enclosed by guards carrying swords and other various weapons. It makes one wonder just how much destruction a woman and her baby are capable of.
The message becomes clear: the Puritans were simply ridiculous in the ways they kept their people in line.
Consider the popular saying, “the ends justify the means”. If there’s a way to get what you want, then it justifies how you go about getting it, regardless of the circumstances. This approach has been surprisingly common when it comes to punishment throughout history, a mentality of “if it scares the people, then that’s all we care about.” When put on the scaffold, Hester became a victim of this philosophy, “In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine....held, in the old time, to be as effectual an agent in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France” (Source E). Effective as a scare tactic, no one would ever think of committing such a sin again, if the result is...