Saturday, 6 March 2010

The New Puritans

The essence of puritan belief was God's supremacy over human affairs through the church and through the bible. This required the simplification of worship - the ending of 'idolatry', the banning of music in church, the scrapping of prescribed prayers and the down-grading of the Eucharistic sacrament.

And from all this came the rejection of public pleasures - drinking, dancing, drama, gambling, sport and, famously, Christmas.

"The long Parliament gave orders, in 1644, that the twenty-fifth of December should be strictly observed as a fast, and that all men should pass it in humbly bemoaning the great national sin which they and their fathers had so often committed on that day by romping under the mistletoe, eating boar’s head, and drinking ale flavored with roasted apples." (Macaulay)

The 17th century puritan-led governments also opposed the extension of science and promoted hysteria about witchcraft:

Hath not this present Parlament
A Lieger to the Devil sent,
Fully impower’d to treat about
Finding revolted Witches out?
And has he not within a year
Hang’d threescore of them in one Shire?
Some only for not being drown’d,
And some for sitting above ground.
Whole days and nights upon their Breeches,
And feeling pain, were hang’d for Witches
And some for putting knavish Tricks
Upon green Geese or Turkey Chicks
Or Pigs that suddenly deceast
Of griefs unnatural, as he guess'd
Who after proved himself a Witch
And made a rod for his own Breech.

From Samuel Butler's - Hudibras (first published in 1663).

It was not a reign of terror - all pleasures were not stopped but the promotion of moral panic by public and ecclesiastical authorities brought about the suppression of good cheer and its replacement with a dour, prejudged world of sins to be avoided and expunged.

Travel forward 350 years in time to today's world and listen to the cries: binge drinking...sexualisation of young girls...childhood obesity...smoking. Those puritan sins have returned labelled rather with the groupthink and collectivism of social democracy than with the strictures of bible bashing certainty. We are lectured about the "cost to society" of our sins: "...drinking costs the NHS £2.7 billion", "...a generation of 'damaged' girls", "obesity set before the age of two" - you are all sinners, repent, repent, repent!

This 'your sins are bad for society' message extends to what we put in our bins, what car we drive, our choice of holiday and, of course our choice of pleasure. Every agent of the collectivist, socialist state is brought to play - here is the leftie feminist rant about bad girls:

"There was a moment in the 90s – I wince to recall it – when women themselves fell in with the view that feminism was unglamorous and inhibiting. It was cramping our style and even worse, stopping us from shopping! Middle-class commentators encouraged their readers to embrace their "inner bimbos". Their paeans to hair products and sexy knickers read like new lad-mag paeans to tarty women. Comic exaggeration made it clear that the writers were self-aware –women who "should know better".

So girls like to dress up, look good, smell nice and feel sexy? Is that anything new? For the new puritans it is a sin. It is bad. It is corrupting society. And the same goes for lads who like a noisy night out and enjoy the sight of pretty women. Not much has changed there either, has it? Yet for the new puritans this is a sin. Here's Michael Gove:

"That's why I believe we need to ask tough questions about the instant-hit hedonism celebrated by the modern men's magazines targeted at younger males. Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently,
lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available."

The truth of which those lads quickly discover, of course! Those bad girls condemned by the Guardian will put them straight!

Just as did the Long Parliament, today's New Puritans propose to use the power and authority of the state to control pleasures of which they disapprove. We already have a heavy-handed smoking ban, we are moving towards an ever more restrictive approach to alcohol, a vast horde of 'experts' is crawling over our kids berating them about what they eat and we now have the dreadful recommendations of the Papadopoulos Report including:

  • launching an online ‘one-stop-shop’ to allow the public to voice their concerns regarding irresponsible marketing which sexualises children
  • encouraging the government to support the Advertising Standards Agency to take steps to extend existing regulatory standards to include commercial websites

Perhaps, we will shift back to a more balanced approach to these issues. Less judging, less hectoring. Or maybe we'll sleepwalk into a ghastly, oppressive world where the New Puritans police our behaviour for its adherence to the received orthodoxy of believe about pleasures. I am not all that hopeful right now.


1 comment:

Charlotte Gore said...

There was a time I would never, ever have imagined a Tory could write a blog post like this. Shows what I knew. ;)