Now this, this is a cool fucking religion. Unfortunately, while plenty of religious organisations with dangerous beliefs and values still exist today, the Oneida Community dissolved towards the end of the 19th century. But fuck, these guys sounded awesome. Except for a couple of beliefs that are a pretty much not on, this would have been a religion I could get behind.
The Oneida Community was started all the way back in 1848 in Oneida, New York by a man named John Humphrey Noyes, a utopian socialist known for coining the term “free love”. The belief that the community was founded on was the return of Jesus Christ already happened back in the year 70AD, which in their eyes meant that we could live in a Heaven on Earth as perfect creatures with no sin. Fuck yeah!
In 1834, Noyes started a movement called New Haven Perfectionism in New Haven, Connecticut, after declaring himself morally perfect and incapable of committing sin. In 1841, he relocated to Putney, and started a community there. In 1846, the community started practicing a system Noyes called “complex marriage”, a system stating that all men are married to all women, and vice versa. In other words, it allowed them to all fuck each other, without it being considered adultery. The significantly less radical thinking people of Putney chased Noyes and his crew out of town in 1847, forcing them to relocate to Oneida, New York. So, in 1848, they purchased 40 acres of land, and the Oneida Community was born.
I have to say, their belief system is pretty fucking intersting. In addition to the points mentioned above, the Oneida Community practiced a from of eugenics that Noyes referred to as “stirpiculture”. Essentially, stirpiculture is a selective breeding process, intended to further advance the perfect human community they believed they were creating. They felt that having a child wasn’t just about how prepared the parents were, but how prepared the community was as a whole to support said child. A committee was started whereby a man and a woman would approach with the intention of having a child, and the committee would grant them permission based on the readiness of the community, along with the qualities that both the man and the woman possessed that could be carried on to the child they would birth.
This didn’t stop them from all fucking each other, by the way. The Oneida Community were firm believers in the idea of male continence, which boils down to a firm of birth control where the man would not ejaculate during or after sexual intercourse. It beats the Rhythm Method, I guess.
Their desire to control birth and the idea of complex marriage extended to the introduction to the world of sex for younger members of the Oneida Community. Young men were introduced to sex by postmenopausal women, helping to ensure that pregnancy would not occur. Similarly, older men would introduce teenage girls to sex. A little creepy, but that’s how shit went down.
Interestingly for a group of the time period, the Oneida Community were firm believers in the equality of the sexes. Along with that, they also practiced something called “mutual criticism”. To try and eliminate bad character traits in people and help them achieve perfection, a small committee of community members was appointed, and their job was to point out flaws and to criticise other members of the community. Every so often, replacement members were appointed to the committee, so that everybody got a chance to criticise the others, and nobody was above scrutiny.
All these attempts at building a utopia and more went on for over 30 years. Then, shit started to go sour. The aging John Humphrey Noyes tried to pass the leadership of the Oneida Community to his son, Theodore. Theodore, an agnostic, wasn’t so keen. The big nail in the coffin came in 1879 when Myron Kinsley, adviser to Noyes, informed him that a warrant was out for his arrest on charges of statutory rape. Remember me mentioning earlier that older men were having sex with teenage girls? Yeah, some of those girls were underage. He fled to Canada, and once there, wrote to his followers, advising them that they should abandon complex marriage, and return to more traditional values. Then in 1881, the Oneida Community was dissolved.
But fear not, Dear Reader, for this is not the end of our story. The reason the Oneida Community was able to sustain itself for as long as it did was down to the things that they were producing. They originally thought they could reproduce an environment akin to the Garden of Eden, and thus fruit-growing became their primary occupation. They tried that for 10 years, then moved on to business and manufacturing. In 1873, they sold over $300,000 worth of manufactured goods and farm produce! Fucking nice. In 1881, when the Oneida Community offically disbanded, they became a joint-stock corporation under the name Oneida Community Limited. They’re still around today, under the name Oneida Limited, and are one of the world’s most famous manufacturers of silverware, hence the above picture of spoons.
And for those who are interested, the Oneida Community Mansion House, built in 1861 by members of the group, is still around today, too, as a National Historic Landmark. Take a tour there, or spend a night in one of their guest rooms. Why not spend a night with your spouse, some couple friends of yours, and pretend that you’re a member of the Oneida Community, too? Just remember to keep your ejaculate to yourself.