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The sixteenth century Catholic Thomas More claimed that they “eat fast and drink fast and lust fast in their lechery.” C. S. Lewis has called them “young, fierce, progressive intellectuals, very fashionable and up-to-date.” Most modems assert confidently that they were uptight, sexually repressed, and ascetic. Is it any wonder that the Puritans have suffered from an identity crisis?

The taunt “don’t be Puritan” has come to be regarded as a conclusive way of silencing anyone whose viewpoint is more conservative than one’s own. The writer of a well known Christian critique of contemporary literature accompanies his attack on pornography with the assurance that he is not basing his criticism on “puritanism,” which he equates with “repressiveness” and “prudery.”

In a debate before 2,000 college students in Lubbock, Texas, the official spokesman for “the Playboy philosophy” stated, “Our rebellion, really, is against Puritanism. We are not rebelling against Christianity.” And the Christian respondent blithely accepted his opponent’s charges against “Puritan hang-ups,” apparently not realizing that his own very able defense of the Christian sex ethic was in the Puritan tradition at its best.

Why have the Puritans received such bad press in Christian circles? Where is the evidence that supports the charges? Why, above all, have the early Puritans received the reputation of being sexually repressive when it was precisely their attitudes on sex that were regarded by their own contemporaries as one of their most revolutionary traits?

People who charge the Puritans with sexual hang-ups do not bother ...

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