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Christian Tantra

Subject: Christian Tantra
(John Humphrey Noyes: Complex Marriage and Male Continence)
	The Shakers, and most revivalists, had been content to permit the maximum
	amount of license that was compatible with absolute chastity. The
	complement of this license was a rigid system of taboo, which was observed
	with a ritualistic attention to detail.... The students of both sexes who
	attended [Oberlin Theological Seminary] prided themselves upon their
	ability to withstand all sexual temptation. But since their spiritual
	muscles were in such fine trim, the desire to exercise them was corres-
	pondingly great. How could they be certain of their stamina and resistance
	-- how, indeed, could they even keep in training -- without regular practice
	in jumping the hurdles and leaping the ditches of sexual temptation? Some
	means must be found of arousing passion in order that it might be resisted
	-- some means, of course, that would have the blessing of religious sanction.
	What better method could be found than that ancient custom of taking
	'spiritual wives' -- a tradition handed down from the Agapetae of early
	Christian days? ... [Lucinia] Umphreville stated that perfection could be
	derived from passionate love, provided the lovers lived together without
	indulging their carnal desires. Should they be so weak as to submit to
	temptation, the spiritual couples would prove that they were unworthy and
	ill-assorted. They would have to look for new partners, and go on
	experimenting and searching until the ideal partner was found. Umphreville 
	Perfectionism, in fact, by making provision for lapses from grace, slyly
	admitted erotic possibilities by a side door.... In the middle 'thirties 
	[that's *1830s*] there appeared among these Perfectionists an earnest and
	eager young man who was to give the doctrine a revolutionary twist of his
	own by actually establishing a colony of Perfectionists who would openly
	practise a completely new system of sexual relations.
	John Humphrey Noyes, unlike the founders of most religious communities,
	came of a well-established family. His father had represented Vermont
	in Congress, and his mother was a great-aunt of Rutherford Birchard Hayes,
	nineteenth President of the United States. Noyes was born a rebel, and
	was happily endowed with the temerity that such men require in order to
	achieve success. He was converted at a revival in 1831, at the age of
	twenty, having previously shown little interest in theology or, indeed,
	in the studies he had been pursuing at Dartmouth. Moving now to Andover
	and Yale Divinity Schools, he prepared to enter the ministry, but to
	enter it on his terms: 'If you are to be a minister,' said his father,
	'you must think and preach as the rest of the ministers do; if you get
	out of the traces, they will whip you in.' 'Never!' replied Noyes,
	'never will I be whipped by ministers or anybody else into views that
	do not commend themselves to my understanding as guided by the Bible
	and enlightened by the Spirit.' This animated reply was a prophetic
	utterance, for Noyes very soon got out of the traces. His trouble was
	that he simply couldn't believe he was a sinner. Try as he might, he
	couldn't summon up any feelings of deep guilt or despair. Yet this
	very waywardness was itself a sin in the eyes of the orthodox; and Noyes,
	being unable to admit it, somehow had to devise a means of abolishing
	sin altogether. His solution to this problem was so astoundingly simple
	that it amounted to a stroke of genius. In the summer of 1833, while
	reading the last words of the Fourth Gospel, Noyes received a sudden
	illumination concerning Christ's words, 'If I will that he tarry till I
	come, what is that to thee?' 'I knew', wrote Noyes, 'that the time
	appointed for the Second Advent was within one generation from the time
	of Christ's personal ministry' -- in A.D. 70, to be precise. The Second
	Coming had taken place centuries ago -- so long ago, in fact, that no
	record of the event had been preserved. The sinners had been divided
	from the saved, and he that sinned now, so Noyes preached, was of the
	devil. Noyes himself had the courage to proclaim that he did not sin,
	and the grace to confess that Christ had absolved him....
	The implications of a Second Advent that has already taken place are
	bound to be far-reaching. The Shakers and the Noyesian Perfectionists,
	both of whom thought they were living in a state of regeneration,
	believed that if they were not quite in heaven itself, they were at
	least close enough to it to order their lives upon heavenly conventions.
	One such convention for which Biblical authority existed was the absence
	of marriage in Heaven -- where 'they neither marry nor are given in
	marriage'. The Shakers, who wanted to be celibate, used this text in
	order to justify their desires: the followers of Noyes, who did not want
	celibacy, used the same text to support a form of regulated promiscuity.
	In 1837 'The Battle Axe' published a letter from Noyes explaining his
	conception of the sexual relations that ought to exist between men and
	women. In his letter, he stated uncompromisingly that when the will of
	God is done on earth as it is in Heaven '*there will be no marriage*.
	The marriage supper of the Lamb is a feast at which *every dish is free
	to every guest*. Exclusiveness, jealousy, quarrelling have no place
	there, for the same reason as that which forbids a guest at a thanksgiving
	dinner to claim each his separate dish, and quarrel with the rest for his
	rights. In a holy community, there is no more reason why sexual
	intercourse should be restrained by law, than why eating and drinking
	should be -- and there is as little occasion for shame in the one case as
	in the other.'
	... in 1840 the Putney Association came into being -- as a purely
	religious body, thus described in 'The Witness':

		'Our establishment, such as it is, exists in the midst of
	        an ordinary village, and differs not in its relation to the
	        community around from a manufacturing corporation or any
	        other ordinary association.  A few familes of the same
	        religious faith, without any formal scheme or written laws,
	        have agreed to regard themselves as one family, and their
	        relations to one another are regulated as far as possible
	        by this idea.  The special object of the association is not
	        to make money, nor to exemplify the perfection of social
	        life, but to support the publication of the gospel of
	        salvation from sin, by papers, books, tracts, etc.  Formal
	        community of property is not regarded by us as obligatory
	        on principle, but as expedient with reference to our present
	        circumstances and objects.  We are attempting no scientific
	        experiments in political economy nor in social science, and
	        beg to be excused from association in the public mind with
	        those who are making such experiments.  Our highest ambition
	        is to be able to preach Christ without being burdensome to
	        any, and to act out as far as possible the family spirit of
	        of the gospel.  When we find a better way than our present
	        plan to attain these objects we shall freely change our mode
	        of living.'
	They soon found 'a better way than their present plan' of living, and
	in 1844 adopted communism, in which change Noyes had been influenced by
	the example of the Shakers.... it was at Putney... that Noyes first 
	formulated his ideas of Male Continence and Complex Marriage, which were 
	adopted by the community in 1846.
	These latter practices were more than the inquisitive neighbors were
	prepared to tolerate. In the following year the persecution of the
	community culminated in the indictment of Noyes on the grounds of
	adultery. Noyes... purchased... land in another state.... at Oneida....
	In 1847... it was unaninimously adopted by the forty or fifty members
	at Putney 'that the Kingdom of God had come'....
	The birth of Oneida Community was preceded by the conceptions of
	Male Continence and Complex Marriage. Both systems, although given
	religious justification, were invented by Noyes in order to overcome
	the suffering which was then the common experience of women in childbirth.
	Mrs. Noyes had given birth to five babies in six years, and four of them
	had been stillborn. Her husband could see no religious reason for
	permitting such pain and disappointment; but, since he disapproved of
	contraceptives, he advocated the practice of 'self-control', or *coitus
	reservatus*. At the same time Noyes the organiser, the lover of
	scientific method and order, was shocked by haphazard procreation, which
	often resulted in the birth of deformed or mentally deficient children.
	'We are opposed', he wrote in 'Bible Communism', 'to random procreation,
	which is unavoidable in the marriage system. But we are in favour of
	intelligent, well-ordered procreation. The physiologists say that the
	race cannot be raised from ruin till propagation is made a matter of
	science; but they point out no way of making it so. Procreation is
	controlled and reduced to a science in the case of valuable domestic
	brutes; but marriage and fashion forbid any such system among human beings.
	We believe the time will come when involuntary and random propagation will
	cease, and when scientific combination will be applied to human generation
	as freely and successfully as it is to that of other animals. The way will
	be open for this when amativeness can have its proper gratification without
	drawing after it procreation as a necessary sequence. And at all events,
	we believe that good sense and benevolence will very soon sanction and
	enforce the rule that women shall bear children only when they choose....'
	But 'amativeness' was seldom satisfied by monogamy, which 'gives to
	sexual appetite only a scanty and monotonous allowance, and so produces
	the natural vices of poverty, contraction of taste, and stinginess or
	jealousy. It makes no provision for the sexual appetite at the very time
	when that appetite is the strongest. By the custom of the world, marriage,
	in the average of cases, takes place at about the age of twenty-four;
	whereas puberty commences at the age of fourteen. For ten years, therefore,
	and that in the very flush of life, the sexual appetite is starved. This
	law of society bears hardest on females, because they have less opportunity
	of choosing their time of marriage than men.'
	The obvious remedy for these abuses was male continence combined with
	complete freedom of intercourse. Such a system would also remove that
	discrepancy between community of goods and private possession of persons
	that must always be obnoxious to a logical individual like Noyes; for was
	it not absurd that man 'should be allowed and required to love in all
	directions, and yet forbidden to express love except in one direction'?
	Complex marriage meant, in theory, that any man and woman might freely
	cohabit within the limits of the community. In practice, however, there
	was less freedom than might have been expected. The partners in this new
	form of relationship were obliged to obtain each other's consent, 'not by
	private conversation or courtship, but through the intervention of some
	third person or persons'. The exclusive attachment of two persons was
	regarded as selfish and 'idolatrous' and was strongly discouraged. It was
	usually broken up by means of 'mutual criticism' -- and so were the
	innocent 'partialities' of one child for another. While no one was
	obliged, under any circumstances, to receive the attentions of someone
	whom he or she did not like, the propagation of children was controlled by
	the elder members of the community. They advised that the young of one
	sex should be paired off with the aged of the other sex; and at one time
	twenty-four men and women were specially selected in order to conduct a
	eugenic experiment designed 'to produce the usual number of offspring to
	which people in the middle classes are able to afford judicious moral and
	spiritual care, with the advantage of a liberal education'.
	On the whole the system was remarkably successful. Apart from a few
	sorrows due to the breaking-up of an exclusive attachment, the sexual
	relations of the members inspired them with a lively interest in each
	other, and Pierrepont Noyes -- one of the sons of John Humphrey --
	believes 'that the opportunity for romantic friendships also played a
	part in rendering life more colourful than elsewhere. Even elderly
	people, whose physical passions had burned low, preserved the fine essence
	of earlier associations.'
	It is likely that Noyes's attention was first drawn towards the religious
	justification of Complex Marriage at Andover Theological Seminary, where
	Professor Moses Stuart taught that the description of the marriage relations
	in Rom. vii applied to carnal man before conversion, and was not a matter of
	Christian experience."
	"Heavens on Earth", by Mark Holloway, Dover Pubs., 1966; pp. 180-7. 


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