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This did not last either –some women refused to comply and were executed. After that, easy divorce was allowed, leading to a version of free love. In the autumn of 1534 Bockelson proclaimed himself king of Münster. He saw himself not as a worldly ruler but as a Messiah presiding over the world’s last days. In an innovation that would be followed by the Jacobins he gave new names to streets and buildings and instituted a new calendar. Within days of the new order executions began, with women being prominent among those put to death.

But the idea that human action can initiate a radical shift in history had been injected into western life. It was not long before post-millennialism mutated into the Enlightenment belief that humanity is an inherently progressive species. The philosophers of the Enlightenment aimed to supplant Christianity, but they could do so only if they were able to satisfy the hopes it had implanted. As a result they could not admit – what pre-Christian thinkers took for granted – that human history has no overall meaning.

4 The Taiping Rebellion is one of a number of Chinese uprisings moved by millenarian ideas, and while Christian missionaries may have brought these ideas to China, it may be the case that ideas of a similar kind were already present. 5 Whether or not they are uniquely western in origin, beliefs of this kind have had a formative influence on western life. Medieval chiliasm reflected beliefs that can be traced back to the beginnings of Christianity. Modern political religions such as Jacobinism, Bolshevism and Nazism reproduced millenarian beliefs in the terms of science.

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An introduction to the Irish language. by William Neilson


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