The First Fairy Tale
Dale K. Brown
Bishops, priests, and ministers of all faiths were now stuck with having to establish the credibility of their doctrines based on the acceptance of those doctrines by parishioners. Belief could no longer be enforced by decree. To the clergy this was a nightmare, if people can't be forced people to worship God, how could religion survive? For these and several other reasons, many bedraggled shepherds of the flock had only two words to say about liberty: "Freedom sucks!"
There was a silver lining to their dark cloud, though, because if the church was no longer allowed to overtly meddle in affairs of state, the trade off was the state would not meddle in affairs of the church. Minister's could preach whatever the public was willing to believe. Inventiveness counted here to, because no preacher ever went broke over estimating the critical reasoning of people determined to believe.
Several faiths, truly unique to North America, were conceived about this time and utopian experimentation soon began. It came in two basic flavors, past and future. For those who looked to the past for spiritual sustenance, paradise was to be found in a regression to purer, simpler times, a return to the garden as it were; this time with an eye towards doing it right. The Shakers were of this sort. For those who looked to the future, perfection of the saints was attainable by a sure and steady progression into that future, further improvements in the breed to accrue as a natural result of progressive enlightenment. This school of thought was championed by Mormons and Christian Scientists. The eighteenth century was as fertile soil for these new beliefs. Gods still reigned supreme in the heavens. They were the source of all prophecy, wisdom, and knowledge (so it was curious that they were still appalled by the way their creations had turned out). Nevertheless, they were at least attempting to make contact with their offspring via visions and revelations. But even these divine overtures did little to eradicate the deep seated spiritual psychosis and extreme social maladaptation which seemed to characterize the human race.
Perhaps this is not to be wondered at, though. After all, in the infancy of the breed, they had been kicked out of the house for eating apples, and left to wander the earth, rejected and homeless over a single mistake. If this wasn't punishment enough, Mother, in the guise of the church, had been telling the kids for years that Dad, in the guise of God, was coming home soon, at which time all bad little boys and girls (which presumably included damn near everybody, except Mother Theresa) were going to catch holy hell.
But the Lord chose not to grace the earth with his presence during those days. So sinners remained unrepentant, while the righteous continued to pray. Among the righteous was Mother Ann Lee. A remarkable woman, which is to say that many made remarks about her, some of which did not bear repeating. Her husband undoubtedly made a few, because after she had given birth to four children, all of whom died in infancy, she came to the quite natural conclusion that sex was the problem. If she hadn't had sex, she wouldn't have had them. If she hadn't had them, they wouldn't have died. In the cold light of this frigid logic, she promptly cut her husband off. Forever!
She was originally a Quaker, a name derived from their habit of "quaking" while in the presence of the Lord. For Mother Ann and several others, however, this pastime soon became blase so they joined a more fervent offshoot called the 'Shaking Quakers'. Their meetings started off quietly enough with a few obligatory bumps and grinds and the odd howl or two, but things soon deteriorated as "the powers on high overshadowed them" and "a mighty trembling infused the holy congregation" as they were afflicted by the very power of God Almighty!
The palsied shrieking and speaking in tongues went on all night and far into the wee hours of the morning, after which they retired to their respective homes to regroup for another night of devotion.
None of these activities endeared them to those who lived nearby, though. Complaints and other more tangible tokens of their neighbor's displeasure soon surfaced. In light of what was obvious religious persecution, Mother Ann and her flock bought land near Albany, New York on which to live, worship, and farm independently. They intended to create the perfect Christian society on earth, ruled not by man but by god, which is fortunate because Mother Ann, not being a man, was now regarded by her flock as the living embodiment of the second coming.
The Shaker communities at first had no real difficulty attracting new converts. They settled in cloistered communes in New York, New England, Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. In the end, it was not their preoccupation with shaking but, rather, their aversion to sex which did them in.
Ann Lee's death on September 8, 1784 further shattered the communities and, over the years, this experiment in utopia died out altogether. This was not the end of imaginative doctrine in America, however. Other inventive beliefs, were in the making. Where one failed, another might succeed. And although filthy, vile sex was once again to rear its lascivious head in new congregations of the called and chosen, it would never again be a lack of it which would cause all the problems.
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