Let us imagine, for the nonce, that someone decided to reconstruct the religion of a certain group of my ancestors: the Puritans.
Now, this is a more recent period of history than most reconstructions, and there’s a lot of information to be had. One can dig into the efforts to reform the Church of England, associated anti-Catholicism, persecution of Quakers, Calvinism, threads of congregational thought, debates over scriptural interpretation, the importance of preaching, the nature of the family, the embrace of marital sexuality in opposition to the value of virginity as primary, the significance of education, and all these things in the record. One can read the actual works of John Calvin, of William Bradshaw (who adopted the term as self-identification and wrote English Puritanisme containeung the maine opinions of the rigidest of those called Puritanes in the realme of England), William Ames, or Cotton Mather. One can, in short, imagine constructing that “city on the hill” in proper accord with Puritan principles.
There is, of course, a fly in this ointment, with this vision of perfect reconstruction.
Puritan religion didn’t die out in New England. So there is a continuous tradition of descent from the separatists who built all those little white churches to, often, the current occupants of those self-same little white churches, with their plain glass windows and steeples with clock towers.
Those churches are currently, for the most part, inhabited by these most popular theological descendants of the Puritans:
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
– L. P. Hartley