4.2. Joseph Smith Jr. and Mormonism

4.2. JOSEPH SMITH JR. AND MORMONISM

The most complex and aberrant apocalyptic scenario of the Second Great Awakening was conceived within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism). It is no secret that religious fanaticism is a relative of idiocy. But Mormon theology – based on the life, the experience and the teachings of Joseph Smith Jr. – simply defies history and insults common sense; nobody has ever succeeded to form a cult based on historical and religious fabrications of such magnitude.

Smith spent his adolescence at Palmyra, in a poor family of farmers in the west of the “burned-over district.” The young Smith did not join any religious community, but he intensely studied the Bible and he was influenced by the folk religion (local ethnic) practiced by his parents. In 1820 this 14-year-old boy became obsessed with the issue of spiritual salvation. Confused, he decided that it was best to seek divine help. One day he went in one of the nearby forests and began to pray passionately. According to his own account, there he experienced what it is now known as the “First Vision”: he felt that he was overwhelmed by an invisible malefic force, but at the last moment two radiant beings appeared in front of him. One of these beings told Smith not to join

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4.1. The burst of utopian experiments

4.1. THE BURST OF UTOPIAN EXPERIMENTS

America was an auspicious place for social experimentation and the Second Great Awakening was the golden age of utopianism. The majority of American utopias were established on religious grounds, while the rest were scientific experiments. Driven by the belief that they act on God’s command, the religious fanatics isolated themselves from the rest of the world and struggled to build a literal paradise on the earth. But, ironically, utopianism was never envisioned as a democracy, but as a holy communism. The European monarchical system of social inequality was collapsing and people began to search for new forms of political and social organization. The natural tendency of the people was to head toward the other extreme, of absolute equality. Thus, while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels supported communist ideology on rationalistic grounds, the religious fanatics used biblical arguments; the prototype of the religious utopias was the community of the early Christians.

Begun in 1804 in

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2.1. The religious mirage of the New World

2. THE COLONIZATION AND THE BIRTH OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

2.1. THE RELIGIOUS MIRAGE OF THE NEW WORLD

The first settlers of the Americas were, naturally, Spanish and Portuguese who, following the path established by Columbus, concentrated on exploring and conquering South America. Instead, the English, the French, the Dutch and the Germans began to heavily colonize only in the 17th century, focusing on North America.

The new continent proved to be an extremely rich place in resources, but it had an uncertain religious status. Framing America in a biblical scheme was a delicate matter for the European scholars. The early theological explanations regarding America were vague and predominantly negative. At first, the debate was if the natives had a soul and should be evangelized or they did not have a soul and could be taken as slaves. Some, Jews and Christians alike, believed that the natives were a part of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Others, such as Columbus, saw the new continent as the new earth from Revelation 20. A Lutheran theory depicted the new land as the dreadful darkness

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1. Christopher Columbus and the eschatological significance of the discovery of America

1. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS AND THE ESCHATOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DISCOVERY OF AMERICA

At the moment any discovery or unusual phenomenon is attempted to be explained first and foremost through a scientific reasoning. At the end of the 15th century things were quite the opposite: the image of the world was dictated by the religious beliefs, which had to be reconciled with empirical observations, geographical discoveries and astronomical calculations. Everything had to be framed in an all-inclusive religious scheme.

On August 3, 1492, with the support of the Spanish royalty, Christopher Columbus left the port of Palos having under his command three caravels and 120 people. The purpose of his journey was to discover a new maritime route toward the Indies through the west. After more than four months spent on the Atlantic, on October 12, 1492, Columbus stepped on what he thought were the West Indies. He returned to Spain in March 1493, and the success of his discoveries determined the Spanish crown to finance two additional expeditions, in 1493 and 1498. A couple of years later the Italian Amerigo Vespucci demonstrated that Columbus had discovered in fact a new continent. Accordingly, this new continent was named “America,” from the feminized Latin version of Amerigo (other continents also have feminized names). It is true

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4.4. The afterlife and salvation

4.4. THE AFTERLIFE AND SALVATION

God is the most compassionate and merciful (Quran 1:1), but also the most just. Islam prescribes a literal Hell for those who disobey God and commit critical sins. God will make every person, Muslim or non-Muslim, responsible for his actions (Quran 74:38). At the end of times Israfil the Archangel will blow the horn and there will be a resurrection of the dead, Muhammad being the first revived.43 All mankind will assembly in front of God for Judgment (Quran 64:9), the book of life will be opened and every person will be called to account for everything what he did and spoke during his lifetime (Quran 54:52-53). The actions during childhood will not be judged. The Judgment consists of balancing between good deeds and sins. If a person has more good deeds than sins, then he will enter Paradise. If not, he will be sent to Hell (Quran 2:81-82). If good deeds and sins are equal, then Allah will decide what he will do with that person. But there are sins that condemn a person to Hell no matter the amount of good deeds: lying, dishonesty, corruption, ignoring God’s revelation (Quran 9:63), denying the resurrection, refusal to feed the poor, self-delectation with riches and ostentation, economic exploitation of others and social oppression. The punishments from Hell include pain, very powerful torture (Quran 29:55; 43:48) or disgrace (Quran 16:27; 11:39). However, the general tendency is to portray a merciful God (Quran 29:21; 2:284; 3:129), who has the gates of Paradise opened for everyone, and in the end all people,

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3.4. The life after death and the life after the end

3.4. THE LIFE AFTER DEATH AND THE LIFE AFTER THE END

In the current Christian doctrine the Kingdom of God designates two distinct things: the place where people go after death (Heaven or Paradise), and the Church, or the community of believers that accedes at Christ’s teachings.

To start with, the Church is not represented by the institution with its ecclesiastical hierarchy and the material constructions (namely the church), but by the universality of believers who adopted the Christian principles and ideas. Secondly, the Church experiences an evolution and stages of development, in accordance with the progressive revelation of God. Therefore, the Kingdom of God is one and the same thing with the Church, and does not refer only to the ideal state established with Parousia. In fact, the Kingdom of God, or the revealing of Christ’s teachings, started with the First Coming. Jesus Christ speaks in his parables both about close and distant times; likewise, he refers to the Kingdom of God (the Church) in different stages and contexts. If the existence of a future

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2.3. The afterlife and the transmigration of souls

2.3. THE AFTERLIFE AND THE TRANSMIGRATION OF SOULS

Although the human soul is immortal and survives the physical death of the body, Judaism focuses on the importance of the actual earthly life, and not on a future reward. At death the soul passes in the afterlife and it is sent in one of the two places: the Garden of Eden or the Purgatory. According to the Mishnah, the belief in resurrection is necessary in order for a Jew to be part of it: “All Israel have a portion in the world to come ... but the following have no portion therein: he who maintains that resurrection is not a biblical doctrine, that the Torah was not divinely revealed, and an apikoros [apostate]” (Sanhedrin 90a).19

The afterlife refers both to the life after death and the existence during the reign of the Messiah, but it is not clear what category of people will be resurrected and what will happen with the souls of the ones not resurrected. Most medieval scholars argue that during the Messianic Age the spiritual and material realms will merge and people will be able to directly communicate with God. The resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Messiah is one of Maimonides’s “13 principles of faith.” He says that until

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