How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate

How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate

How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate

How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate

Synopsis

Through common sense & clear language, Wessinger provides the essential tools for understanding millennial beliefs & the complex internal mix that shapes a religious group's decision to embrace or reject violence.

Excerpt

We are blessed, or cursed, to live in interesting times. As the new millennium fast approaches, rationalists among us pooh-pooh the significance of a date that happens to end in three zeroes. And, the rationalists are correct. The demarcation of a millennium -- a period lasting one thousand years -- is an arbitrary act of human categorization. In this respect, it is unlike temporal cycles associated with such natural phenomena as earthly rotations, or revolutions of the moon around the earth, or the earth around the sun. But millennialism as a system of belief is not driven by dates on a calendar or the natural cycles of the cosmos. Millennialism is about human hope, the longing for a time when the limitations of the human condition will be transformed. In Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, Catherine Wessinger gathered accounts of millennial movements from around the world. It is obvious from these case studies that the yearning for an end to illness, suffering, death, injustice, conflict, war, and other human travails transcends the bounds of culture and history. Indeed, a propensity toward millennial beliefs appears to be imprinted on the human psyche, awaiting the appropriate mix of collective anxiety, "signs" of social breakdown, and rhetorical themes to burst full-grown upon the stage of history.

Many millennial movements are associated with oppressed cultures. South Pacific Island communities, traumatized first by the imposition of a foreign culture by missionaries and then by occupying armies during World War II, eagerly anticipated a coming age of wealth and plenty. The Plains Indians of North America, defeated by the onslaught of white settlers, took up the Ghost Dance. They expected their ritual to bring a return of the buffalo, a restoration of Indian culture, and the disappearance of the White Man. Instead, it brought them Wounded Knee. But millennial beliefs are not the sole province of oppressed communities. Millennialism also has fueled large-scale political movements such as Nazism, the Taiping Revolution, the Khmer Rouge, and Mao's Great Leap Forward. Today, millennial themes are evident in the rhetoric of nation-

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