Muggles, Mormons and Theology
February 17, 2013 2 Comments
“Mainstream” Protestantism during Joseph Smith’s lifetime was locked in important controversies over things like the nature and extent of freewill, grace, perfectionism, slavery and the like.
But drop groups like the Mormons or Shakers into the discussion and those other disagreements paled.
That said, the minority theologies were quite diverse among themselves and deserve some attention. Since this is a Mormon discussion around here, I want to bring up (comparatively) one of the more interesting outliers: The Muggletonians. (The Muggletonians effectively ceased to exist in 1979 when the last “trustee” died.)
The Muggletonians began in 1651 with revelation to a London tailor, John Reeve. Reeve and his cousin, Lodowicke Muggleton (a backsliding Puritan) were said to be the realization of the two witnesses so familiar in the book of Revelation. Among some points of Reeve’s revelations were these:
Muggleton was to be spokesman, so that the relation between Reeve and Muggleton was Moses–Aaron like. Muggletonians were premillennialists. They believed the second coming was a future fact.
More curious perhaps was the landscape of the spiritual: the soul was mortal and was born and died with body. They rejected the Trinity: Jesus was God, and when he died, Moses and Elijah took care of heaven until his resurrection. They were extreme materialists.
Not surprisingly, the Muggletons believed in a physical heaven, located in the natural world (exactly six miles from earth by early accounts, later it became more sophisticated). Their revelation even specified that God was between five and six feet tall. Hell was to be on earth, once the end came. A genuine place of “outer darkness,” this would only happen when the sun, moon and stars ceased to shine.
Ex Nihilo creation was bogus for the Muggletonians and matter pre-existed present creation. Remarkably, their view of the Fall had a no-fault devil. The Devil fell from heaven because God chose to deprive him of his presense, to show the other beings of pure reason (not necessarily a positive attribute), the Angels, that they owed their happiness to Him. The Devil ended up on earth, had clandestine sex with Eve, and hence came Cain. After the long passage of time, it was believed the all mankind shared the DNA (blood) of both Cain and Seth. The two natures were constantly at war within each person.
In a sense, Muggletonianism was a form of Deism and it partook of Enlightenment notions rather freely. Muggleton believed God’s intervention with the world was brief and singular. He just didn’t watch over it or tweak it at all. No point in prayer and guilt was a God-supplied internal compass. Fear of God was an empty saying, because God was not watching you–at all. And yet, prophecy existed in his own time.
Muggletons had a simplified theological world: there was no need to worry about ghosts or demons or witches and there was no all-seeing-Eye. There can never be a spirit without a body, in the usual Christian sense.
Following Reeve’s death, there was a bit of struggle for leadership. It’s somewhat odd because the Muggles (excuse the term) had no use for missionary work or leadership structure per se. They had no precise meeting schedules, and those took place in rented hall, funded by a board of trustees. They were never incorporated and didn’t self-indentify in census surveys. Muggletons existed in different parts of England, but often didn’t know of each other. Meetings of Muggles simply happened because like-minded persons thought discussion helped one to understand ones own positions. No sermons, hence no corpus of preaching and no public prayers (what’s the point?). Hymns were sung in meetings. Ironically, the Muggletonians privately spent large sums on tracts and books to publicize the sect, without exactly proselytizing *to* it. There were only tiny sales receipts. Apparently the appeal was narrow.
The Muggle canon? The Old and New Testaments, except those works assigned to Solomon. Job was iffy. Book of Enoch was in, as was the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.
The close parallels and stark differences between Nauvoo Mormonism and Muggletonians are rather obvious. But there is one other thing. This Muggletonian proverb:
Since by contraries all things are made clear, without contraries nothing can appear.
On the proverb, see David Hempton and John Walsh, “E. P. Thompson and Methodism,” in Noll, God and Mammon: Protestants, Money and the Market. Also, E. P. Thompson himself in Witness Against the Beast. Muggletonian literature is accessible at the Muggletonian Press. The Wikepedia article on Muggleton is worth pursuing.