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The Puritan Dilemma Responds To Questions: According To Edmund Morgan, What Was The "Puritan Dilemma?" How Did The Puritans And/Or Winthrop Address This Dilemma?

1306 words - 5 pages

The Puritan Dilemma by Edmund MorganJohn Winthrop's "Puritan dilemma" arose out of his life long effort to accomplish two goals: to secure a community dedicated to upholding every aspect of God's will and to do this within the context of everyday life. His first challenge dealt with the depravity of the Church of England in the early seventeenth century and how to escape its wickedness without withdrawing from the world. Then, with the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, a decade of domestic problems took center stage as the "separatist impulse" and excessive purity threatened colonial stability. Winthrop's last hurdle occurred in the realm of foreign affairs with the possibility of English intervention in colonial religious practices. On all three occasions, he used moderation and reason combined with the responsible exercise of authority to temper and defeat those forces standing in the way of his ultimate two-fold purpose. As Edmund Morgan's work shows, by his life's end, Winthrop had created in himself a powerful example of how to address the central "Puritan dilemma:" how a righteous man does right in a world that does wrong (182).According to Puritan belief, every member bore responsibility for the Church of England's behavior, and all would be held accountable to God for its sinfulness (16). For this reason, Winthrop had a personal stake in England's incompetence, and he now confronted "the paradox that required a man to live in the world without being in it" (27) for the first time on a major scale. How could he rectify his moral responsibility to God without neglecting his duty to this world? Among his peers, the opportunity to colonize the New World and create a Puritan "city on a hill" arose as an increasingly attractive solution, but Winthrop was still reluctant: "would it not be deserting the world...to flee into a brave new land?" (36). As popularity for this undertaking grew, he justified it by arguing that it would serve as an example for England to follow. Once she saw its successes, she might reform. In this way, Winthrop could fulfill both obligations, escaping God's fast approaching punishment, while at the same time, correcting and not abandoning England's imperfections. Departing in 1630, he would spend the greater part of the next decade confronting the "separatist impulse" -- the tendency towards excessive purity and withdrawal so hostile to Winthrop's notion of how the Puritan must live.The necessity of the community in the individual's effort to maintain a requisite level of godliness played a key role in Puritan thinking, for man could not meet these standards on his own. He needed society to keep him in line and correct him when he wavered. For this reason, threats to colonial stability could not be tolerated. John Winthrop understood this, and at the same time he sought to endow the new government with legitimization by extending political rights to the colonists, he preserved for the governorship almost...

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