Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winthrop, "A Modell of Christian Charity"

--Winthrop takes as his starting point a fairly major topic, the notion that God has "disposed" to make social inequality among mankind. What is his explanation of this and to what extent does this fit or not fit with your own social values (or your general sense of the social values and attitudes toward inequality in our times)?

--This text takes the form of a sermon, with frequent citations of scripture and elaborate rhetorical structures (naming of points, interpolated questions and answers, etc.). How effective is this as a persuasive document to you?

--The second part of the sermon applies the ideas of the first to the notion of a Puritan community and likens the Puritans to the Old Testament Jews, as the chosen people of God. This is both a promise and a threat: New England can become a "city upon a hill," but it can also become a "shipwreck" which all the world will witness. Do you think this self-consciousness, the awareness that others are watching your community, would have a positive or negative effect upon the workings of the community?


  1. Winthrop is arguing that God purposely created social inequality among mankind for several reasons. He begins by arguing that God did so in order “to hold conformity with the rest of His works, being delighted to show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures.” (148). This argument seems to somewhat comply with our current notions of social equality in that it affirms that everyone is indeed created differently and endowed with different abilities. Where Winthrop’s interpretation may diverge from our own is with his condemnation of those who are different. A stark contrast to today’s commonly held ideology of human rights and worth.

    Secondly, Winthrop argues that God created such inequality as a way for him to exercise his power more often and freely either by condemning the wicked or bestowing his grace upon the holy. As a person who does believe in God I would say this fits fairly well with my own ideas of judgment at the hand of a higher power. Although, I will point out my distinction between the “wicked” and those favored by God does not take on the same radical proportions as Winthrop’s.

    Lastly, Winthrop argues that God created inequality in society so that every man “might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.” (148). Once again, from the surface Winthrop’s opinion seems to be consistent with my own. In fact, I was a little taken aback by Winthrop’s openness to others in this statement especially when considering his dealings with other Puritan churches which he saw as wrongfully teaching there followers simply for accepting the Church of England as an alternate true form of religion.

    Overall, Winthrop’s language seems to concur with modern thoughts on equality within society. However, I’m guessing that Winthrop’s meaning was most likely limited to Anglican Christians whereas today we are generally more accepting of everyone in society as a whole.

  2. I thought the points Winthrop made were fairly persuasive on their on merit, that is even without the support of the biblical passages. The reason being that he presents them as infallible, as if there is no way that they will not be taken up and exercised to the fullest. Of course, this didn’t turn out to be the case exactly, but Winthrop’s own faith in the words conveys a sense of responsibility or necessity in trying unto the reader. His childlike faith in the goodness of mankind warrants an attempt to be as good as he believes us to be.

    Aside from his personal passion, I think the sermon would have been particularly effective to those to which it was originally delivered. These are people leaving behind a great deal and venturing into the unknown for their belief in a book. Not surprisingly quoting that book was probably pretty effective.

  3. -This text takes the form of a sermon, with frequent citations of scripture and elaborate rhetorical structures (naming of points, interpolated questions and answers, etc.). How effective is this as a persuasive document to you?

    Although some sermons are sometimes boring and drawn out, I enjoyed reading this one. I tried to picture myself as a member of the audience that Winthrop was addressing. Reading it from this position, I found it to be fairly persuasive. I enjoyed the snippets of scriptures throughout the address. I think without the scripture quotes I would have seen this as a very boring profession of his faith. Like in research, we provide back up for what we are writing about, I feel this was Winthrop's way of backing what he was saying.

    I think Winthrop's personal passion throughout the sermon helped in his delivery. I am not going to be inclined to listen to a preacher who isn't excited about what he is talking about, or doesn't care if anyone gets a message from his sermon. If I were an actual listener of this sermon, I think I would find myself wanting to be the person that Winthrop is describing and wanting to fulfill every command he is stating.

  4. John Winthrop, who had "all the advantages that his father's social and economic position would allow," attributes the vast inequalities between wealthy and poor to the work of God, continuing on to say that, in accordance with God's plan, the poor must not, "rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke" (147, 148). While I don't doubt the sincerity of Winthrop's religious faith, his assertion of inherent, God-mandated wealth inequality would no doubt have also served as a pragmatic attempt to curb dissent within the group of people he was to govern. The importance of his mission and of his responsibility to such a large number of people must have weighed heavily upon his mind, and as his warnings against allowing their venture to become a "shipwreck" illustrate, he was aware of the possibility of disaster (157). Using the word of God, Winthrop was able to defend the belief that inequality was natural, and therefore not something that those in power, such as himself, should be held accountable for. In espousing this belief, Winthrop was attempting to keep his flock in check, as well as attributing his own privilege to God's will.
    Reading someone say that people are poor because God wills it is, to me, a denial of the exploitation and ill treatment that the wealthy have inflicted upon the underprivileged so that they may retain power over them. Winthrop admonishing the poor against attempting to rise in society at their "superiors" expense seems like a person clinging to the peaceful stability of unchallenged privilege. I find myself excusing Winthrop because of his background and the period in time, but I’m fairly certain that if someone told me today that people are poor because that’s what God wants, I would group him/her in with the type of people who blame natural disasters on gay people and teen moms.

  5. Winthrop's hopes for New England were founded on good intentions, but ended up being quite naive. For example, he writes "We must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality"(157). He goes on list many other fundamentals that sound great, but are easier said than done. If a lot of these statements were made today people would be quick to peg him as a socialist yet he truly presents positive motives. With that in mind, it gives me an admiration for the nation's youth at the time. Even though he addresses the potential hardships that New England can face, Winthrop also sees great promise in the nation's future.

  6. For Winthrop, the idea of inequality was set up by God to help Him distinguish between those who are holy and those who should be condemned. Differences between people, being on different levels of society and of different abilities allow God to distinguish between good and evil. This view on diversity is a little different than the way I view things because it characterizes people’s differences as maybe being a bad thing, where as in society today that isn’t the case. He also mentions how this is meant to help God with moderating the wicked and helping the holy. One thing I wholly agreed with was his third point about bringing men together and making them closer, “All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, rich and poor; under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own means duly improved; and all others are poor according to the former distribution”(148).

  7. just to add a note of contemporary relevance, here's a satirical piece from the Onion on the gap between the rich and the poor:
    Just an angle on thinking about these maters from a contemporary perspective

  8. --I agree, Winthrop does put this literature in the form of a sermon, as I can easily see this information being in a Pastor's notebook somewhere. The fact that he thoroughly had scriptures to back up these "sometime controversial" topics leaves little room for an opponent to claim that he was being contradicting in any way throughout the literature. This piece is very persuasive in my opinion, because aside from scripture quoting, Winthrop discussed several individuals' lives from the bible and their demonstration of loving others selflessly. Being a Christian, this piece of literature stood out and touched my heart as a reminder that my job (as a Christian) is to put others needs before my own, and endure long suffering with my fellow man. While this is hard to do, Winthrop dug even deeper in saying that we must help beyond our ability (149). Winthrop's piece is overly persuasive for me, and I used it as a "refresher" of what my true purpose on earth is.