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Study Guide: The New Adam (Episode 1)

Puritan PortraitThe New World challenged and changed the religious faiths the first European settlers brought to it. In New Mexico, the spiritual rituals of the Pueblo Indians collided with the Catholic faith of the Spanish Franciscan friars who came to convert them, ultimately exploding in violent rebellion. In New England, Puritan leader John Winthrop faced off against religious dissenters from within his own ranks, and a new message of spiritual rebirth from evangelical preachers like George Whitefield swept through the American colonies, upending traditional religious authority and kindling a rebellious spirit that fused with the political upheaval of the American Revolution.
The Crown and the Cross

On Oct. 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus set foot on an island he named "San Salvador," or "Holy Savior," claiming it for Spain and declaring its Native inhabitants subjects of the Crown. Columbus had sailed for "Gold, God and Glory," sharing with the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella an apocalyptic vision of a New World full of "heathen" souls ripe for harvesting in the name of Christ.

Spain moved swiftly to claim land, search for gold and spread the Catholic faith in the New World. From Mexico City, Franciscan friars fanned out into New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and eventually California. In New Mexico, they encountered indigenous peoples they called the Pueblos, after the townlike structures they inhabited. Religion animated the lives of both Franciscans and Pueblos, but in very different ways. Sin, suffering and salvation stood at the core of the Franciscan faith, but the Pueblos had no concept of sacrifice, redemption or punishment in an afterlife. They had no word for "religion" in the sense of an institution with dogma or creed. What they did have was "religiousness," a way of living deeply attuned to the spiritual forces of the universe that pervaded every movement and every breath, every living thing.

But the friars were determined to convert the Pueblos, convinced they would otherwise suffer eternal damnation. In just 10 years, the Franciscans built 40 missions along the Rio Grande. Friars instructed the Native inhabitants in the catechism, the Eucharist and other sacraments. They organized the workday, sending men into the fields and shops, women to looms and laundry pits. Unmarried men and women were kept in separate quarters. Everyone was required to say grace before meals. Thousands were baptized. Those who resisted were punished. In the process of imposing their faith, the Franciscans tore the fabric of the Native culture that had sustained the Pueblos' spiritual traditions.

Resentment festered and grew. Drought came. Crops withered. Native religious leaders were punished and hanged. In 1680, the Pueblos' opposition broke out into open rebellion, led by a man named Po-pay. The Pueblos killed settlers and friars, smashing crucifixes and sending the Spanish survivors fleeing down the Rio Grande. For the time being, they rid themselves of the remnants of the Catholic faith, returning to their ancestral ways.

"A Model of Christian Charity" by John Winthrop

Some historians have called John Winthrop "America's forgotten founding father." Others have described his words, written in 1630 -- about the duties of community and the establishment of an exemplary new society in the Massachusetts Bay Colony -- as one of the greatest American sermons. Winthrop's language about being a "city upon a hill" was drawn from the Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament. Read the famous closing words of "A Model of Christian Charity" below or the full speech here: http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/charity.html

"... we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world..."
The Puritan Experiment

How did the Puritans see themselves? Read one modern description in this excerpt from the preface to "God's Plot," a book on Puritan spirituality edited by historian Michael McGiffert:

"God's plot was the great plan of human salvation. Framed in scripture and developed in Christian theology, the plot centered in the sacrifice of Christ. Extended to humanity, it embraced all who accepted it as true and committed themselves to its terms. [The Puritans] envisioned a divine scenario governing the living of the lives and the saving of their souls. They became actors with parts to play in a cosmic drama of redemption. God wrote the script, cast the parts, directed the staging; Christ took the starring role; religion explained each act and scene. The emotions and ideas invested in this plot, the meanings made of it, the ways it was lived -- these were constituent and dynamic elements of Puritan spirituality."
Religious Individualism and Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson has been lauded as an outspoken advocate of religious freedom and a feminist hero. But history gives us a more complex picture. The daughter of a preacher, Hutchinson was a literate and pious woman deeply versed in Scripture. A follower of the minister John Cotton, she hosted meetings of women in her home to discuss his sermons. Gradually men joined the group. Having a woman preside over discussions of theological issues tested the accepted limits of women's roles in Puritan society.

Hutchinson insisted that the assurance of salvation did not come from outward conduct, but from the essentially mystical experience of grace -- "an inward conviction of the coming of the Spirit." Convinced of her own connection with the Spirit, she believed she was right. She and her followers were not fighting for the freedom to believe what they wished, but rather for the suppression of the errors of her opponents. Each side became self-righteous and closed to further discussion. The Massachusetts Bay Colony reeled under suspicion and intolerance. John Winthrop, heretofore known for his tolerance, was convinced Hutchinson was destroying his "city on a hill." Called before the General Court and sure of her personal union with the Holy Spirit, Hutchinson freely acknowledged God spoke to her directly. This amounted to blasphemy. The court voted to banish her as "a woman not fit for our society."

In the aftermath of the trial, John Winthrop was criticized by those who believed he had allowed too much diversity of opinion and had been too tolerant. But in the end, his determination to save the Boston community prevailed. The center had held. The city on a hill survived the crisis that had threatened its undoing.

Historians have often been sympathetic to Anne Hutchinson, and John Winthrop has been judged as rigid. But Hutchinson was at least as adamant in her views and as intolerant as her opponents. Winthrop understood that a measure of dissent and disagreement was inevitable. He recognized that Hutchinson posed a threat not simply because of her insistence on matters of doctrine, but also because of her conviction that she had a special relationship with the Spirit that set her apart from the community and beyond its judgment. That claim was her undoing.

Read a contemporary assessment of Anne Hutchinson and the importance of religious individualism in America in an excerpt from the book "Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life" by Robert N. Bellah, et al. (University of California Press, 1985):

"Religious individualism ... goes very deep in the United States. Even in seventeenth-century Massachusetts, a personal experience of salvation was a prerequisite for acceptance as a church member. It is true that when Anne Hutchinson began to draw her own theological conclusions from her religious experiences and teach them to others, conclusions that differed from those of the established ministry, she was tried and banished from Massachusetts. But through the peculiarly American phenomenon of revivalism, the emphasis on personal experience would eventually override all efforts at church discipline. Already in the eighteenth century it was possible for individuals to find the form of religion that best suited their inclinations. By the nineteenth century, religious bodies had to compete in a consumers' market and grew or declined in terms of changing patterns of individual religious taste. But religious individualism in the United States could not be contained within the churches, however diverse they were."
For Discussion

What role did religion play in the cultural misunderstandings and colonial relations of Europeans and Native peoples in the New World? How did the religious worldviews of the Europeans and Indians differ?

What is religion? How do you define it? Is it a matter of doctrines, creeds, rituals and traditions, as it was for Catholic Spain? Is it an all-encompassing way of seeing and experiencing the natural world, as it was for the Native inhabitants encountered by the Franciscans?

How would you describe John Winthrop's vision of a Puritan community, and how attainable do you think it was? What advice was he giving to his companions?

What did the Puritans hope to achieve? What was the goal of their religious and political community? Why did they consider conformity so necessary for their cohesion?

How did the Puritan religious community define itself, and how would you compare it to the ways contemporary religious communities define themselves today?

What did conversion mean for the Puritans, and what does it mean today? Is it a single, blinding moment of faith, or is it a prolonged and arduous journey that proceeds in fits and starts, a process that requires commitment and tenacity?

"Anne Hutchinson is the future," says religion professor Stephen Prothero. What links do you see between her 17th-century understanding that "God is speaking to each of us," as Prothero describes it, and contemporary American spirituality? Between her religious experience and George Whitefield's understanding of "inward change"?

Evangelical preacher George Whitefield embodied "this perennial radical Protestant idea of immediate connection between God and the individual soul," as religion professor Stephen Marini puts it. Historian Harry Stout calls Whitefield "the divine dramatist," and Daniel Dreisbach, a law and religion scholar, says Whitefield brought Americans together "by a common message of revival." How would you describe Whitefield's message of rebirth?

George Whitefield challenged prevailing church authority and upset the religious establishment when he preached wherever people could be gathered, usually outside of churches. His new form of religion was more in tune with changing 18th-century society than it was with the standing social and religious order. What were the basic differences between George Whitefield and Charles Chauncy, between those who supported revivalism and those who opposed it? Where did each of them think religious authority resides, and who decides?

What democratic overtones do you hear in early expressions of both Puritan and evangelical Protestantism in America? How did religion penetrate early American political thought? What did religious choice and freedom have to do with political choice and freedom in American history? How did personal religious experience of the revivals and Great Awakenings of the 18th century influence the American Revolution?

The American story is many things, including the story of "us in relationship with God," says religion professor Stephen Prothero at the beginning of this episode. At the end, he compares the American story to the Exodus story in the Bible. Why do you think the Puritans saw themselves as a New American Adam and Eve -- new people with a new identity? How was the American experience of freedom and liberty like the story of the Exodus? What made Americans see themselves as "chosen people"?

Learn More

The Spanish Frontier in North America by David J. Weber

The Pueblo Revolt by David Roberts

The Religious History of America by Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt

Retelling U.S. Religious History edited by Thomas A. Tweed

Religion in American Life: A Short History by Jon Butler, Grant Wacker and Randall Balmer

A Religious History of the American People by Sydney E. Ahlstrom

Religion in American History: A Reader edited by Jon Butler and Harry S. Stout

America: Religious and Religion by Catherine L. Albanese

American Religions: A Documentary History edited by R. Marie Griffith

A Documentary History of Religion in America to 1877 edited by Edwin S. Gaustad and Mark A. Noll

The New England Mind and Errand Into the Wilderness by Perry Miller

The Puritan Dilemma by Edmund S. Morgan

John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father by Francis J. Bremer

The Puritan Experiment by Francis J. Bremer

The Times and Trials of Anne Hutchinson: Puritans Divided by Michael P. Winship

Making Heretics by Michael P. Winship

Dissent in American Religion by Edwin S. Gaustad

Sisters and Saints: Women and American Religion by Ann Braude

The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism by Harry S. Stout

America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark A. Noll

Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life by Robert N. Bellah, et al.

National Humanities Center TeacherServe: "Divining America: Religion in American History"
This online curriculum enrichment service includes essays by scholars, bibliographies and primary resources to help students gain a greater understanding of the role of religion in the development of the United States.

Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
A gateway to American history online, with resources for educators, teachers and students

Library of Congress: Religion and the Founding of the American Republic
Online version of an extensive exhibition that explores the role religion played in founding the American colonies, shaping early American life and politics, and forming the American republic

PBS: The West: "The Pueblo Revolt"
The companion website for the eight-part PBS documentary series from 1996.


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Published October 11, 2010

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