The Last Shakers on Earth

The Boston Globe recently published a rather fascinating article about the last four Shakers on the planet. They live their celibate, rural lifestyle in southern Maine, preparing for the inevitable end: soon, the Shakers will be no more.
These are the last Shakers, living in the world's last active Shaker community, which has survived for 223 years in this idyllic and isolated hilltop village 35 miles northwest of Portland. Here, the four faithful live a life of ascetic simplicity and abide by the three C's: celibacy, confession of sin, and communalism. ... Because they are celibate, the Shakers rely on converts to keep their community going and say they receive up to 70 inquiries a year. ... But if converts don't materialize and the day comes when all the world's Shakers have met their Maker, there is a plan.
What is this plan they have to continue their legacy?
So, five years ago, the Protestant monastic sect initiated a plan, put together by the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land, to sell preservation and conservation easements to two nonprofits, Maine Preservation and the New England Forestry Foundation. These two groups, along with eight other nonprofits and public agencies, are behind the national campaign to raise money to buy the restrictions - about $2.8 million in government grants and private donations has already come in, and they hope to net another $900,000 and conclude the deal by the end of September. The agreement would protect this pristine village of mostly whiteclapboard buildings and the 1,643 acres that straddle the town lines of New Gloucester, Maine, and Poland, Maine, from ever being developed or subdivided. "We can't put up a Wal-Mart. Or a housing development," Hadd says. "The land always has to remain for agricultural and forest purposes."
One has to admire the conviction of the Shakers. They are persistent in their communal celibacy, even though this ensures their eventual demise.
"The Shakers are known for turning their backs on ideals that Americans have always held dear: the spirit of individualism, owning private property, personal autonomy, marriage," says Gerard Wertkin, director emeritus of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and author of The Four Seasons of Shaker Life: An Intimate Portrait of the Community at Sabbathday Lake. "Shakerism strikes at the heart of the American psyche." ... "The whole concept of the Shaker life is to emulate, as fully as we possibly can, the life of Christ," Hadd explains. "So, the reason we're celibate is Christ was celibate."
So I have a couple questions in honor of the Shaker community:
  1. What would you do if you were part of the last religious community in your tradition?
  2. How would you choose to leave a legacy for the ages?
  3. Could the Shakers be a picture of what might happen to other groups that refuse to bend to the cultural norms of western society? Or are they entirely unique?
  4. Is it worth becoming extinct in order to hold to certain ideals?

Comments

Kevin said…
I am surprised they are still around. Most of us only know about Shaker furniture, but little about the people. I admire them as well. There is something very attractive about their lifestyle. I'm sure it is not as idealic as it seems.
Shane said…
Perhaps Big Boi or Andre 3000 will join the movement and "Shake/shake/shake it like a polaroid picture". That would bring new blood to the movement.
byron said…
Sound a little like the Essenes of the today, er yesterday.
byron said…
Though is a celibate movement necessarily condemned to extinction? It must always be parasitic, but the fact that they have survived for centuries demonstrates their ability to attract new members. Another explanation is required for their demise.
D.W. Congdon said…
You're right, Byron. They're not condemned to extinction by virtue of celibacy ... unless you're in the United States. :) I think that's all the explanation you need.