Ya gotta love any book that starts out:
The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don’t mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed.
I wrote a bit about Sarah Vowell a month or so ago and very much enjoyed her style and wit. She doesn’t disappoint with her latest, The Wordy Shipmates. Shipmates is an interesting (and entertaining) overview of John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and the rest of the 1600s Puritans. Vowell’s central document throughout the book is Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity with its famous “city on a hill” piece but also documents, and praises, the heavy thinking and writing that seemed commonplace among the early New Englanders.
But she also finds fault. Vowell’s basic premise is that while most early Puritans tried to live out what they preached (with the burning of Native Americans a notable exception), the ideas and ideals of the Puritans have been used to justify all sorts of unacceptable present-day behavior. As the Washington Post put it
We may be a Puritan nation, but what we have retained is only Puritanism’s easy half. We are convinced that God blesses our endeavors, but we seldom consider that some of those endeavors are not worth blessing.