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The radical notion that one could be without sin be perfect did not originate with John Humphrey Noyes, the leader of the Oneida Community and the perfectionist movement, however, his brand of perfectionism was genuinely new. He claimed that in 70 AD Christ had returned to earth, therefore liberation from sin was an accomplished fact. He proclaimed that he was, in fact, with out sin and that by following him others could lead a perfect, Sinless life. This concept was the basis for the formation of the Oneida Community. The perfectionists felt they could best learn selflessness in an environment where they shared everything. This environment was the biblical commune at the Oneida Community Mansion House.
John Humphrey Noyes goal was not to change the world but to construct a social and economic system that would provide an alternative structure within which the self-actualization of the members, through perfectionism, could occur. When it came to decision making for the group, Noyes gave the impression of operating through discussion and persuasion rather then proclamation, however, in the end Noyes made all final decisions. To act as a democratic type society there was a sort of hierarchy established concerning everyday operational decisions as well as economic policy and other more important matters. Committees discussed the everyday operational decisions. There were twenty-one standing committees with forty-eight different compartments. Committees were held for everything from heating and clothing to dentistry and incidentals. The committees would discuss these things endlessly and they were always making changes. They felt that change was important to keep the devil from finding you. They were so concerned with this that they even changed rooms often.
One of the prerequisites for joining the community was holding the belief that John Humphrey Noyes was Gods representative on earth. God inspired him through a chain of command: inspiration went from God to Jesus Christ to Paul who in turn revealed it to Noyes. Because of this belief, major decisions were made by Noyes who took counsel from the central members. The central members was made up of a dozen men and women who were all trusted, senior members. They dealt with issues like economic policy, sexual matters, relations with the outside, admission of new members, childbearing, childrearing, and Perfectionist doctrine. As was stated previously, all decisions were made or approved by Noyes.
The role of women was somewhat complicated as the Perfectionists believed in equality above all. However, on the outside world women were considered inferior during the time of the community. So although, Noyes was not working toward equality for women he did allow them the same opportunities as men. Women participated in all work roles as well as the adult education programs. In this sense, as with others, the community was ahead of its time.
The perfectionists participated in complex marriage. Noyes believed that it was natural for all women to love all men and vice versa. In fact, he felt that it was harmful to love one person on the basis that it is selfish and unnatural. He explained that the heart was created to love any number of times and any number of people. So, sexual relations were made with many partners and a variety of partners was encouraged. If a man wanted to have sex with a woman, he simply asked. Women almost always accepted. In fact, there were special rooms set up for this business if they were needed. Noyes also hoped that this system would promote group solidarity.
Another interesting aspect concerning sexual relations is the concept of ascending fellowship. Members were ranked on a scale in order of perfection. Members were encouraged to associate with someone higher on the scale if they desired to better themselves, which all desired to do. Those highest on the scale were almost always older more mature members. (They were assured that there was no downgrading by association with those lower.) These ideas made the younger members find the older members more desirable.
Discussion of sexual relations naturally leads to the discussion of children. Noyes waited some time to allow children to be a part of the Oneida Community. However, upon deciding to allow them he created a program he called stirpiculture. The idea was to create a biological improvement of the Oneida Community. A committee accepted applications from those desiring to be parents. The committee then decided who would become parents and with whom. Although some unchosen individuals conceived children the program was overall a success. The Oneida Community delivered and reared some of the healthiest children of that time.
The entire community raised the children. Although they knew who their parents were and they took their fathers name, they were encouraged to think of all Oneida adults as their parents. They stayed in the Childrens house, which was in the south wing of the mansion. The children attended school, with subjects similar to those taught in all schools. They also received religious training and job training. This program was considered a success.
I did take a tour of the mansion this semester. I tried to imagine what it would have been like during the time of the Oneida Community. The first thing I assumed was that there would have been a much larger yard and many more people outside enjoying such a nice day. However, I must say I was very excited to be seeing a place that I knew so much about. It is almost unbelievable that John Humphrey Noyes walked those halls and created such a community. It made me understand the importance of maintaining historical sites.
I would have to say that visiting the mansion did give me a better understanding of the Oneida Community. I was able to discuss much with the tour guide. She was very friendly and even asked me a question! (I brought my book with me.) Anyway, the courtyard was beautiful; as were many of the rooms, especially the Big Hall. I could just picture them listening to Mr. Noyes, listening to music, or working on a bee.
Visiting the mansion made me wonder if I could have been a part of the community during its existence. I decided that I would have liked to, although, I wasnt sure if Id have been able to. It would have been terribly difficult for me to leave my family for a life that they would have found silly or disgusting. However, being the independent woman that I am in 2002, I guess Id like to say that I would join. I was extremely interested in the concept of a utopian society. Especially one that was so interested in being perfect and being selfless. I have often thought that it is ridiculous to think that you can love the same person your whole life since people and situations change so frequently. I am also interested in the idea that we could biologically improve our society through the control of the gene pool. I have heard numerous times of people discussing the idea of getting a permit to have a child. I know these things are sort of ridiculous but interesting nonetheless.
In conclusion, I did enjoy this study, however, I cant say that it has influenced my thinking on marriage and family relations. I had already thought on these concepts based on ideas from other sources. I found it so interesting because I was accepting of the ideas. I appreciated the depth of the study and the better understanding it gave me of these concepts in marriage and family.
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