Thursday, July 19, 2007

New World Order: On Millenarian Movements

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by James Miraflor (September 20, 2005)

"The continuous emergence, destruction, and re-emergence of millenarian movements since the age of imperialism have long baffled social scientists, anthropologists and laypeople alike. Looking at such movements often entails getting a glimpse of the dark recesses of the human mind – particularly its subconscious desire for a new world order."


I passed this reaction paper as a partial requirement to subjects Philippine Institutions 100, an analysis of Ciudad Mystica de Dios, a Rizalist millenarian movement in Calamba, and of millenarian movements in general.

As a side note, I have wanted to investigate on the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) as a possible candidate for millenarian movement going mainstream, had it not been co-opted by the elements of bourgeois state and a preserver of the status quo - but I did not have the leisure of time.


“The twins were too young to know that these were only history’s henchmen... civilization’s fear of nature, men’s fear of women, power’s fear of powerlessness. Man’s subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue or deify.”

Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things


Ciudad Mystica de Dios is a manifestation of how religion, as a political force, is subject to historical movements political in character. Instituted primarily as a reaction to the heavily monolithic, bureaucratic and colonial organized religion of the Roman Catholic Church, the religion is, in content, categorized as a millenarian movement.

The continuous emergence, destruction, and re-emergence of millenarian movements since the age of imperialism have long baffled social scientists, anthropologists and laypeople alike. Looking at such movements often entails getting a glimpse of the dark recesses of the human mind – particularly its subconscious desire for a new world order.

Millenarian movement generally refers to a group of people who believe in the coming of the Millenium, or a time when social oppression and inequality will end, and devote themselves in preparation for it. Consequently, Millenarians are often against the dominant culture, which they view as oppressive and, according to their religious standards, evil.

Millenarian movements usually share these distinct characteristics: (1) someone makes a prophecy which predicts an imminent social change (i.e. inversion of the social order); (2) there are new rituals and codes of behavior accompanied by new titles, offices and insignia (new organizational structure); (3) the ideology of the movement combines elements of the traditional and the new, consequently discarding some old codes of behavior; and (4) the movement is integrative, bringing together diverse groups and unrelated people.

Manifestations of such movements appear in all parts of the world. In a Melanesian island, for example, a person called Pako, in 1932, started a millenarian movement by prophesizing that a cargo would arrive and liberate his people. Thus, he required his followers to prepare to this event by adopting changes in their lifestyle. Certain (primitive) taboos had been abolished, initiation secrets were given to woman, new rules of behavior are established, Christianity was fused with traditional beliefs (syncretism) to be a new religion, and Melanesians were to be equal with the colonialists. Seeing the movement as a threat colonial authorities exiled Pako.

Such movements also appeared in the North American plains, where residence is supposed to practice a so-called “Ghost Dance”. Similar activities are reported to happen in South America, Africa (where a clash of Christian beliefs and animism occurs) and the Arctic. The Taiping rebellion in China led by Hong Xiuquan is also thought to be a millenarian movement, particularly because its ideological foundations are religious and its formation, theocratic. Early Christians during the time of Roman oppression (particularly by Nero) exhibited millenarian tendencies, although it had been the dominant culture in the end after the adoption of the Roman Empire.

Ciudad Mystica likewise exhibited similar characteristics. As a reaction to the highly male-dominated and patriarchal Roman Catholic Church bureaucracy, the highest positions in the group often belong to women. Reacting to the severely hierarchical structure of the Spanish religion, they have more or less imposed an egalitarian structure, which is closer, if one would think, to the Judeo-Christian form of religious practice. They also placed high reverence (while not exactly worship) to the national heroes, probably as a response to colonial rule. As a retort to Catholic missionary tendencies, they are more or less open with regards to the view of salvation.

Worsley, a known sociologist and authority on millenarian movements, identified three conditions necessary for the emergence of millenarian movements. The first is the presence of a charismatic leader. In movements often associated with radical bifurcation in beliefs, such as Jesus and the ruling Judaist faith, and Pako and the Melanesian colonizers, there exists a prophet who serves as the guide. In the case of Ciudad Mystica – the charismatic leader who founded the movement is Ma. Bernarda Balitaan – again, the reaction to the highly male-dominated society is emphasized here.

Second, is the existence of a stratified society with significant inequality and sharply drawn boundaries between strata. This is obvious with the earlier cases – an oppressive culture is trying to dominate minor sub-cultures by labeling them as deviant. In the Philippines, millenarian movements often rise due to the oppression by colonizers. For example, Frederico Salvador, a former Katipunero, started Santa Iglesia in Pampanga as a reaction to American imperialism.

The last condition is the presence of unsettled conditions, social unrest, and sudden changes. The introduction of Protestantism with the Americans actually did two things: (1) it absorbed and almost destroyed early attempts to form independent Philippine churches (the largest of which is the Aglipayan Church); and (2) it alienated and forced to isolation several budding religious groups, compelling them to organize in order to persist.

A Matter of Power

Marshall Clinnard, in his book Deviant Behavior, tells us that “what is considered deviant may depend on the relative power of groups to enforce and extend their norms to others. Social power; is important in understanding why deviance is relative.” The only reasons why millenarian movements are castigated in the first place were because they are at the minority – they lack socio-political power to annex the dominant culture.

The emancipation, for example, of Christianism from being a millenarian movement to a dominant culture (which oppressed other beliefs through crusades, inquisitions and colonization) tells us the pattern is the same for almost all religions – or even ideologies. Leninist communism, for example, during the Russian revolution had been thought to have millenarian tendencies yet no millenarian content (owing to the atheistic nature of Marxist communism, which relies on dialectic materialism for logic). When Soviet Union, however, was instituted, it in turn oppressed religious movements – the most famous of the suppression of the Roman Orthodox Church and Islam, causing the formation of the Chechnyan separatist movement.

The logical conclusion is very simple – religions, including millenarian movements, are consequences of social power distribution. While dominant religions are instruments of the preservation of the status quo (exhibited by the conservative stance of major religions with regards to state power), millenarian movements are instruments of changing it (which explains why some of them have communistic and socialist tendencies).

Niccolo Machiavelli, in his less famous work “Discourses Upon the First Ten Books of Titus Livy” stressed out that a principality or a republic will be held strongly if its constituents has a single ideology about a supreme being, for the state can attribute its laws as a commandment of that absolute entity, for which no one can disobey. He wrote “And in fact there was never anyone who ordained new and unusual laws among a people without having recourse to God, for they would not otherwise have been accepted. This is so for prudent men know of many beneficial things which, having no persuasive evidence for them, they cannot get others to accept. Consequently, wise men who wish to avoid this difficulty resort to divine authority.”

Both classes used religion as a political instrument. The beneficiary of the oppressive status quo often resorted to the divine in order to justify his oppression – which in truth has no social basis whatsoever. Similarly, the oppressed commonly resort to prophesies of victory in order to justify revolt against oppression – even if more often than not it is bound to lose.

In the end, Millenarian movements are not really much of social constructs. They are actually only expressions of humankind’s natural desire to persist and resist dominance and, according to founder of logotherapy Matthew Schully, his natural inclination to search for the ultimate meaning.


Anonymous said...

No matter what others say, I think it is still interesting and useful maybe necessary to improve some minor things

Mandy said...

Very well said, thank you!