Why does the United States lack a social safety net? Blame the Pilgrims

Karla Starr
6 min readOct 22, 2021

In 1534, King Henry VIII wanted a divorce. Because the Pope wouldn’t grant him one, Henry decided to leave the Catholic Church and create the Church of England. It became mandatory to worship at the Church of England, which was essentially Catholicism 2.0: Just pretend the King is the Pope!

King Henry VIII (public domain via Flickr)

The invention of the printing press allowed the English to read the Bible in their native language, making the difference between the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic church and the actual teachings of the Bible all too clear.

The church, in splitting from the Catholic Church, hadn’t gone far enough in its mission to return to the Biblical values of thrift, hard work, and temperance⁠. Cue another split.

In 1608, a separatist group of religious refugees left England for Holland, where they were granted asylum. After 10 years, a sizeable fraction of them decided that they found the Dutch culture to be too secular and socialist. They feared that spending any more time there would corrupt their kids, who were learning the language. While in exile, these zealous Calvinists⁠—dismissively given the title “Puritans” for their close reading of the Bible — began plotting their escape to the New World to create a Christian utopia, a “redemptive community of God’s chosen people”¹⁠ free from…

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Karla Starr

Speaker & author x2, inc. Making Numbers Count (w/ Chip Heath). Behavioral science, cultural history, numbers.