Shakerin’ It

I’ve been reading the Wikipedia page about the Shakers (not to be confused with the Quakers.)

The Shakers believed in Christ’s immanent return to Earth–as a woman. Many of their preachers were female, and in 1770, one of their leaders, Anne Lee, was declared the Messiah. (Thereafter she was called Mother Anne.)

The Shakers had split from the Quakers, taking with them many of the more charismatic members and leaving behind a calmer set of Quakers. Shakers spoke in tongues, danced, shook, and received divine revelations. They believed that God was both male and female and practiced male/female equality in community leadership and structure. They became conscientious objectors during the Civil War, and as you probably already know, had no children.

They are also an example of successful religious communism–possibly because membership was voluntary, control was local, and the lifestyle agrarian.

Shaker communities managed to attract new members and remained economically successful until the Industrial Revolution radically changed the economic landscape, though I’m not sure it’s really the IR’s fault. There were 5 or 6,000 Shakers in the US in the 1800s (remember, the whole population of the US was much lower back then); today there are 3, in Maine.

I feel kinda bad for them.

A few thoughts:

1. There were some folks who adopted almost all of Shakerism, except the celibacy. This “Shakerism Light” sounds very close to what I would believe if I were a Christian. (Honestly, before I learned about groups like the Shakers and religious communism, I always wondered why Christians weren’t all in favor of these sorts of arrangements, as they seemed more Biblically supported than building up treasures on Earth.) A large chunk of my family attends a charismatic denomination, and Shakerism seem to have been popular with people like us.

2. The “Era of Manifestations” (Shakers began having more visions and other charismatic experiences) occurred about the same time as they expanded into Greater Appalachia. Charismatic churches are still most popular in Greater Appalachia, and viewed as low-class by outsiders. Were Shakers regarded as low-class at the time?

3. I suspect the Shakerism survived as long as it did by functioning like Protestant monks/nuns. Many Catholic monasteries have been around for centuries (or longer,) despite not allowing their members to have children, because their stock is regularly replenished from the ranks of regular Catholics. Most monasteries/nunneries in the West are probably hurting for members these days, too, but for Shakers, the lack of a formal relationship between them and other Protestants has probably been especially bad for their survival.

4. There seems to be a general social effect where female achievement and birthrates are negatively correlated. This may be entirely practical, as child-rearing and careers both take time, which is not infinite.

5. Do long-term successful communistic societies require little to no reproduction? With no children, people have more incentive to leave their worldly belongings to the community; with children, people try to amass wealth to support their children and withdraw it from the community.

6. Being religious is probably also an advantage for such communes, as people tend to be on their best behavior when they think god is watching.

7. Perhaps no communist system can thrive in an industrialized society.

3 thoughts on “Shakerin’ It

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