Friday, November 04, 2011

Build a Better God

Universalist minister John Murray Spear was a man of uncommon moral courage. In the 1840's, he organized the first Universalist convention on the abolition of slavery and helped to assemble a portion of the Underground Railroad in Boston. He also championed women's rights, fought for better conditions for workers, and effectively served as America's first parole officer. Still, Spear was also deeply frustrated. He had been with the church for several decades, and it was growing increasingly difficult to reconcile his faith with the often harsh and arbitrary world that he lived in.

Eventually Spear became disillusioned and turned to spiritualism at the behest of his daughter. In the following years he claimed to have contacted ghosts while in a trance state, writing about his experiences in pamphlets. Just as the high-science jargon of quantum mechanics is often appropriated by today's New Age gurus, Spear was fascinated by the then-mysterious world of electromagnetism and sought to harness its power in healing the sick. His unusual activities alienated his friends in the church and many worried that Spear had succumbed to madness. When he announced that he had become the chosen medium of a "Congress of Spirits" whose ranks included Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, their fears seemed to be confirmed. His membership in the church was dissolved, but at this point Spear had little interest and (possibly due to the influence of Benjamin Franklin) had started designing fantastic mechanisms such as an "electric thinking machine" and a device that could facilitate telepathic communication across all of America.

As is typical in these situations, former church members and various spiritualists flocked to hear Spear's trance sermons and he soon had a healthy cult following. His preachings were fairly radical for the time and placed an emphasis on free love and liberation for women. Perhaps emboldened by his new prominence, Spear selected an inner circle of followers and began work on his most audacious plan of all. Christ was taking too long to make his return and usher in paradise, so Spear decided to bring about utopia himself.

He decided to make his own messiah.

With who knows how many spirits guiding his thoughts, Spear designed a machine in Lynn, Massachusetts. Called "New Motive Power," Spear's messiah was a decidedly non-human construct assembled on top of a large dining room table. Comprised of zinc and copper, along with the all-important magnets, New Motive Power was intended to be a sentient conduit of spiritual force. After construction was completed, Spear and his colleagues attempted to bring life into New Motive Power through various rituals. Despite their best efforts, their messiah proved inoperative.

Spear was crushed by his failure and was apparently ordered to retire by his ghostly guides. He continued to support progressive and spiritualist causes until his death 1887. New Motive Power, the stillborn god, was dismantled; its parts sold for scrap.

But don't take my word for it!
-You can read about it in a book.

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