CLINTON — Long-time Clinton resident Carol Stone White recently released her book, “A Taste of Heaven on Earth: Harnessing the Energies of Love,” exploring the spiritual foundation of the utopian 19th century Oneida Community, founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848.
The Oneida Community’s 300 members sought purity of heart in all their thoughts, words, and deeds. The subject was of interest because the author is the great-granddaughter of Noyes, and granddaughter of the Community's historian, George Wallingford Noyes.
White explained that following graduation from Dartmouth College and practice of law, Noyes became an indefatigable explorer of his own spiritual state while studying at Andover and Yale theological seminaries. These years culminated into a profound spiritual experience that revealed the purpose and tremendous potentials of human life, she said.
"He experienced the Holy Spirit as our ever-present teacher and published free periodicals for 50 years, describing that the purpose of human life is preparing the heart to hear this Internal teacher,” White described. "This book examines many human capacities and how heart conversion alone is capable of revolutionizing society and healing the relationship between the sexes."
After losing four of five children in childbirth, White said Noyes explored sexuality and discovered that male continence protects women from continual unplanned pregnancies. He found this sexual practice spiritually ennobling, his wife found it satisfactory as it had not been before, and members of his communities universally practiced male continence for 33 years.
"This allowed evolution from the simple form of marriage, which in the 19th century removed all legal rights from women, to Complex Marriage — all were married to all in this unique community,” said White. "Excerpts from a personal journal are included."
White went on to explain the philosophy behind the community’s way of thinking and living.
"The personalities and proclivities of 300 people were harmonized and enhanced through radical honesty about every aspect of life as this community's members explored human possibility,” she said. "A primary goal was the humanization of labor by varying each individual’s tasks and sharing all proceeds. Their children thrived under the mentorship and love of many adults, freeing women to participate in lifelong education, the arts, satisfying work, and leadership positions. Most of all, they practiced openness to God, the only source of lasting joy and contentment."
"A Taste of Heaven on Earth: Harnessing the Energies of Love" describes the thoughts and experiences of many members of the Oneida Community — how they loved and learned, worked and played, prayed and made music, and lived together with openness, approaching the charity described in 1st Corinthians 13. They learned emotional intelligence and spiritual self-examination, thrived with variety in work and play, enjoyed life-long learning, and nurtured all children as their own.
"The Oneida Community's offspring was the international corporation, Oneida Ltd. silversmiths, one of the first businesses to practice profit sharing,” White said. “They built the company town of Sherrill."
White’s contributions go beyond that of the written word as she has formerly served her own community as well.
From 1980-86, White served as chairman of the village Planning Board, re-wrote the village’s zoning law and was then elected to the Village Board.
"I started Clinton's paper recycling program and was water commissioner, modifying water rates to promote greater water conservation,” White described of her village work. "I have also served as president of the Utica Community Food Bank board, president of the area's League of Women Voters, and president of our area's United Nations Association. My husband and I have climbed all peaks in the Northeast U.S. exceeding 4,000 feet, most in winter, and eight 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. We are also active in several hiking clubs."
White said her direct interest in the Oneida Community came after she read, “Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes.”
"I realized that John Humphrey Noyes was a theologian trained by Yale Theological Seminary who experienced God’s spirit as a living reality within all persons,” the author explained. "To appreciate why his communities were so successful, his metamorphosis from first son of a prosperous family with every opportunity for worldly success as a lawyer, to a controversial religious leader who revolutionized personal, social, industrial, and spiritual practices in the 19th century, must be understood. A graduate from Dartmouth with honors, he was uninterested in religion, even wary of itinerant evangelists who transformed entire regions during the Second Great Awakening."
White said Noyes however, “...became an assiduous observer of his mind and emotions, refusing to settle for human shortcomings that most people take for granted as inevitable. His noble aspirations culminated two years later in a profound heart conversion, the sure knowledge that the purpose of human life is to learn to hear our internal teacher and implement its teachings. His God-centered life explains his unquestioned ability to attract and hold the loyalty of 300 educated and skilled men and women who created a community to achieve love of God and each other."
The author said Noyes’ community found friendly acceptance after initial hostility by Oneida and Madison County officials and neighbors, as they saw people living in social harmony whose successful businesses were based on sharing the fruits of labor so that all may prosper.
"It was an open community with regular tours, picnics, dinners, and concerts for enormous crowds,” she said. "Scholars and journalists lived among them for extended periods to observe how they related one to another. They observed their children, and how all members worked in numerous community enterprises and educated their youth to enter excellent universities, and how these youths returned to teach and participate in life-long learning. Observers saw how members discovered many latent capacities and interests that brought them joy and gratitude; they observed that women fully participated in decision-making in this rural oasis at a time when women had no legal rights and few options, though visitors frowned upon their tanned, un-powdered faces."
"A Taste of Heaven on Earth” includes much unpublished material compiled by Noyes’ nephew, George Wallingford Noyes, the Community historian and archivist following his career with Oneida Community, Limited.
White said she owns 1,700 pages of her grandfather's unpublished papers. His books, "Religious Experience of John Humphrey Noyes" and "The Putney Community" (now out of print), provide insights into the Community’s founder’s early life, she said.
Other major sources for "A Taste of Heaven on Earth" are the Community’s weekly publication, Oneida Circular, and the compilation of John Humphrey Noyes’ teachings, Home-Talks.
"Thinking of a title for my book that might fully capture the unique and wondrous Oneida Community, it came to me — it was a taste of heaven on Earth because the members of that large family loved one another, even in their thoughts,” said White. "Three hundred people genuinely sought purity of heart in all their thoughts, words, and actions. Looking deeply into the Oneida Community, we come to understand every aspect of this unique experiment through the writings of many human beings at a high state of spiritual development."
To order a copy of "A Taste of Heaven on Earth,” go to www.wipfandstock.com, or order signed copies from the author, a great granddaughter of founder John Humphrey Noyes, by emailing her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.