Types of millennialism

Western scholars have pointed to three theological positions among Christian millennialists that appear to have some general applicability to millennial typology, based on the role of human agency in ending Tribulations and bringing the Millennium.

4.2.1 Premillennialism '

Premillennialism is the most familiar form of millennial thought in the United States and Europe today, characterized by the belief that everything will get awful before the millennium makes them better (Whalen, 2000). Christian premillennialists, among them many early Christians, have based their eschatological expectations on the Book of Revelations. They believed that the Antichrist will preside over a period of Tribulations, followed by God's rescue of the righteous, the Rapture. Eventually Christ returns, defeats evil, judges all resurrected souls, and establishes a reign of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Saved people will spend eternity in this new kingdom, and the unsaved will spend an eternity in damnation.

This doctrine was reintroduced among Protestants in the 1830s in the United States as 'dispensationalism' (Boyer, 1994; Crutchfield, 1992). Some dispensationalists became 'Mllerites', influenced by the exegetical efforts of a nineteenth century lay scholar, William Miller, to interpret contemporary events as a fulfilment of a prophetic timeline in the Book of Revelations. Dispensationalism and Millerism inspired some successful sects that have flourished to this day, such as the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah's Witnesses, despite their failed prophecies of specific dates for the Second Coming.

Premillennialism gained general acceptance among Christian evangelicals only in the twentieth century. Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) popularized the thinking of modern MiUerites who saw the European Union, the re-creation of the state of Israel and other modern trends as fulfilment of the millennial timeline. Christian Right politicians such as Pat Robertson, a former Republican candidate for President, are premillennialists, interpreting daily events in the Middle East for the millions in their television and radio audience through the lens of Biblical exegesis. Premillennialism is also the basis of the extremely popular Left Behind novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, and their film adaptations.

Premillennialists are generally fatalists who do not believe human beings can influence the timing or outcome of the Tribulations, Rapture, and Second Coming (Wojcik, 1997). The best the believer can do is to save as many souls as possible before the end. A very similar doctrine can be found among certain Mahayana Buddhists who held that, after the passing of each Buddha, the world gradually falls into the age of mappo or the degeneracy of the Buddhist teachings. In the degenerate age enlightenment is nearly impossible, and the best that we can hope for is the intercession of previously enlightened, and now divine, beings to bring us to a Pure Land (Blum, 2002). The Japanese monk Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282) founded one of the most successful schools of Japanese Buddhism using the idea of mappo as the rationale for his new dispensation. For Nichiren Buddhists, Japan will play a millennial role in the future as the basis for the conversion of the entire world to the Buddhist path (Stone, 1985).

In a secular context, Marxist futurism has often been appropriated into a form of premillennial expectation. According to classical Marxist eschatology the impersonal workings of capitalism and technological innovation will immiserate all the people of the world, wipe out all pre-existing identities and institutions, and then unite the world into revolutionary working-class movement. The role of self-conscious revolutionaries is only to explain this process to workers so that they understand their role in the unfolding of the inevitable historical telos and hastening the advent of the millennial worker's paradise. 4.2.2 Amillennialism

Amillennialists believe that the millennial event has already occurred, or is occurring, in the form of some movement or institution, even though there are still bad things happening in the world (Hoekema, 2007; Riddlebarger, 2003). For Christian amillennialists the Millennium is actually the ongoing establishment of righteousness on Earth through the agency of the Church, struggling to turn back Satan and the Tribulations. Augustinian amillennialism was made the official doctrine of the early Christian Church, and premillennialism was declared heresy. The subsequent millenarian rebellions against church and civil authority, inspired by the Book of Revelations, reinforced the Catholic Church's insistence that the Millennium would not be an abrupt, revolutionary event, but the gradual creation of the Kingdom of Heaven in each believer's heart in a church-ruled world. In abstract, when the 'Church Age' ends Christ will return to judge humanity and take the saved to heaven for eternity, but attempts to predict the timeline are proscribed.

Another, more radical and recent example of amillennialism was found in the Oneida Community (1848-1881) in upstate New York, founded by John Humphrey Noyes (Klaw, 1993).

Noyes believed that the Second Coming had occurred in 70 AD, and that all believers should begin to live as if in the Kingdom of Heaven, including forbidding monogamy and private property. Orthodox Communist or Maoists outside of the Soviet Union or China can be seen as secular amillennialists, believing Stalin's and Mao's regimes were paradises in which eventually all humanity would be able to share.

4.2.3 Post-millennialism

Post-millennialists believe that specific human accomplishments are necessary to bring the Millennium (Bock, 1999). Post-millennialist Christians argue that if Christians establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth through Christian rule this will hasten or be synonymous with the second coming. This doctrine has inspired both progressive 'Social Gospel' theologies, such as slavery abolitionism and anti-alcohol temperance, as well as theocratic movements such as the contemporary far Right 'Christian Reconstruction' and Dominionism.

The Buddhist Pali canon scriptures that describe the coming Buddha, Maitreya, are an example of post-millennialism (Hughes, 2007). The scripture foretells that humanity, repulsed by the horrors of an apocalyptic war, will build a Utopian civilization thickly populated with billions of happy, healthy people who live for thousands of years in harmony with one another and with nature. The average age at marriage will be 500 years. The climate will always be good, neither too hot nor too cold. Wishing trees in the public squares will provide anything you need. The righteous king dissolves the government and turns over the property of the state to Maitreya. These millennial beliefs inspired a series of Buddhist uprisings in China (Naquin, 1976), and helped bring the Buddhist socialist movement in Burma to power from 1948 to 1962 (Malalgoda, 1970).

This worldview also corresponds to revolutionary Marxist-Leninism. Although the march of history is more or less assured, the working class may wander for centuries through the desert until the revolutionary vanguard can lead them to the Promised Land. Once socialism is established, it will gradually evolve into communism, in which the suppressed and distorted true human nature will become non-acquisitive and pro-social. Technology will provide such abundance that conflict over things will be unnecessary, and the state will wither. But revolutionary human agency is necessary to fulfil history.

Continue reading here: Messianism and millenarianism

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