Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Harmony

Harmony is pure love, for love is a concerto.
--Lope de Vega

Two-hundred six years ago today, the Harmony Society officially self-organized in Butler County, Pennsylvania. An intentional community founded by Swabian theosophist Johann Georg Rapp, Harmony enjoyed three separate lives over its hundred years of existence, before its utopian dreams passed into memory.

The Harmonites were Pietists--a splinter group from within German Lutheranism who emphasized personal Devotion in religious practice rather than adherence to orthodox teaching. The Harmonites’ charismatic leader, Rapp, preached that the Messiah would soon arrive in the Second Coming, and cited Napoleon as the Antichrist and proof of his prophecy (this view of Napolean being shared by many Italians, British, Austrians, Ottomans, and just a few other non-Pietists).

Despite, or perhaps because of, their Piety, the Harmonites had a rather dis-harmonious relationship with the German authorities. Rapp moved them to the U.S. and founded their first commune, named “Harmonie,” in 1803. Shortly thereafter the denizens put all their property into collective ownership and submitted to Rapp as their leader.

After a decade, the Harmonites sold their property in Pennsylvania and moved to Indiana, where a second settlement (today called New Harmony) struggled with malaria and unfriendly slave-owning neighbors. In 1824, the Harmonites returned to Pennsylvania, where they founded “Okonomie” (Economy), which prospered through the 1860s. The community’s commitment to celibacy, however, meant that come the 1890s, it had few young persons to support itself, and ridden with debt, it dissolved. The statue of Harmonia, Greek Goddess of Concord, shown at the top, stands today as a monument to the community, now swallowed by the town of Ambridge, PA.

They are a curious lot and a colorful American story, these Harmonites. While Christian, Rapp also wrote of a Goddess, sometimes called Sophia, harkening to the beliefs of the Gnostic Christians. (For a nice overview, see the juicy “Blood-Gender-Power” website of Kenyon College.)

For someone who believed the Divine could manifest in both male and female forms, Rapp had a disparaging view of gender. He believed the original human had no sexuality, and felt the extraction of Eve from the body of Adam marked the beginning of both sex and of discord in the Universe. The Harmonites’ emphasis on celibacy in their community reflected this view of sexuality as impure.

I am dubious that the way to move from discord to Harmony requires minimizing our differences and the attractions (or even repulsions) that result from that. True Harmony lies in a Delight at our differences.

Harmony refers to a group virtue. But in contemplating it, I keep thinking of the invocation “As above, so below,” or rather, “As within, so without.” While we might think about Harmony within a group as having to do with the interactions between members, I’d say a community of individuals who have attained Self-Mastery would not work towards Harmony: It would already have it. A person of Harmony has attained internal balance; Sôphrosunê.

I conclude, therefore, that Harmony is actually a personal virtue.

May we see the gates of Harmony, and perhaps make a home there.

3 comments:

  1. western pa the hotbed of christian activity in the new world

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  2. beaver falls pa also was established by the harmonites

    ReplyDelete