The Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists
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From the New York Beacon.]
THE UNIVERSAL COMMUNITY SOCIETY OF RATIONAL RELIGIONISTS.
Mr. G. Vale,—Permit to me to communicate to the readers of your interesting paper, a brief account of the proceedings of the most important society, that the progress of knowledge and reform has ever developed in any age or country. I allude to a Society founded by Robert Owen, first under the title of “The Association of all Classes of all Nations,” which was enrolled under Act of Parliament, and united to “The National Community Friendly Society,” and called “The Universal Society of Rational Religionists.”
The object of this Society, is, to arrange mankind universally into communities of a size to embrace all the necessary trades, arts and sciences, wherein there can be equitable exchange of all their products, without the intervention of the non-producing mercantile class; thus making property producers, as well as consumers of all; thereby producing the greatest degree of equality and virtue of which the peculiar organization of each man is susceptible.—This arrangement will exhibit a perfectly co-operative instead of a competitive system of society; in which all will labor for all, and not against each other; in which all will have an equal share and interest in the land and it products, and in the trades, arts, labor-saving machinery and their fabrics. In short, its object is, to effect a thorough regeneration of mankind, by removing all the causes of inequality, and of monopolizing institutions, which produce and perpetuate ignorance, poverty, crime, and misery.
The principles upon which this new form of society is founded, are, that man’s intellectual and moral character is the product of his organization, the impression of surrounding institutions, and of the whole series of causes which have produced them though all time. That this is obvious, from the fact, that all bodies are the product of the organization of a few simple elements by means of their action, stimulation, attraction and impression upon each other—that they acquire qualities in proportion to their complexity of structure, and lose them thro’ disorganization. That therefore, there can be no innate quality in any body, and hence, there can be nothing in the whole body of nature, so incorrigibly bad, but that re-composition, or re-organization, can wholly eradicate or reform. That the history of nature through all time, indubitably proves that all her successive stages of being have ever left a more favorable set of circumstances for the improvement of the succeeding generation of things; and hence, as there is much evil and disorder, it proves that mankind is destined to be urged on to a far greater degree of civilization and happiness.
This fact, that there can be no production without composition, organization or impression, also proves that there can be no such thing as an un-caused or self-organized cause or production; and therefore feeling, thought, will, belief, and conscience, cannot be innate or self-caused, and can act only from the strongest motive or cause. Hence, rewards and punishments can only be justified upon the principle that they become new causes or motives to change the conduct of men for the better.
According to the proceedings of the 4th annual Congress, held in Birmingham in May last, it appears that the Society is increasing very rapidly, and then numbered about one hundred thousand, including members and converts. They have divided England, Scotland, and Ireland, into thirteen districts, and appointed an itinerant lecturer in each of them. They have already as many as eight or ten Branch Societies in several of these districts, and many local lecturers, besides the travelling ones.—Each of these Branch Societies has a Board of Directors, who procure halls to meet in, and collect the sum of sixpence, weekly, from each member.—They have festivals, and tea parties, with music, dancing, and every agreeable and innocent amusement they can invent, to attract persons to a consideration of their principle, at an expense of but one or two pennies—thus furnishing an evening’s recreation and refreshment, cheaper than a meal of victuals can be obtained at the cheapest coffee-house.
There is also a District Board of Directors, who receive the weekly collections of the Branches—pay the District Missionaries their salaries, from £80 to £100 per year, and report to the great Central Board of Directors who superintend the whole and report progress to the annual Congress. The Central Board reports the Socialists had held fifty formal discussions within the last year mostly with the clergy.—They had met with but two cases of physical violence, and were so protected by the constituted authorities that one individual had been fined and imprisoned for interrupting them in their discussions.
They further reported that the newspaper press has at length considered the progress of their principles so great, that they are continually giving notice of their proceedings; and one of the most talented and influential of the quarterly journals has confessed that “Owenism is not only the actual creed of a great portion of the working classes, but also of very many among the professional and higher classes.”
There are now about sixty Branch Communities who have been chartered by the Parent Society enrolled under the Act of Parliament. Members are first initiated in classes of about ten, and meet at each others’ houses, as large assemblies are unfavorable to the forming of intimate acquaintances, and after a three months’ instruction, if qualified, are admitted.
The Board also report they are extending the principles by the increasing patronage of their paper, called the “New Moral World,” of 16 pages; the able editor of which receives a salary of $500 per year. They have also book stores from which are circulated books and tracts with great effect.
The committee appointed to examine the various tracts of land offered for sale to the Society, also report very favorably, and from late accounts they have purchased 2000 acres of land, on which a community will commence early in the spring, living in shantees, and after next summer’s crop is made, an additional number will join to make brick, and will build as much of their village as their necessities will require.
Never has there been a reformer who succeeded as Robert Owen seems likely to succeed. Plato and Socrates merely gathered a few disciples within the halls of their academies, and never contemplated any thing like an entire regeneration of man, by so simple and practicable a process, as a slight alteration in the organization of society. No even Peter the Great, with all the power of government in his hands, ever originated and put in practice such a plan for the entire prevention of want, crime, and misery among mankind. He only advanced his subjects to a level with some of the neighboring nations according to an established model. No reformer ever opposed so thoroughly every institution and prejudice of mankind, and yet escaped the fangs of the law, the death of a Socrates, the imprisoned of a Galileo, or the clerical abuse of a Paine. While Carlile, Taylor, and other opposers of religion, that have not gone one-tenth so far, have been fined and imprisoned to their utter ruin; while McKenzie and Papineau have been driven from Canada into exile, and a reward offered for their heads; while Stevens and O’Connor, and O’Brien have been fined, imprisoned, or put under heavy bonds, Owen, who has opposed the whole organization of the present moral world, still roams abroad, in all the locomotive powers of liberty, even under a protecting act of Parliament, establishing an institution that will eventually explode every existing government and institution among mankind. The great secret by which by which he is effecting all this, is, his superior knowledge of human nature, his superior amiability of conduct, and his superior charity of sentiment in addressing the interests, the prejudices, and the sensibilities of mankind.
Lewis Masquerier, “The Universal Community Society of Rational Religionists,” The Boston Investigator 9, no. 39 (December 4, 1839): 1.