By Ronald Brown
As I walked into the monumental replica of the Temple of Solomon in a slum of São Paulo, Brazil, I was struck by the other-worldly atmosphere of the holy place.
Ushers were dressed in tunics and sashes like Jesus might have worn. In the center of the stage stood a gilded replica of the Ark of the Covenant with two angels keeping guard. Rows of temple candlesticks, menorahs, lined the walls, and copies of the Ten Commandments, Stars of David, and a plethora of other Judaica filled the interior. Forgotten was the downtrodden neighborhood in São Paulo. The congregation was treading the sacred ground of Jerusalem as Jesus had over two millennia ago.
Humans have never been satisfied with the world as it actually exists. Robins have built the same nests since time immemorial, but humans are never content with the world as it is. From the founding of the first Jewish Kingdom under Kings David and Solomon to the Marxist utopia of the Soviet Union, from Catholic monasteries to the Mormon utopia of Deseret, and from California communes to the Islamic State of ISIS, humans forever seek to fashion a perfect world out of the mud and rock of this world.
As I’ve argued on this blog, religion is the human quest to create a perfect human being inhabiting a perfect world. All else, gods and spirits, heavens and hells, creation stories and future bliss, rituals and theologies, are but commentary on this human quest. Here I focus on four of the most exciting experiments in religious engineering I studied during my 2019-20 university winter break in Brazil, Mexico and New York.
Envisioning the Third Millennium
As humanity plunges into the Third Millennium, chaos may best describe our condition. Global warming, epidemics, economic rivalries, wars of religion, immorality, crime, homelessness, the spread of nuclear weapons, and a host of other problems cause many to view the new millennium with fear.