From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 17-18:
The culture of Puritans, so their detractors thought, could be dangerously irreverent towards accepted hierarchies and social norms. Personal conversions were all very well, but they came from individual moments of revelation rather than participation in communal worship and ritual. And was it not suspiciously egalitarian for these people to go from place to place in search of sermons, critiquing them based on their own reading of Scripture, picking and choosing which preachers they listened to? Why not accept the minister they had been provided with in their own parish? Puritans believed that all members of the church were essentially equal, linked by their own personal conversion experience rather than deference to any worldly authority. They thought that ministers should be chosen by their congregations (though as one was at pains to point out, this meant that the ‘chief fathers, ancients and governors of the parish’ should do the choosing rather than the ‘multitude’). If they accepted bishops at all – and not all of them did – they certainly did not accept that their position existed by divine sanction. To some, indeed, the Puritan suspicion of earthly hierarchies represented a dangerous, even a revolutionary, ideology. Just like Catholics, so one sceptic alleged, ‘Puritans will have the King but an honourable member, not a chief governor in the churches of his own dominions.’
A key goal for Puritans was to reform society more widely, to stamp out practices they felt were damaging to the commonwealth and offensive to God. Calvin himself had turned Geneva into a morally pure commonwealth by using secular authorities to crush sin. Puritans wanted to do the same in England. It would, they hoped, become a new Jerusalem, a shining city on a hill rid of vices such as illicit sex, excessive drinking and swearing. They wanted people to pray, read Scripture and give willingly to support the poor. A particular bugbear was therefore traditional festivities and pastimes, especially sport on the Sabbath but also festival days. Pancake day, Morris dancing, wrestling after church and, of course, rushbearings like that at Cartmel were all ‘heathenish’: the ‘storehouse and nursery,’ wrote one cynic, ‘of bastardy’. Traditional celebrations were both disorderly, and they had Catholic connotations, such as the marking of saints’ days. They may have been exceedingly popular, especially with younger folk, but they were an affront to God, and often themselves brought drunkenness and illicit sex.
Naturally this was a campaign which ensured Puritans were seen by their enemies simply as wretched miseries: cantankerous prigs who instead of socialising sat ‘moping always at their books’. The Puritan, someone quipped, was a person who loved God ‘with all his soul, but hates his neighbour with all his heart’. Puritans were therefore disruptive in ways that transcended fine points of theology. They went about telling people the things they enjoyed were offensive to God and they caused bad blood between neighbours. They put communities on edge, created cultural conflict that burrowed deep into society.