Thanksgiving is a season of both reflection and gratitude.
Each year during the fourth Thursday of the month of November, our nation pauses from its interminable business, social, and societal activity to enjoy a time of feasting and festivity.
Why do we set aside a special time to give thanks? Why is this tradition still important for those of us who live in the digital age that is the 21st century? There are many reasons to enjoy a special season of thanks, but perhaps if we take a look at the historical roots of our country we can see why a time of “thanksgiving” is vitally important for the renewal of our nation.
What many of us in America do not appreciate is that in the late 1500s and early 1600s, Religious Freedom was not an absolute right. In much of Europe, whatever the religion or faith of the King or Sovereign might be – his faith or lack thereof had a direct bearing on the religion of the people that he ruled. If the king was Catholic (Spain), then Catholicism was the official religion of Spain. If the king were Protestant (England), then the people of that realm became Protestants.
The Puritans were people who were directly affected by a worldwide movement known as the “Protestant Reformation.” The Protestant Reformation took place from roughly 1517 to 1646 (the Protestant Reformation inspired reforms in the Catholic Church that led to what is known as the Catholic Counter-Revolution that resulted in “The Council of Trent”).
Your ability to worship in Europe of the 1500s and 1600s without external disturbance was a tenuous right at best. One of the fortunate by-products of “The Protestant Reformation” is that it decentralized the ability of European rulers to control the religious affections of their subjects. The people of Europe began to slowly, but surely, as time went on experience a burgeoning growth in the area of religious liberty.
It is in a proper understanding of the growth of religious liberty that makes the Puritans so important to our nation’s founding.
The men and women who left Europe in 1619 and who signed The Mayflower Compact in 1620, came to America and left behind their worldly possessions; they sacrificed everything that they had or known in order to come to a place where they could worship GOD as their consciences dictated and as they believed the Holy Bible instructed them.
The original Puritans bequeathed a tremendous legacy of faith, life, freedom, and educational pursuits for their future descendants. A short list of some of their amazing accomplishments is would include things such as:
- They founding and formation of what has become known as the Ivy League series of schools: Harvard (1636); Yale (1701); Brown; Dartmouth; Princeton; and the University of Pennsylvania.
- Nearly 40 years before John Locke wrote his masterpiece “Two Treatise on Government,” the descendants of the Puritans had introduced a form of self-government or a representative assembly into the new world known as “The House of Burgess.”
- The original Puritans introduced the concept of the “Protestant Work Ethic” into the new world that led to unprecedented level of material prosperity and upward mobility for all who would later come to America’s shores; and finally,
- The Puritans in their devout Christian faith laid the foundation for a nuanced understanding of the natural law concept that later led to these immortal words in The Declaration of Independence “…that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”…
So, as we consume much food and drink and enjoy the presence of our friends and loved ones during the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend, let us remember that the American experiment rests upon the foundation of two distinct pillars of “Faith and Freedom.”
Let us rejoice in the tremendous legacy that the Puritans have left us and let us commit ourselves anew to transmitting the pillars of “Faith and Freedom” to our posterity.
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