The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, , at sacred-texts.com
They call themselves "Perfectionists."
They hold to the Bible as the "text-book of the Spirit of truth;" to "Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God;" to "the apostles and Primitive Church as the exponents of the everlasting Gospel." They believe that "the second advent of Christ took place at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem;" that "at that time there was a primary resurrection and judgment in the spirit world;" and "that the final kingdom of God then began in the heavens; that the manifestation of that kingdom in the visible world is now approaching; that its approach is ushering in the second and final resurrection and judgment; that a Church on earth is now rising to meet the approaching kingdom in the heavens, and to become its duplicate and representative; that inspiration, or open communication with God and the heavens, involving perfect holiness, is the element of connection between the Church on earth
and the Church in the heavens, and the power by which the kingdom of God is to be established and reign in the world." *
They assert, further, that "the Gospel provides for complete salvation from sin"—hence the name they assume of "Perfectionists." "Salvation from sin," they say, "is the foundation needed by all other reforms."
"Do you, then, claim to live sinless lives?" I asked; and received this answer:
"We consider the community to be a Church, and our theory of a Christian Church, as constituted in the apostolic age, is that it is a school, consisting of many classes, from those who are in the lowest degree of faith to those who have attained the condition of certain and eternal salvation from sin. The only direct answer, therefore, that we can give to your question is that some of us claim to live sinless lives, and some do not. A sinless life is the standard of the community, which all believe to be practicable, and to which all are taught to aspire. Yet we recognize the two general classes, which were characterized by Paul as the "nepiou" and the "teleioi." Our belief is that a Christian Church can exist only when the "teleioi" are in the ascendant and have control."
In compliance with my request, the following definition of "Perfectionism" was written out for me as authoritative:
"The bare doctrine of Perfectionism might be presented in a single sentence thus:
"As the doctrine of temperance is total abstinence from alcoholic drinks, and the doctrine of anti-slavery is immediate abolition of human bondage, so the doctrine of Perfectionism is immediate and total cessation from sin.
"But the analogy thus suggested between Perfectionism and two popular reforms is by no means to be regarded as defining the character and methods of Perfectionism. Salvation from
sin, as we understand it, is not a system of duty-doing under a code of dry laws, Scriptural or natural; but is a special phase of religious experience, having for its basis spiritual intercourse with God. All religionists of the positive sort believe in a personal God, and assume that he is a sociable being. This faith leads them to seek intercourse with him, to approach him by prayer, to give him their hearts, to live in communion with him. These exercises and the various states and changes of the inner life connected with them constitute the staple of what is commonly called religious experience. Such experience, of course, has more or less effect on the character and external conduct. We cannot live in familiar intercourse with human beings without becoming better or worse under their influence; and certainly fellowship with God must affect still more powerfully all the springs of action. Perfectionists hold that intercourse with God may proceed so far as to destroy selfishness in the heart, and so make an end of sin. This is the special phase of religious experience which we profess, and for which we are called Perfectionists."
Among other matters, they hold that "the Jews are, by God's perpetual covenant, the royal nation;" that the obligation to observe the Sabbath passed away with the Jewish dispensation, and is "adverse to the advance of man into new and true arrangements;" that "the original organization instituted by Christ [the Primitive Church] is accessible to us, and that our main business as reformers is to open communication with that heavenly body;" and they "refer all their experience to the invisible hosts who are contending over them."
I must add, to explain the last sentence, that they are not Spiritualists in the sense in which that word is nowadays usually employed, and in which the Shakers are Spiritualists; but they hold that they are in a peculiar and direct manner under the guidance of God and good spirits. "Saving faith, according to the Bible, places man in such a relation to God that he
is authorized to ask favors of him as a child asks favors of his father. Prayer without expectation of an answer is a performance not sanctioned by Scripture nor by common-sense. But prayer with expectation of an answer (that is, the prayer of faith) is impossible, on the supposition that 'the age of miracles is past,' and that God no longer interferes with the regular routine of nature." Hence their belief in what they call "Faith-cures," of which I shall speak further on.
Community of goods and of persons they hold to have been taught and commanded by Jesus: "Jesus Christ offers to save men from all evil—from sin and death itself; but he always states it as a necessary condition of their accepting his help that they shall forsake all other; and particularly that they shall get rid of their private property." Communism they hold therefore to be "the social state of the resurrection." "The account on the sides of life and death arranges itself thus:
The community system, which they thus hold to have been divinely commanded, they extend beyond property—to persons; and thus they justify their extraordinary social system, in which there is no marriage; or, as they put it, "complex marriage takes the place of simple." They surround this singular and, so far as I know, unprecedented combination of polygamy and polyandry with certain religious and social restraints; but affirm that there is "no intrinsic difference between property in persons and property in things; and that the same spirit which abolished exclusiveness in regard to money would
abolish, if circumstances allowed full scope to it, exclusiveness in regard to women and children." *
It is an extraordinary evidence of the capacity of mankind for various and extreme religious beliefs, that many men have brought their wives and young daughters into the Oneida Community.
They have no preaching; do not use Baptism nor the Lord's Supper; do not observe Sunday, because they hold that with them every day is a Sabbath; do not pray aloud; and Avoid with considerable care all set forms. They read the Bible and quote it much.
They believe that the exercise of sufficient faith in prayer to God is capable of restoring the sick to health; and assert that there have been in their experience and among their membership a number of such cures. In a "Free-Church Tract," dated "Oneida Reserve, 1850," there is an account of such a cure of Mrs. M. A. Hall, ill of consumption, and given up by her physicians. In this case J. H. Noyes and Mrs. Cragin were those whose "power of faith" was supposed to have acted; and Mrs. Hall herself wrote, two years later: "From a helpless, bed-ridden state, in which I was unable to move, or even to be moved without excruciating pain, I was instantly raised to a consciousness of perfect health. I was constrained to declare again and again that I was perfectly well. My eyes, which before could not bear the light, were opened to the blaze of day and became strong. My appetite was restored, and all pain removed." This is said to have taken place in June, 1847. The following case is reported in the Circular for February 9th of the present year (1874), and the description of the injury, which immediately follows, is given by Dr. Cragin—a member of the Oneida Community—whom I understand to be a regularly educated physician. The sufferer was a woman, Mrs. M.
"Her hand was passed between the rubber rollers of a wringing-machine. The machine was new, and the rollers were screwed down so that it brought a very heavy pressure on her hand, evidently crowding the bones all out of place and stretching the ligaments, besides seriously injuring the nerves of her hand and arm. When she came here from Wallingford Community, several weeks after the accident, not only the nerves of her hand were essentially paralyzed, but the trunk nerve of her arm was paralyzed and caused her a great deal of suffering. It was as helpless as though completely paralyzed: she had not sufficient control over her hand to bend her fingers.
"That was her condition up to the time of the cure. I could not see from the time she came here to the time of the cure that there was any change for the better. I told her the first time I examined her hand that, according to the ordinary course of such things, she must not expect to get the use of it under twelve months, if she did then. At the same time I told her I would not limit the power of God.
"Her general health improved, but her hand caused her the acutest suffering. It would awaken her in the night, and oblige her to get up and spend hours in rubbing it and trying to allay the pain. If any one has had a jumping toothache, he can imagine something what her suffering was, only the pain extended over the whole hand and arm, instead of being confined to one small place like a tooth. I have known of strong men who had the nervous system of an arm similarly affected, who begged that their arms might be taken off, and have indeed suffered amputation rather than endure the pain.
"For some time before her cure there had been considerable talk in the family about faith-cures, and persons had talked with her on the subject, and encouraged her to expect to have such a cure as Harriet Hall did. Finally Mr. Noyes's interest was aroused, and he invoked a committee for her—not so much to criticize as to comfort her, and bring to bear on her the concentrated attention and faith of the family. She was stimulated by this criticism to cheerfulness and hope, and to put herself into the social current, keeping around as much as she could where there was the most life and faith. A private criticism soon after penetrated her spirit, and separated her from a brooding influence of evil that she had come under in a heart affair.
"Still she suffered with her hand as much as ever, up to the time of her sudden cure. A few evenings after this private criticism we had a very interesting meeting, and she was present in the gallery. The subject
was the power of prayer, and there was a good deal of faith experience related, and she appeared the next morning shaking hands with every body she met. Now you see her washing dishes and making beds.
"Mrs. A.—The morning she was cured I was at work in the hall, when she came running toward me, saying, 'I'm cured! I'm cured!' Then she shook hands with me, using the hand that had been so bad, and giving a hearty pressure with it.
"Dr. C.—To show that the case is not one of imagination, I will say that the day before the cure she could not have it touched without suffering pain. She had not been dressed for a week, but that morning she bathed and dressed herself and made her bed, and then went to Joppa.
"Mr. N.—She came down to Joppa with her hands all free, and went out on the ice; I don't know that she caught any fish, but she attended the 'tip-ups.'
"Mrs. C.—She said to me that she had attended to dieting and all the prescriptions that were given her, and got no help from them; and she had made up her mind that if there was any thing done for her, the community must take hold and do it.
"W. A. H.—Let us be united about this case; and if it be imagination, let us have more of it; and if it be the power of faith, let us have more faith.
"C. W. U.—Was Mrs. M. conscious of any precise moment when the pain left her in the night?
"Mrs. M. [the person who was cured].—After the meeting in which we talked about faith-cures, I went to my room and prayed to God to take the pain out of my hand, and told him if he did I would glorify him with it. The pain left me, and I could stretch out my arm farther than I had been able to since it was hurt. I went to bed, and slept until four o'clock without waking; then I awoke and found I was not in pain, and that I could stretch out my arm and move my fingers. Then I thought—'I am well.' I got up, took a bath, and dressed myself. After this my arm ached some, but I said, 'I am well; I am made every whit whole.' I kept saying that to myself, and the pain left me entirely. My arm has begun to ache nearly every day since then, but I insist that I am well, and the pain ceases. That arm is not yet as strong as the other, but is improving daily.
"Mrs. C.—I have had considerable of that kind of experience during the last few years. For two years I raised blood a good deal, and thought
a great many times that I was going to die—could not get that idea out of my mind. Mrs. M. talked with me about it, and told me I must not give up to my imaginations. I was put into business two years ago, and some days my head swam so that I could hardly go about, but I did what was given me to do; and finally I came to a point in my experience where I said, 'I don't care if I do raise blood; I am not going to be frightened by it; I had as soon raise blood as do any thing else.' When I got there my trouble left me."
I have copied this account at some length, because it speaks in detail of a quite recent occurrence, and shows, in a characteristic way, their manner of dealing with disease.
They profess also to have wrought cures by what they call "Criticism," of which I shall speak further on.
Concerning their management of the intercourse of the sexes, so much has been written, by themselves and by others, that I think I need here say only that—
1st. They regard their system as part of their religion. Noyes said, in a "Home Talk," reported in the Circular, February 2,1874: "Woe to him who abolishes the law of the apostasy before he stands in the holiness of the resurrection. The law of the apostasy is the law of marriage; and it is true that whoever undertakes to enter into the liberty of the resurrection without the holiness of the resurrection, will get woe and not happiness. It is as important for the young now as it was for their fathers then, that they should know that holiness of heart is what they must have before they get liberty in love. They must put the first thing first, as I did and as their parents did; they must be Perfectionists before they are Communists." He seems to see, too, that "complex marriage," as he calls it, is not without grave dangers to the community, for he added, in the same "Home Talk:" "We have got into the position of Communism, where without genuine salvation from sin our passions will overwhelm us, and nothing but confusion and misery can be expected. On the other hand, we have
got into a position where, if we do have the grace of God triumphant in our hearts and flowing through all our nature, there is an opportunity for harmony and happiness beyond all that imagination has conceived. So it is hell behind us, and heaven before us, and a necessity that we should march!"
2d. "Complex marriage" means, in their practice: that, within the limits of the community membership, any man and woman may and do freely cohabit, having first gained each other's consent, not by private conversation or courtship, but through the intervention of some third person or persons; that they strongly discourage, as an evidence of sinful selfishness, what they call "exclusive and idolatrous attachment" of two persons for each other, and aim to break up by "criticism" and other means every thing of this kind in the community; that they teach the advisability of pairing persons of different ages, the young of one sex with the aged of the other, and as the matter is under the control and management of the more aged members it is thus arranged; that "persons are not obliged, under any circumstances, to receive the attentions of those whom they do not like;" and that the propagation of children is controlled by the society, which pretends to conduct this matter on scientific principles: "Previous to about two and a half years ago we refrained from the usual rate of childbearing, for several reasons, financial and otherwise. Since that time we have made an attempt to produce the usual number of offspring to which people in the middle classes are able to afford judicious moral and spiritual care, with the advantage of a liberal education. In this attempt twenty-four men and twenty women have been engaged, selected from among those who have most thoroughly practiced our social theory." *
Finally, they find in practice a strong tendency toward what they call "selfish love"—that is to say, the attachment
of two persons to each other, and their desire to be true to each other; and there are here and there in their publications signs that there has been suffering among their young people on this account. They rebuke this propensity, however, as selfish and sinful, and break it down rigorously.
269:* Statement in the Circular.
272:* "History of American Socialisms," by J. H. Noyes, p. 625.
276:* "Essay on Scientific Propagation," by John Humphrey Noyes.