A perfect world. Harmony amongst the masses, it is the race for our own promised land. Communities dating back to the early beginnings reveal our desires for perfection. From the Garden of Eden to the Shakers of Maine, they embraced the ideals of God’s creations. Following the Market Revolution, it became a common objective to take up the Second Great Awakening and embrace the ability to escape one’s damnation to hell out of fear; this inspiration created a lifestyle out of apprehension for Mother Ann Lee and her people. As biproducts of our ideal futures, the idea of a utopian society acts as a fiasco to satisfy the desires of the American individual; in turn, we are feeding a dividing force for the nation through our personal interpretations of freedom.
Originally located in England in 1747, the Shakers, under Mother Ann Lee, developed from the Quakers of the 17th Century. Both groups believed that everybody could find God within themselves, rather than through clergy or rituals, but the Shakers tended to be more emotional and affectionate in their worship. “Shakers also believed that their lives should be dedicated to pursuing perfection and continuously confessing their sins and attempting a cessation of sinning (Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village).” During the moral deterioration she witnessed in the city, Ann developed an early repulsion for coitus. In time, she would incorporate those feelings into her analysis of human sinfulness.
Ultimately, she became convinced that the sensual act was the original sin of Adam and Eve and that lust was the root of all evil. Much like many other prophets throughout history, Ann Lee began to have visions of God before coming to America to establish her community. She claimed that he told her that the derivation of all sin was through copulation and demanded celibacy from “true” followers, furthering her case. Because of this, she was certain to be the second coming of Christ as her visions from the Lord served as a form of validation.
In 1772, God once again came to her. She said, “I knew that I had a vision of America, I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shown with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch representing the Church of Christ.” With this apparition, she was certain that the Lord was sending her a sign to begin her following in the U.S. and spread his philosophies to light a path of guidance for the American populace as an insignia of perfection. At this time, the Shakers believed that Christ would come again soon but this time, in the form of a woman.
After hearing Lee’s visions, they no longer considered her human, but instead divine. The Shakers lived by the motto, “Put your hands to work, and your hearts to God.” Not only were they driven by the words of the Lord, but they also relied on his ability to guide them to a life free from sin. Commonly referring to themselves as part of “the Chosen Land,” they strongly believed that they were most notable for their craftsmanship because God dwelt in the details and quality of their work as a sort of justification of his second coming. According to the Social Welfare Library, “The Shakers, named after their ecstatic dancing as worship, are the longest-lived American utopian experiment… This sect of Quakers was notable for their shaking as they danced and spoke in tongues.”
Their lifestyle was solely centered around their worship for the Lord and their determination to satisfy him. Not only did they focus on spiritual and physical equality, but also gender parity. Unlike other citizens of the U.S. at the time, God was held accountable for creating both man and woman, therefore concluding that spheres of activity and responsibility were to be kept secret for both sexes. Being strictly religious, the Shakers claimed to live communally, confess regularly, separate themselves from the outside world, and most importantly, practice celibacy.
The religious group became a dying breed by the late 1800s due to their régime as celibates. If they were to become involved in sexual acts, they would be exiled, but because many refused to turn against their deity like Adam and Eve once did, they depopulated rather quickly. Today, in New Gloucester, Maine, the last and only active Shaker community remains in attempts to succeed as the first true utopian society in the name of the Lord.
Beginning in 19th Century America, various people started to separate themselves from the horrors of the prevailing world to join the Second Great Awakening; they assumed that they’d be destined to hell because of advancements towards modern improvement. Many turned to the religious movement as a way of counteracting The Market Revolution, which was perceived as an emphasis on the use of consumerism, and prying at its satanic qualities, such as greed. It was thought that one should not be focused on themselves, but rather the greater good of the community.
As a motive for most, groups like the Shakers turned to a life of isolation to concentrate on a time free from sin because of the progressing Market Revolution. Hiding from the modern world, they would attempt to escape any evil temptations brought from the upheaval, such as drinking and coitus. Not only would this allow for a virtuous existence, but it would also aim towards complete devotion to the Lord because of the absence of interferences and opportunities to step out of line. The Shakers were much like ordinary people who chose to give up their families, property, and worldly ties in order “to know, by daily experience, the peaceable nature of Christ’s kingdom.”
In return, they were to be welcomed into “holy families” in which men and women were to live as brother and sister. All property was held equally, and everyone participated in the rigorous daily task of transforming Earth into heaven. Therefore, it was the duty of each and every believer to live purely in “the kingdom come” and to strive for perfection in everything they did. The thought of giving up everything you’ve been accustomed to for something that isn’t a guarantee, but rather hopeful wishing, showed their true purpose as a utopian community: unadulterated egocentrism. The Shakers’ aspirations were neither societal nor based on material goods, but instead they were centered around divination. As millennialists, they were solely unified in the belief that Christ had come again. And although this brought together the religious faction, it did far greater damage to the entire community as they separated from the world they once knew.
Starting with the creation of man, the vision of perfectionism was the ideal routine for life on Earth. Many societies were driven by their potential for excellence, especially in the hands of the Lord. It was believed that those who were brought to Earth were meant to bring out a path similar to the one God paved for us. The Garden of Eden, according to Christian principles, acted as the first utopian society. “Many believe that Eden was not an actual physical location, but a state of blessed existence that was lost when Adam and Eve fell and lost their oneness with God (New World Encyclopedia).”
It is believed that God constructed all of life in six days. Each day, he worked to form different elements for his idyllic creation. On the last day, he crafted a man, Adam, and then a woman, Eve, from the dust of the ground. As they were placed in the Garden, God added two trees: The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Although they may not have been literal trees, the Tree of Life was widely seen as a symbol of the “perfect man,” who was entirely instilled by God’s spirit, and the Messianic Age.
The intentions of the Garden of Eden were to set the standards of a “perfect” world, but as Adam and Eve betrayed God’s requests to take the fruit of everlasting life, and instead the Forbidden Fruit, they corrupted society, making it impossible to create a “true utopian community” from that point on. In addition to this, God chose humans to rise above those around them, much like Jesus did, although he had been betrayed time after time. A hierarchy was established in the eyes of God, sinners were placed at the bottom and those who worked towards forgiveness scaled the pyramid in attempts to succeed in Christian perfectionism and win a spot in heaven.
In the Lord’s Prayer, it says, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come I will be done, in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not in temptation but deliver us from evil. For thin is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever (Matthew 6:9-13).” In this prayer, it outlines the balance of God’s splendor and our individual needs. The threefold purpose of his entreaty was to sanctify God’s name, bring in his kingdom to ensure his will, and approach the present, past, and future of God’s presence. Each of these would act as witness for modern utopian societies.
In numerous efforts to create a “perfect society,” it has only furthered our attempts for a post-apocalyptic world. In Classical Literature, such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, our efforts have only led to chaos and it is predictable that our differences will bring us to our downfall in the near future. Currently, groups like the Amish and the Mennonite live in confinement as a way of pursuing their devotion to God and escaping modern society, much like the Shakers. By isolating themselves from civilization, it is a way of disconnecting from secular culture and reflecting on transcendentalist ideologies from the Market Revolution. Believing that a western existence constructs a polluting effect, the Amish strongly agree with its promotion of arrogance, gluttony, depravity, and materialism.
Therefore, they do not connect to the electrical grid with modern appliances or technology. In addition to this, many of their congregations practice salvation by works. They believe God decides their eternal destiny by weighing their lifelong obedience to the rule of the church against their disobedience. Acting much like a modern utopian trial, they have set aside their personal needs for that of God’s forgiveness. Driven by our selfishness, we have, in turn, drifted away from a utopia. Karl Marx also once searched for this same longing of a cohesive society.
“His entire system is the search of the utopian mind for the definitive stabilization of mankind or, in agnostic terms, its reabsorption…” For Marx, his pursuit for a utopia was an obvious attack on God’s creation and a vicious desire to terminate it. His impression of defeating the diverse façades of creation and returning to an allegedly lost unity with God became his ambition. Ultimately, our differences in the United States have been curtailing our progress to a successful “seventh heaven” throughout all of history. By struggling to have the entirety settle on how we should live, it acts as more of a limitation on our freedoms rather than a unifying force for our nation.
In conclusion, the idea of a utopian society has acted as a letdown in attempts satisfy the wishes of everyone and has ultimately led us to a period foreshadowed by the effects of our failed endeavors. Instead of unifying America, we have been nourishing an apportion for our country because of our own interpretations of freedom throughout history. Not only are we victims of our own choices, but we are also sufferers of the futures that we wish to see. Because of this, we are currently living in a post-apocalyptic period and it is thought, by modern Christians, that we have been headed in this direction since the original sin of Adam and Eve.