Many Americans are going hungry today. Thank the Puritans.
Yes, those Puritans—the ones who shared that first Thanksgiving with Native Americans before taking their land and killing them. Ask the Pequots about that. Oh, wait, you can't. There aren't any.
Yep, the Puritans again.
Before they rose to power, much of the Christian world hewed closer to, well, Christianity—do good deeds, help others, don’t covet stuff, go to heaven. But the 17th century Puritans / Calvinists / Protestants wanted to know up front about that heaven deal—wanted to know if they were going or not. They felt there had to be a better way than just being a boringly good person, especially since, with their newfound belief in predestination, they had lost control of their quest for heaven. What good was playing when the final score was already decided?
The answer? Success on earth was the ticket to heaven. And how was that success measured? The same way we do it today. Yachts and jewelry, and I guess other stuff that's similar to yachts and jewelry.
It's the Protestant Ethic, and it even gives a lot of good Protestants a bad rap.
It's the philosophy that spawned conservatism and enabled the Tea Party.
All right, that may have been an oversimplification, but today it provides cover for a lot of Republicans who identify as Christians to look the other way at their impoverished and struggling countrymen—the ones who, until five months ago, held jobs, paid rent, expected to partake in the American dream, and trusted their government to assist them if things went wrong. The Protestant Ethic attributes these people's fall from grace to laziness and indolence and ignores the fact that the jobs they once held no longer exist.
Add to this the fallacious but seemingly sacred Republican belief that Americans will eschew work and stay home rather than take a job if the government benefits are too good, and you witness the current disaster in full bloom. That zombie economic theory has been disproven time and again—look at the numbers who raced back to their jobs in May when the country opened up again. Of course our harebrained non-policy toward the pandemic caused another slowdown and here we are looking for more help. It's hardly the fault of people who are starving or living in constant fear of economic ruin that their lives are controlled by a feckless president and an indifferent Congress
Today millions of Americans need those elected officials, whose salary they pay, to do good deeds, help others, not covet things—you know that boring stuff again. They can still keep the yachts and jewelry—no one is taking those things away—just don't forget that old morality play Everyman: it's the good deeds that save you.
In 1500 or 2020, it's always the good deeds.