Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

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How did the Puritans view sin, guilt, crime, and adultery?

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Puritans were unrelentingly harsh when it came to sin, guilt, crime, and adultery. Theirs was an especially rigid brand of Calvinism which held that humankind is completely mired in depravity. According to Puritanism, we are all guilty of sin, every last one of us, and it is only by God's freely given grace that can anyone ever be reconciled to him. For Puritans, sin wasn't just something you did; it was the fundamental human condition.

Although there was absolutely nothing an individual believer could do to achieve salvation, Puritans still adhered to a very strict code of conduct. They based their moral norms on a narrow interpretation of Scripture, which among other things, strongly prohibited adultery. Adultery was an especially heinous sin in Puritans' eyes. Though they didn't regard marriage as a sacrament—unlike Catholics—they nonetheless venerated the institution, seeing it as a commitment made under God's ever-watchful eye. Little wonder, then, that Puritans took adultery so seriously.

In keeping with their interpretation of Scripture, Puritans were especially harsh when it came to punishing crime. As far as the Puritans were concerned, they'd formed themselves into a godly community. Therefore, any crime committed in their midst was a crime against the community, and by extension against God himself. The seriousness of such crimes was...

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