I. The Influence of the Divine
When I published The New Atlantis, I sought to create a unitive framework for a Pan-American civilization that would embark on a tripartite mission to terraform the Earth into a garden world, preserve humanity’s cumulative knowledge against planetary catastrophe across a network of arks, and expand humanity’s reach by establishing colonies across the cosmos. It was an ambitious project, but one that fell short for a number of reasons. While I had made a compelling case as to why the various countries of the Western Hemisphere were more similar to each other than those across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, I had not provided a narrative that could bring these disparate parts together under a single roof. I had also neglected the force that animates cultures and civilizations: religion. In Revisiting The New Atlantis, I explored the ideas of Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West. He noted that belief in gods or God drives human action towards certain ends based on the particular tenets a religious or cultural group manifests during its initial creative phase. This was a key insight that I intuitively knew to be true, but initially rejected due to my own tortured relationship with Catholicism. Spengler’s ideas brought forth a new question that I pondered deeply. If religion is what drives a young culture to transform itself into a civilization, what does the apparent growing secularization of the Western world mean for its future?
I did not originally know how to broach this problem, but I was certain of one thing. If our hemisphere was to chart its own path into the future separate from the Western European world that birthed it, it would need to diverge from the path established by European Christianity and update its own understanding of religious tradition. This realization drove me towards two books: Dominion by Tom Holland and History Has Begun by Bruno Maçães. In Dominion, Holland documented how Christianity, which first emerged as the religion of the underclasses in the Greco-Roman world, was initially scorned and ridiculed by the powerful classes of the Empire because its central idea stated that the weak and vulnerable were equal in value to the powerful before the eyes of God. In order to rebel against the “might makes right” moral order of the time, Christianity had to fanatically insist, in the face of violence, that this central claim was an objective, discernible, and eternal truth. This idiosyncratic quirk, a kind of theological and cultural chip-on-the-shoulder, remained embedded within the fabric of Christendom long after Christianity became dominant on the European continent. Eventually, the notion that the moral order of the universe was objective and could be understood through rational analysis expanded into a theory that the natural world too could be dissected and categorized, thus birthing the modern institutions and methods of science as we know them. As Maçães wrote in History Has Begun, the history of European philosophy “is a repeated attempt to find [a] final truth, to build a final system of thought”. Europeans ultimately “see the great narratives of nation, religion, or money as fictions to be abandoned” because they value empirical reality over all other things, a tendency that emerged from the historical context that defined the birth of Western European Christianity.
The story of Christianity— and religion more broadly— in the United States is fundamentally different. The myriad flavors of Christianity introduced into the lands that would become the United States were always practiced by the dominant groups of society. There was no need for the religion to fanatically assert its truth against a moral order that rejected it. The enshrining of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, meanwhile, ensured that different denominations of Christianity could flourish freely without experiencing serious persecution from the government, a state that is perhaps more reminiscent of the order of the pagan Roman world, with its many dynamic, polytheistic cults, than Catholic and Protestant Europe. Is it such a surprise, then, that the American attitude towards religion is more positive, free, and accepting than that of its counterpart across the Atlantic? As Maçães further expands in his book, “religion makes life more interesting, and most Americans, I think, turn to it in that spirit, not in search of final truth”. American philosophy, exemplified by William James, is likewise more pragmatic than its European counterpart in that it essentially argues “that there are many truths and that they are equally good and wholesome, even when they contradict each other”. Unlike Europeans, Americans might “embrace [fictions] all the more for being fictions” that are symbolically true precisely because they allow people to live good, fulfilling lives. The key understanding we must take away from this, then, is that Americans fundamentally are more concerned with the ways in which ideas can help them self-actualize or derive meaning from their lives than whether or not they are empirically true. This cultural disposition, I believe, is shared by most Latin Americans and is evident in the literary genre that has received the greatest renown in the region: the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and others.
In his essay titled Archeofuturism, fellow Praxis member Ahmed Eldakhil explored the concept of Carl Schmitt’s central domain, or “the moral foundation of a society that [informs] secondary problems such as the political, legal, economic, cultural and other phenomena''. Religious tenets are, effectively, the central domain of a society. But religion should also be understood as a sort of narrative technology. The stories humans tell about themselves allow a society to understand itself, its role in the universe, and the plan of action needed to fulfill that role. As such, it should be understood in this allegorical sense, rather than as a series of claims about the empirical nature of reality. Different religious beliefs lead to different end states; the variations we see among human societies are in part explained by this. Through extensive research and reflection, I have come to realize that there is already in existence a young religion indigenous to the hemisphere that could both unite the Pan-American world under a single founding narrative and transform the hemisphere’s understanding of itself in order to embark upon the next phase of human development. Such a society could accomplish the noble missions I first wrote about in The New Atlantis.
II. Abrahamism v4.0
If we are to conceive of religion as a narrative technology, we must chart its evolution in the Western Eurasian world across millennia. Judaism, the grandfather of the Abrahamic faiths, represents Abrahamism v1.0. Christianity, with its fusion of Jewish, Greco-Roman, and Germanic influences represents Abrahamism v2.0. It was primarily the religion of the European continent; its Western variants are largely responsible for the creation of the modern world. Islam, which forked away from Christianity by adding Arabian influences to its foundation, represents Abrahamism v3.0. While all three of these traditions have contributed immensely to human history, they each run up against certain limitations that will prevent them from taking the Western Hemisphere to the next stage of civilization. Chief among these limits is the fact that each was founded in an era of slow technological and scientific progress. Their notions of what humanity could or could not achieve are deeply informed— and ultimately constrained— by the historical eras in which they were founded. Furthermore, these religions did not account for the existence of the Americas when they were brought into the world. How could they? The existence of the Western Hemisphere could not have been proven at that point in time. There is, however, a fourth iteration of the Abrahamic faiths that meets both of these requirements. If it grows and develops successfully, it could lay the foundation for the Pan-American empire of the future. I have come to the conclusion, based on extensive research and reflection, that The Church of the Latter-day Saints (LDS), founded by Joseph Smith and commonly referred to as the Mormon Church, could very well represent the next evolution of Western Eurasian religion or Abrahamism v4.0.
Before delving further into this subject, I feel that it is important to be honest regarding my thoughts on the LDS Church. I am, after all, commenting on a tradition to which I do not belong. As it currently exists, I believe there are serious obstacles that the Church of the Latter-day Saints would have to overcome in order to become the foundation of the Pan-American Empire I have imagined. I will be discussing these obstacles at length in Part Two of this essay. It’s also not evident to me that the Latter-day Saints themselves are interested in such a project. That being said, the seeds from which this empire might grow are certainly present within the religion. It has a significant amount of potential that is yet unexplored. The religious and ideological landscape of the United States is currently fractured. The present ideological vacuum is being exploited by Wokeness, which brings with it a number of tenets that I find deeply concerning and will elaborate on within the next part of this essay. Outside of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, I doubt that any other movement or organization would be capable of opposing the advance of Wokeness across the elite institutions of the country. They are all either too radical, schlerotic, or dispersed to do so. Furthermore, I have devised a framework that would allow the country and hemisphere to preserve the freedom of religion enshrined in the American Constitution while reorienting both in a more constructive direction. This is the context that must be considered when reading this piece.
The founding narrative of the Latter-day Saints states that Joseph Smith was led by the angel Moroni to a collection of golden plates, later translated by Smith, that described a lost American civilization. This civilization was descended from Jewish tribes that migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas approximately 600 years before Jesus was born. The sacred text, known as The Book of Mormon, details the various dealings and conflicts that occurred among the factions descended from these lost tribes: the Lamanites, Jaredites, Mulekites, and Nephites. Latter-day Saint theology also diverges from traditional Christian theology in a number of ways. It holds that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct beings united in purpose and referred to as the Godhead. Furthermore, God, called Heavenly Father, exists with his wife, known as Heavenly Mother, among many other gods and was himself the child of two parent deities, thus implying the existence of other divine beings stretching back into eternity.
A series of theological innovations have been produced by the LDS Church that will allow it to thrive in an age of technological acceleration and massive social instability. The doctrine of exaltation, for example, states that Latter-day Saints, by fulfilling a number of ordinances mandated by their faith, will achieve eternal life in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, transcend into godhood, live eternally with their family members, and receive all the power, glory, dominion, and knowledge that God possesses . Unlike most of the previous iterations of the Abrahamic faiths, which hold that it is blasphemous to even think that humans could become gods, the Latter-day Saints believe that it is both possible and desirable for humans to do so as long as they live according to the teachings of the Church. Within LDS society, there is likewise a major emphasis on higher education because it is believed that “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection”. The theology of the Church states that the Heavenly Father himself was once a human who was exalted into godhood and that humans, as his children, should seek to follow in his footsteps. As the LDS Church President Lorenzo Snow once remarked while summarizing the doctrine:
“As man now is, God once was:
As God now is, man may be”
I am tempted to theorize that the LDS notion of exaltation into godhood, with its emphasis on intellectual refinement through education and proper moral behavior, came into being precisely due to the cultural moment in which the religion was formed. The scale and speed of Western advancements in science, technology, and philosophy at that moment in time were unprecedented in human history. Though the Bible contains within it the symbolic seed of technological civilization through its story in Genesis about Adam and Eve’s stewardship over the beasts of Eden, there is always an implied hierarchy to creation. For all that humans might manipulate nature, they could not bring it into existence as God did. The Latter-day Saints diverge from this notion in that they believe their Heavenly Father gave order to the universe, but did not create it. Humans, through exaltation, are able to receive the same status and capabilities within nature that he possesses, which is reflective of the Saints’ understanding of themselves and the trajectory of human civilization given the technological achievements occurring in the cultural backdrop of the Church’s early years.
It is clear that humanity’s scientific and technological progress will continue to bestow upon us the knowledge and capabilities previously reserved for divine beings in the stories of ancient religious traditions. Latter-day Saint notions about man’s relationship with the divine are significantly more compatible with the present trajectory of human progress than those of its many predecessors, an understanding that is shared by the Mormon Transhumanist Association . Whereas Islam or Catholicism, because of their theological stipulations, might place hard limits on a society’s technological progress— whether through banning stem cell research or other avenues of investigation— no such limit exists among the Latter-day Saints because they have effectively established that scientific and technological progress, with the end goal of ordering the universe along certain moral and ethical principles largely inherited from Western Christianity, are integrated into their religious doctrines. In this sense, it differs substantially from the atheistic, rationalistic, and more libertarian-minded transhumanist cults that have emerged within the last 30 years that treat humans as widgets to be optimized along other axes and embrace a more Nietzschean perspective on human relations. The Latter-day Saints, in contrast to these other transhumanist movements, embrace a more communitarian approach to technological advancement and preserve Christianity’s concern for the poor, weak, and vulnerable. It must be noted that the Latter-day Saints are not the only religious group that has believed in some form of apotheosis. Greco-Roman pagan beliefs included stories of humans undergoing this process, but they did not hold that it was available to all. Given the exclusive and heroic nature of the protagonists of said narratives, it is evident they did not believe the weak or vulnerable could hope to achieve godhood. Exaltation effectively preserves Christian beliefs about the equal moral value of all humans before God and extends the promise of apotheosis to all, including those to whom the process would not have been extended in the pagan world, as long as they live according to certain moral standards.
The LDS Church has also produced an ordinance that may be capable of restoring family structures across the Americas. The data on marriage and childrearing within the US shows a worrying picture. More and more Americans are remaining childless and the rate of marriage has plummeted among many segments of the population. Though there have been attempts to improve this situation through a number of policy incentives, the numbers have not shifted much. Similar trends of plunging fertility and marriage rates are being observed within many Latin American countries. The LDS sealing ordinance, a ritual that builds upon the Christian sacrament of marriage, allows spouses and their children to be bound to each other throughout eternity. Families can continue to live with each other in either the celestial, terrestrial, or telestial kingdoms after death. On a practical level, this incentivizes the careful selection of partners, high fertility rates among couples, and a focus on the strengthening of family relationships. The belief that you are going to be with your family members for all time causes one to be both more willing to have many children and also encourages one to ensure that relationships among family members are positive and healthy.
The sealing ordinance could solve a basic problem that the West faces via its intersection with another LDS practice, the Baptism for the Dead. Modernity has essentially shredded the Western world’s connection to its past. Baptism for the Dead consists of baptizing a proxy for a deceased family member in the physical world which then leads to the deceased person’s spirit being asked, in the afterlife, if they consent to the baptism. By symbolically and emotionally reconnecting individuals to their ancestors and binding their present and future loved ones into a cohesive family unit, these ordinances provide a powerful anchor that links Latter-day Saints to the past while heavily incentivizing them to invest in the future.
High fertility rates in a society also play a secondary role that may escape the notice of casual observers. The debate around immigration in the United States has become particularly tense due to the implicit understanding that the mainstream population is declining while the populations of the new arrivals are increasing. These trends have given way to fears of a coming “Great Replacement”, in which a shrinking white population will find itself cornered by growing, unfriendly non-white groups. The only way to sustain immigration to the United States, which brings a number of social, cultural, and economic benefits to the country, is through the healthy, sustained growth of the mainstream population. The sacrament of sealing, through its second and third order effects, might be capable of providing an avenue towards this state of affairs.
There is reason to believe that the Latter-day Saints, specifically, will be able to appeal to the most recent arrivals to the United States: those of Latin American or Asian origin. According to LDS theology, the Lamanites were the descendants of one of four Jewish tribes who settled the Americas and have, at various times, been denoted as the ancestors of the Native Americans and Polynesians/Southeast Asians. By providing crucial, foundational places to both the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere and newcomers from portions of Asia within the narratives of their sacred texts, the Church of the Latter-day Saints may succeed in integrating said groups, along with the other populations of the Americas, under a single Abrahamic narrative framework. The data on conversions to the LDS Church supports this claim; US Latinos are the fastest growing demographic group within the faith and Latin America as a region has the highest LDS growth rate in the world. The seven countries with the greatest numbers of Latter-day Saints outside of the US are Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, Chile, Peru, and Argentina.
III. The New Atlantis meets the New Zion
The Church of the Latter-day Saints has the potential to integrate the Americas into a cohesive political order while reorienting the foreign policies of its constituents towards Asia through its theological narratives. A civilization that is built upon a Latter-day Saint foundation would also be capable of fulfilling the tripartite mission I set forth in The New Atlantis. The first part of that mission, called the Gaea Initiative, aimed to restore the natural beauty and health of the Earth through a series of de-extinction and terraforming projects. The second part of the mission, manned by the Promethean Collective, sought to create a network of robust, distributed arks that could preserve humanity’s knowledge and wisdom in the event of planetary catastrophe. Finally, the Ouranos Expedition was devised with the intention of using the practices and knowledge generated by the first two missions to expand into the cosmos. The religion and history of the Latter-day Saints provides many reasons for a civilization to embark upon such projects.
In his essay titled War and Peace and Life Everlasting, fellow Praxis member Alpha Barry wrote of the conundrum facing humanity at this moment in our development. Historically, the main driver of technological progress was war. The invention of nuclear weapons, however, has effectively removed that tool from the arsenals of the great powers. It is difficult to imagine any country with nuclear weapons engaging in total war against a peer who also possesses them. How can we drive progress absent this motivator? Alpha’s answer to this question was the potential redirection of a society away from an orientation towards war and towards one “where technology is the core craft of the state and its citizens”. A civilization built upon a Latter-day Saint religious foundation would achieve this reorientation, albeit with technology creation not as an end but a means to achieving exaltation and communion with the Heavenly Father.
Under this paradigm, terraforming, de-extinction, knowledge preservation, and space exploration could all be justified without a recourse to war. Terraforming the Earth into a garden world echoes the early, and incredibly formative, LDS experience of irrigating the arid desert of Utah to create a life-sustaining environment. Further still, terraforming the American continent could represent a return to tradition in the eyes of the Latter-day Saints. In May of 1838, Joseph Smith taught his followers that it was revealed to him, in a vision, that the Garden of Eden was originally located near Independence, Missouri. In the Book of Genesis, it is stated that “out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air”. The Latter-day Saints might seek to recreate what was theologically lost through extensive terraforming and de-extinction projects centered around this location in the United States. Such a project might then expand to other locations across the world, a global rebirth of Eden. The creation of robust, distributed arks of carefully curated human knowledge ties in closely with the LDS notion of education preserved after the resurrection and the exaltation of man. In order to join the Heavenly Father in exaltation, humans would need to generate ever greater forms of knowledge while ensuring that no planetary catastrophe could set back the progress generated thus far. Finally, the exploration and colonization of space could be justified because they would allow humans to both search for Kolob, the celestial body closest to the throne of God described in the LDS Book of Abraham, and acquire practical knowledge that would be of use after exaltation.
What might a Pan-American Latter-day Saint political entity look like at a geopolitical level? I have come to believe that it might resemble a state described by Praxis member Eric Wollberg when he tweeted that “21st century America [or Pan-America], will be far more like 15th century Portugal, than 20th century Britain. Americans are tired of hegemony, but enlivened by the renewed prospect of becoming a spacefaring people”. The frontier holds sway over the imaginations of all of the inhabitants of the Americas. It is integral to our identities. The Pan-American Empire I have imagined would maintain a military presence in the Western Hemisphere and East Asia, but might retract itself from other regions in order to not overextend itself. It would focus on making the hemisphere self-sufficient and redirect the vast majority of its energies towards the existential missions detailed above. Domination of the Earth would not be its central objective. Rather, it would choose to pursue new celestial, terrestrial, and cerebral frontiers. The Church of the Latter-day Saints represents one way— of potentially many— to achieve this goal. But what obstacles to this future exist? I will be exploring those in part two of this essay.
- History Has Begun, Bruno Maçães - page 46
- History Has Begun, Bruno Maçães - page 139
- History Has Begun, Bruno Maçães - page 99
- History Has Begun, Bruno Maçães - page 46
- History Has Begun, Bruno Maçães - page 139