"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
March 19, 2009
Are new 'Puritans' gaining?
by Orson Scott Card

It was interesting to see how many American religions had lost ground in the past two decades, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

With all our missionary work, we Latter-day Saints merely managed to keep pace with population growth in America, remaining at a steady 1.4% of the population.

In fact, we were the only group to show no change at all, relative to the America as a whole. We're swimming as fast as we can -- just to stay in place.

The two groups that showed the largest growth in numbers -- by far -- were "no religion" and "don't know/refused."

The report in USA Today (9 March 2009, pp. 1A and 6A) thought this meant that America is becoming "less religious."

I don't think so. I think that hiding within those "no religion" and "don't know/refused" categories we can see the growth of a powerful new religion.

A fanatical religion -- one that does not proselytize so much as insist that it is already the established church, to which all others must bow and make way.

It is a religion at war with all others, confident of victory, contemptuous of any church that does not fight them, savage against any that shows a sign of resistance.

Its adherents feel themselves to have risen so far above all other faiths that they claim they are not a religion at all -- they are post-religious. Therefore the rules that govern the behavior of other religions in a multi-faith society do not apply to them.

They refuse to admit that they even exist. Instead, they claim to believe in "science," though they have no idea what the methodology of good science is, and reject the findings of science when they contradict treasured dogmas.

Having no authoritative group to define their ideology, they embrace opposite and contradictory dogmas and simultaneously believe in all.

Their doctrines spread like dandelion seeds on the wind, taking root wherever there is empty ground.

Has there ever been such a religious movement as this before?

A very good example is Puritanism in the 16th and 17th centuries.

There was no "church" of Puritanism. They were led by orators and pamphleteers, poets (John Milton was one) and politicians (most notably the dictator Oliver Cromwell).

In Shakespeare's day they were a constant annoyance to those committed to putting on his wicked, worldly plays, for the Puritans always had the aim of using the power of the state to enforce their ideas of strict Christianity.

And when they finally seized power after the execution of King Charles I, they set about remaking society as they believed it ought to be. Gone were frivolous holidays like Christmas; gone any decorations in the churches; gone, too, the plays that had once distracted idle people from their labor and worship.

Having once been themselves dissenters, they allowed no right of dissent to others. They had power, and knew that they deserved it.

In America, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by Puritans, and they were determined to hold sway in New England -- and everywhere else, if they could manage it.

Puritanism insisted on its exclusive right to prescribe the behavior and thoughts of all, until, after the death of Oliver Cromwell, the groaning people embraced the return of the monarchy.

Throughout the history of the movement, it had no hierarchy, no organization, and in some senses could be said never to have existed at all. When it fell from power, Puritanism quickly evaporated -- as if it had never existed at all.

No one wanted to claim responsibility for the excesses of Puritanism. It had functioned like bees, swarming and stinging in relentless pursuit of their enemies, but when finally defeated, dispersing and going about their innocent business, flower by flower.

The astonishing thing was that active Puritans were never very numerous. But few dared to argue against them, so they carried the day as if their numbers were far greater than they really were.

Today, the New Puritans embrace a hodgepodge of dogmas drawn from feminism, environmentalism, gay activism, and militant atheism.

They bristle at the slightest sign of Christians laying hold on the machinery of the state -- while having no compunction about using the power of the state to establish their own dogmas in the schools and in the courts.

Believing in no god, they have no Law to check them; whatever they think to do, they will try to do, and their fury when they are resisted knows no restraint.

Yet when you ask them why their vision of the public Good is better than any other, they have no reasons. They can produce no viable evidence of superiority.

They gesture toward "science" as their authority, but refuse to allow anyone to conduct or report research that might contradict their absurdest claims.

They strike down old laws and institutions without regard for the cost. Where they have prevailed, only misery follows; but they are sure that the misery they caused can only be treated by enacting even more extreme measures along the same failed lines.

The New Puritans are the fastest growing sect in America, but they are still a minority. This does not bother them; they care nothing for democracy or majority rule.

The New Puritans insist that their opponents' very status as believers in God disqualifies them from the right to advance their ideas by democratic means.

They largely control the bar associations, the faculties of universities, the national media, the entertainment industry, and judges routinely strike down laws that offend the dogmas of the New Puritans.

And yet they are the majority almost nowhere. They prevail because they have no restraints -- their attack on their enemies is instant and savage, and ordinary people, wishing only to be left alone, keep their heads down and try to stay out of the way.

Except a few. We hold up our hands and speak of democracy, of tradition, of the need to know where we're going before we race there. We speak of evidence and logic, and we are answered, not with argument, but with screaming; for asking questions or contributing money to a cause, we are threatened with boycott, fired from jobs, denied tenure.

Here is the great advantage of the New Puritans. Because they have no organization, their numbers can never be measured. They claim to speak for "all intelligent people," and the very claim pressures anyone who wishes to be thought "intelligent" into silence.

With all the mercy and reason of the Taliban whenever they get any kind of authority, their revolution is already almost complete; their hands control most of the switches of the machinery of the state.

Meanwhile, they excoriate all religions as responsible for every crime in history, never noticing that the worst moral excesses of all time -- the mass-murdering rulers of Nazi, Fascist, and Communist states -- were all converts to and adherents of "post-religious" ideologies.

Their only authority is their own will to rule over the minds and acts of others. It will never be satisfied; every victory only makes them hungry to rule more closely and punish more savagely those who are not sufficiently pure.

If sometimes our 1.4% seems to be very, very small, an archipelago of tiny islands, let us remember that most people subject to the rule of the New Puritans hate it, and only go along when no one else is willing to stand against it.

We, however, stand even when we stand alone, because God has said, "You shall ever open your mouth in my cause, not fearing what man can do, for I am with you. Amen" (D&C 30:11).

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About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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