Can Shaker cultural contributions be separated from Shaker theology?

There is a theological justification for doing things that are unpleasant now, so you can get a greater reward tomorrow.

This is a very tricky question, because it’s very easy to think that the Shaker world view, as well as cultural values, are joined at the hip with their theology. It’s easy to think that these hard working Protestants are the way they are, and they contribute what they did because they are Protestants. After all, everybody has heard about the Protestant work ethic.

Protestants are not supposed to be lazy. Protestants are not supposed to wait until tomorrow when doing things that can be done today. Protestants are supposed to redeem their time. This is a concept from the bible, meaning each and every second must count, because you don’t know when Jesus will come back.

Also, Protestants (at least as presented by academics like Weber and Veblen) are big on judgment. This comes not just at the End of Time with the Second Coming of Christ but also on a day to day basis as community members try to figure out who is ‘elect’ or not. After all, the whole concept of justification by faith means there is a corollary: people will know you are ‘saved’ by the life you live. Put together, this objective and subjective components of salvation ensured that Protestants incorporated certain values.

Which also involves value. There is a theological justification for doing things that are unpleasant now, so you can get a greater reward tomorrow. This is called delayed gratification. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is the actual key to success. In fact, in a recent study, kids were tested to have high level of delayed gratification, turned out to be the next generation of doctors, lawyers, professionals, business owners and captains of industry.

In other words, those who tend to achieve greater success in life are the ones, according to the study on children, able to forego enjoying a yummy cookie right now for the promise of two cookies in the future. Who knew, right?

This is what makes separating the Shaker cultural contribution from their theology. They are joined at the hip. In fact, the whole idea behind cultural values gets its value and importance from the fact that you’re supposed to live out your faith. How can you call yourself a Christin when you don’t know how to forgive? How can you call yourself a Christian who believes in the coming of the Lord, when you don’t put your heart into what you do.

Those are the kinds of questions that Shaker theology addresses, and as you can tell from how those questions are phrased, that you really cannot separate, isolate or divorce Shaker cultural contributions and value systems from their theology. Their values arise from their from their conception of the nature of Jesus.

Now we see how this works. At some level or another, we would be better off with a little bit more Shaker influence.