The Puritan movement had a reputation for rigidly, scrupulously upright morality -- that is, for strict and unwavering adherence to certain rules. The Puritan life was full of a certain kind of conscientious, deliberate discipline. The dress code from old artwork seems simple and plain to the point of austerity. Many forms of enjoyment were seen as too worldly. And lately I have found myself wondering if this bleak and rigid society was among the most immoral of all forms of godliness.
To be sure, the pendulum has swung too far the other direction these days. Rudeness and lewdness are commonplace. "Irreverent" is used as a compliment. Mockery and cynicism are seen as humorous, though the laughs are joyless. Patience, courtesy, and all kinds of decency are portrayed as old-fashioned. It is easy to recognize the excesses around us as immoral. That makes us just that much more susceptible to thinking of morality in Puritan terms.
But what is the basis for morality? What is the basis for thinking about right and wrong? If we start with a set of laws like the Ten Commandments, then the Puritans make sense. But what if the true foundation is much more basic than that? What if the foundation of morality is when God looked at creation and declared that it was good? What if a love of the good is the foundation of morality? What if the two greatest commandments -- love of God and love of neighbor -- are meant to remind us of that? In that light, the rigid, joyless austerity of Puritanism is an insult to the goodness of all that is. If morality is not, in its most basic form, strict and unwavering adherence to rules but rather a thankful celebration of goodness, then a joyless and loveless approach to life is an affront to goodness.
Unswerving rules have a rightful place: they keep us from trampling on the good. In our eagerness to enjoy a thing, they keep us from destroying it or ourselves. But the rules were never the point; they were always a means to preserve what is good so that it could be enjoyed.