Posts Tagged ‘Cotton Mathers’


The sincere mode of behaviour seeks to replace the “mere convention” of ritual with a genuine and thoughtful state of internal conviction. Rather than becoming what we do through ritual, we do what we have become through self-examination.


The need to establish society and morality on the basis of sincerity, though, runs into a deep problem. How can we express true sincerity except by filtering it through the social conventions of language? How are we to know if people’s professions of sincerity are genuine or just acts of hypocrisy, representations of their true self or just what they would say “as if” they were sincere? Worse still, even our own private thoughts can work only through language, and thus can never fully reveal our innermost sincerity (or lack of it). We can accumulate great quantities of discourse, but never dispel the suspicion—even within our own minds—that it is all just artifice. This is why the Puritans produced such an enormous quantity of written self-examination, like Cotton Mather’s famous autobiographical writings. It is just as evident in our teenage children’s endless concern with establishing the truth of feelings-their own and those of their peers. The Calvinist’s “Am I really saved?” and the teenager’s “Am I really in love?” are at heart similar kinds of questions. […] It is not enough to love each other sincerely if people fail to act as if they love each other; and acting as if they love each other includes ritualized forms of expressing concern, verbally and in concrete deeds of helpfulness.

Ritual and its Consequences: an Essay on the Limits of Sincerity – Adam Seligman, Robert Weller, Michael Puett, Bennett Simon

I’ll be honest: I’m imagining The Calvinist’s “Am I really saved?” as being some kind of 90s rave track.

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