Early Boston was characterized by the deeply held spiritual worldview of the puritans. Puritans believed that all of life was governed by divine will, morality was defined by an unchanging decree of God, and hardship was God’s chastening of man towards his purpose. One major tenet of the Puritan religion was a belief that God chose who would be saved (election) and that individuals needed to have a spiritual awakening or conversion experience to know that they were saved. They valued frugality and simplicity, values that fit well with the industrious work ethic needed to succeed in the new land. All of life was focused on achieving salvation and God’s purpose.
This Puritan worldview saturated the life of the colony. Settlers were required to attend Puritan services and support the church financially. They held to strict moral standards, and sins such as drunkenness, murder, and adultery were punished by fines or, in severe cases, whipping or hanging. Puritan leaders traditionally supported an ordained monarchy, believing that God-given power to an enlightened few was necessary to preserve the purity of the commonwealth. In Massachusetts starting in 1631, only settlers that were approved members of the Puritan church could vote and hold office.
In 1691, the English government insisted on religious toleration, outlawing religious tests for voting so that all land-holding colonists could vote. Quakers and Baptists were also granted exemption form taxes that went to support Puritan ministers. However, Puritans were largest body of property owners so they remained in control of elected offices. Even as the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Dutch and German Reformed, and Anglican churches were growing around them, Boston remained a primarily Puritan city.
Connection to the Debate
This had a huge impact on the response to inoculation because, in general, many Puritans viewed inoculation as a sin. Since diseases was a punishment from God, inoculation meant rebelling against God’s will or at the very least, revealed a lack of trust in God’s saving power. Some also used texts such as part of Mark 2:17 which records Jesus’ words, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick” (KJV). Anti-inoculators argued that inoculation went against this principle because it involved conveying sickness to one who was “whole.” Others also argued that since an individual who was inoculated could spread smallpox to another, inoculation went against the command to do good to your neighbor.
On the other hand, several Puritan ministers were supporters of inoculation, arguing that inoculation was a good gift of God and could be used with an attitude of thanksgiving for God’s providence, and they refuted the anti-inoculators’ arguments using scripture and pointing out flaws in their logic.
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