Note: the following post is based upon the introduction to Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia by Richard Francis, pages 2-11). Anything that has been italicized is my own conclusion, not Francis’. I will be including thoughts that I have as it relates to my understanding of Christianity and how it relates to Transcendentalism. Remember that I am no expert! Your thoughts and comments would be most helpful to my understanding and the accuracy of these posts. Thanks!
Fruitlands was an effort to create Utopia by returning to the Garden of Eden. Transcendental thinkers Bronson Alcott in Massachusetts and James Pierrepont Greaves in England both felt that man could achieve the Garden of Eden (redemption) again through diet and high-minded ideals (note that this is totally bypassing the whole idea of the need for God’s grace with regards to redemption). In essence, man comes back to total union with God entirely through his own efforts, the complete opposite of what Christianity teaches.
How did Alcott and Greaves see the story of the Garden of Eden? Francis in Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia maintains the following:
- The story of Genesis was taken literally. Adam and Eve were real, they were our first parents.
- The world of Genesis was depicted as perfect, where man was pristine, innocent and one with nature (notice no mention of being one with God)
- The Fall of Man took place because (are you ready?) man ate the wrong food! If this dietary slip-up could be rectified (by avoiding cooked food such as meat; dairy products, tea, coffee and alcohol; only living on fruit, raw vegetables and water), the Garden could be reinstated and people would become perfect again. (There is no mention of the fact that Adam and Eve broke relations with God because they did what He asked them not to do – eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There is no mention of the pride of Man nor his desire to become like God (the essence of the temptation from the serpent)).
- Society as it stood was not worth replacing; it had to be reinvented. Thus, the idea of a Utopian society (a new Garden of Eden) was born.
- Eden then was to be reclaimed by an austere manner of living, eating and thinking. (It was not achieved by depending upon the grace of God, but upon the will of the individual).
- The desire was to become one again with nature as the belief was that all things are interconnected. Connection with nature equaled connection with God.
The question I have is this: did Transcendentalists like Alcott and Greaves feel that being one with nature (and thus one with the Divine) made them equal with the Divine because they were one?
Why did people such as Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson explore this entirely different way of thinking? Francis maintains that Transcendentalism had its roots in religious controversy (Calvinism was giving way to Unitarianism but the Transcendentalists wanted to go further – more on this in future posts). The movement also was reacting to the Industrial Revolution and the rise of cities leading to people’s alienation from their natural surroundings (causing social injustice, poverty and environmental deterioration).
Transcendentalism was in itself, a revolution of thought. Many of these thoughts could be termed “crazy” but beneath that craziness, there’s more than a shred of truth. Francis does a magnificent job of pulling out that truth. I shake my head while I read, incredulous at the absurdity of the ideas, and then I have an “ahh” moment when Francis unearths the truth behind the absurdity.
He believes that many ideas acted out at Fruitlands are relevant today such as environmental concerns, the interconnectedness of all things, opposition to slavery, women’s rights and the belief in civil disobedience.
Hoping this post makes sense; despite all the notetaking, this stuff is pretty hard to work through. Your comments would be most appreciated, especially if I am misunderstanding something!