Bags of Bran


A backlog of reading and writing
August 12, 2014, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Biography

I feel a little bit of guilt when I realize that I haven’t been writing like I should be. That’s easily papered over with excuses, but I feel that I’m the worse off for it. Nothing makes one think like writing, and nothing gives me the itch to write like reading. Incidentally, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, though I haven’t written much about it.

I sort-of-recently finished Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. This is one of those books that adolescent boys ought to read, no matter how many winters they’ve actually seen. As an adolescent boy of thirty and eight, I can say that I was riveted to this story. The whole debate, now over a century dead, about whether or not this book was an actual autobiography simply faded away in its importance, and the worth of this book as literature has proven to be lasting.

If I may say that the protagonist’s religious conversion was thrilling and well conceived, I might also say that it was written from an outsider’s perspective, and also from a high-Calvinist framework. Nothing wrong with that: just a matter of perspective in the telling. No Wesleyan would have written that way, but then, would a Wesleyan have demonstrated the patience that Crusoe showed in preparing for any conceivable contingency? I think it is the Puritan worldview lived out through Robinson Crusoe, with its patient strength, its willingness to pair hard work with a hearty conception of Providence (always capitalized, much to this reader’s delight), and its practical utility. Puritanism seems to work well on tropical islands: it is when Puritanism gets in position to run colonies that the latent tyranny yet unlaundered from the white garments of the elect results in witch trials and scarlet letters.

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“Puritanism seems to work well on tropical islands: it is when Puritanism gets in position to run colonies that the latent tyranny yet unlaundered from the white garments of the elect results in witch trials and scarlet letters.”

Interesting observation. Care to share what led you this conclusion?

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Comment by Scott Welch

Sure. The idea comes from a bit of time spent with the Puritans over the years. They seem to be very good with the internal aspects of religion: Owen’s On the Mortification of Sin; Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment; John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence… All of these do an excellent job of relating the individual believer to the world as a pilgrim and a wanderer would relate to a foreign, hostile land. In times when Puritans come into majority as a group, however, they eventually stopped merely trying to mortify their own sins; they stopped mining for rare jewels and began settling for common ones; and they began wresting the arm of Providence. You can see that I’m speaking in generalities: even at the nadir of Puritan society there were divines who were truly great men, but they were too few to keep the dam of moralism from bursting under its own weight.

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Comment by christopheram




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