Book Club: Kingdom of Matthias

I found myself drawn to The Kingdom of Matthias this month after a political debate I had with a friend went awry. As much as I like to think I know about what goes on in DC right now, I definitely could brush up on my American History (it’s been so long since I took any kind of history course :/ ). Kingdom of Matthias tells the story of religious revival in the 1800s through the focus of one Robert Matthews, a self-proclaimed prophet of the Lord who may or may not have conned money and homes from his loyal, albeit na├»ve, believers. What is know about Matthews, however, is that he convinced several wealthy businessmen to give him a considerable amount of money and two houses in exchange for “abundance in the kingdom of heaven.” The book also details what went on in the Matthews’s “Kingdom” which included wife-swapping and absolute control over families who lived in what essentially would be considered compounds.
While reading the book, I couldn’t help but think of some of the religious people I knew. When I was younger, I went to a Korean-speaking church with my family and some of the members of the congregation always wanted something more – they weren’t happy with just going to church and praying and all of that, they needed to be shaken every single time they prayed. They would tell each other of the millions of times they spoke in tongue, felt God’s presence, heard Him say extremely specific things, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting an amazing religious experience but I think there’s a danger to always wanting more that leaves people dissatisfied. Sometimes when people want something so badly they become blind to the obvious, and unfortunately that’s when terrible people strike.
Matthews preyed on the dissatisfaction of the businessmen in their church-life. They craved religion to the point where one of the men gave up both his home and his wife to Matthews – because he wanted to believe so badly that this man was who he said he was and that by doing what the “prophet” wanted, he would achieve religious fulfillment that would make him feel whole.
Anyways, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about cult mentality or religious revival in 1800s USA. It’s fascinating to say the least and a very quick read.

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