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Self-Appointed Messiahs, Capitalism, and MCAT CARS!

Session 45

Practice your MCAT CARS skills with this complex passage about a doctor and self-appointed prophet with radical views on labor, gender, and sex.

Once again, we’re joined by Jack Westin as we dig into another passage to help you improve your critical thinking skills and ace your CARS section, and hopefully, all the sections on the MCAT.

If you’re looking for a more structured course that is focused on what the AAMC needs you to be focused on to maximize your score on the MCAT, specifically the CARS section, sign up for their CARS Strategy Course. Let them know you heard about this on this podcast.

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[02:04] Jack Westin’s Daily Passages

Jack Westin offers daily CARS passage with 5-7 questions (which is something you’d see on the exam) everyday. It gets straight right into your email and you get to do it and discuss it with other students.

The exam is structured that is similar to the actual AAMC test. Come across new topics you may be weak on as well as new question types that you may not be so great at.

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Link to Article:

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/how-cults-corrected-america

Most people have never heard of Cyrus Teed, which is a shame. He was born in Trout Creek, New York, in 1839. As a boy, he worked along the Erie Canal, experiencing some of the worst labor conditions that nineteenth-century America had to offer. As Adam Morris recounts in a new book, “American Messiahs,” Teed soon became a staunch anti-capitalist, and he spent much of his life trying to abolish wage labor entirely. This didn’t prevent him from pursuing a number of business ventures. At one point, he ran a mop factory; at another, he hawked something called an Electro-Therapeutic Apparatus, which provided its owners with the putative health benefits of mild, recurrent electrocution. Teed was a student of “eclectic medicine,” a branch of healing that rose in response to widespread—and frequently justified—fears of doctors. In Teed’s day, you didn’t become a surgeon if you didn’t have the stomach to wield a bone saw.

Teed also believed that he had, living within him, a spirit of some sort. He would go on to proclaim that this spirit had once empowered Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus. The New York Times headline wrote itself: “A Doctor Obtaining Money on the Ground That He is the New Messiah.” Teed called himself Koresh, a transliteration from the Hebrew version of the name Cyrus, and criticized mainstream Christianity as “the dead carcass of a once vital and active” faith. Then, in the eighteen-seventies, he founded a commune, Koreshan Unity, and announced that “the new kingdom” would be formed through women’s emancipation—he envisioned a group of celibate, bi-gendered beings—and the destruction of monopoly capitalism.

Teed is one of the case studies in “American Messiahs,” in which Morris exhumes the lives and beliefs of a linked procession of self-appointed prophets who tried to upend American religion—and the American way of life. They did so by attracting thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of followers while preaching a version of what Morris calls “apostolic communism,” which has a clear basis in scripture. According to Acts 4:32, the first Christians, in Jerusalem, “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The typical history of Christianity will tell you that this passage has been influential in certain monastic communities but scarcely anywhere else.

Morris is out to prove this account wrong, and, in many ways, he succeeds. As it happens, a resilient strain of Christo-Marxist thinking has endured in America. Its adherents have almost always been celibate, anti-marriage, anti-family, relatively enlightened on matters of gender and race, and unblushingly communistic. The Americans who spearheaded these movements had another commonality: they all believed, in one manner or another, that they were living gods. For Morris, this fact has too often been exploited as an excuse to dismiss a radical tradition. “Far more than for their heretical beliefs,” he writes, “the communistic and anti-family leanings of American messianic movements pose a threat to the prevailing socioeconomic order.” In other words, these men and women were, morally speaking, light-years ahead of their time—and that’s why we don’t take them seriously.

It is interesting that these movements had progressive goals long before mainstream society did. One of the first prophets Morris writes about is a woman: the Quaker pacifist Jemima Wilkinson, who assumed her prophetic identity in 1776, following a bout of fever, when she was twenty-three. She called herself the Public Universal Friend, the All-Friend, and the Comforter, among other names, and answered only to male pronouns. This had less to do with modern conceptualizations of transgenderism than with Wilkinson’s belief, hinted at through four decades of missionary activity, that the spirit who inhabited her was Jesus. Wilkinson cited a passage from Jeremiah—“A woman shall compass a man”—to account for this possession by the Christ spirit, and she had an abstemious Christian desire to expunge sexual activity from the human experience. (Wilkinson shared this desire with her contemporary Ann Lee, who founded the Shakers, and who was supposed to have said that there are no “sluts in heaven.”)

[03:55] Paragraph 1, Sentence 1

Most people have never heard of Cyrus Teed, which is a shame.

Jack says:

It’s not negative. But the author is just being fun.

[04:18] Paragraph 1, Sentence 2

He was born in Trout Creek, New York, in 1839.

Jack says:

Now we’re given a place and a time period.

[04:27] Paragraph 1, Sentence 3

As a boy, he worked along the Erie Canal, experiencing some of the worst labor conditions that nineteenth-century America had to offer.

Jack says:

The author is giving a little backstory of Cyrus Teed.

[04:42] Paragraph 1, Sentence 4

As Adam Morris recounts in a new book, “American Messiahs,” Teed soon became a staunch anti-capitalist, and he spent much of his life trying to abolish wage labor entirely.

Jack says:

We’re given another name here and he’s the author of the book, saying that Teed was an anti-capitalist. We need to know what capitalist societies are in socialism and communism. These are things the MCAT expects you to know. It’s common knowledge.

It’s probably going to be presented as a Psych/Soc passage. You need to know socio-economic concepts and this is one of them. You don’t need to know much here.

It says that Teed is an anti-capitalist which means he’s trying to abolish wage labor. It’s common knowledge that wage is a salary where you’re working for money. To some extent, this is what capitalism is. You pay someone to work on your behalf whether your business is big or small.

As they’re presenting you the information, they’re also explaining what capitalism involves. Right now, all you need to know is it involves wages.

[06:45] Paragraph 1, Sentence 5

This didn’t prevent him from pursuing a number of business ventures.

Jack says:

It’s ironic that Teed is an anti-capitalist but he’s also trying to pursue businesses. Why is someone who doesn’t like capitalism going to business ventures? Capitalism means business. It’s having businesses competing for the market.

[07:16] Paragraph 1, Sentence 6

At one point, he ran a mop factory; at another, he hawked something called an Electro-Therapeutic Apparatus, which provided its owners with the putative health benefits of mild, recurrent electrocution.

Jack says:

The author is giving examples of businesses he’s trying to run.

[07:44] Paragraph 1, Sentence 7

Teed was a student of “eclectic medicine,” a branch of healing that rose in response to widespread—and frequently justified—fears of doctors.

Jack says:

It’s another kind of example of what Teed was into, specifically eclectic medicine.

[08:10] Paragraph 1, Sentence 8

In Teed’s day, you didn’t become a surgeon if you didn’t have the stomach to wield a bone saw.

Jack says:

He’s doing businesses but he’s fighting against bad labor conditions and capitalism.

[08:44] Paragraph 2, Sentence 1

Teed also believed that he had, living within him, a spirit of some sort.

Jack says:

We’re given here a sense of psychology as to what’s living within him.

[08:58] Paragraph 2, Sentence 2

He would go on to proclaim that this spirit had once empowered Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus.

Jack says:

Just know that he believes in himself. Thinking that he has some kind of psychiatric issue is an assumption. It can be an epiphany or a divine intervention.

[09:33] Paragraph 2, Sentence 3

The New York Times headline wrote itself: “A Doctor Obtaining Money on the Ground That He is the New Messiah.”

Jack says:

The author is establishing the fact that he believes he’s the messiah. It brings the fact that he is a doctor. Maybe he’s doing it for the money.

[10:30] Paragraph 2, Sentence 4

Teed called himself Koresh, a transliteration from the Hebrew version of the name Cyrus, and criticized mainstream Christianity as “the dead carcass of a once vital and active” faith.

Jack says:

We’re given information about criticizing Christianity and having his Hebrew name. It’s still messiah but maybe in his own religion.

[11:02] Paragraph 2, Sentence 5

Then, in the eighteen-seventies, he founded a commune, Koreshan Unity, and announced that “the new kingdom” would be formed through women’s emancipation—he envisioned a group of celibate, bi-gendered beings—and the destruction of monopoly capitalism.

Jack says:

To some people, this might be crazy and to some, it’s not. He’s divinely inspired and promotes equality of women which is great and the abolition of capitalism.

It doesn’t suggest he’s crazy at all. So we can’t assume that, otherwise, it will alter your perception of the answer choices. This is a bias since the author never presented him as a crazy person.

[12:55] Paragraph 3, Sentence 1

Teed is one of the case studies in “American Messiahs,” in which Morris exhumes the lives and beliefs of a linked procession of self-appointed prophets who tried to upend American religion—and the American way of life.

Jack says:

We’re taken back to the author Morris and is just saying that Teed is one of those many who are self-appointed prophets trying to change everything. It’s taking us back to reality. We’re going into Teed’s life and what’s happening and how he sees things. And he’s just one of many people.

[13:40] Paragraph 3, Sentence 2

They did so by attracting thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of followers while preaching a version of what Morris calls “apostolic communism,” which has a clear basis in scripture.

Jack says:

It’s painting a picture of tens of thousands of followers and this is in the 1800s. Now, they’re talking about attracting people.

[14:19] Paragraph 3, Sentence 3

According to Acts 4:32, the first Christians, in Jerusalem, “were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”

Jack says:

This is not really necessary. But it just means Teed is attracting thousands of people. This guy might be right but he might be wrong. In this case, he’s pointing to the scripture and how it works. It’s essentially tying it back into religion and this sort of movement.

So while this sentence might not be necessary, a good point is to ask yourself why the author is bringing this up. Why is the author suggesting this? And it just suggests that Teed was good at convincing people or attracting things. He’s trying to unify people and bring them together.

[15:56] Paragraph 3, Sentence 4

The typical history of Christianity will tell you that this passage has been influential in certain monastic communities but scarcely anywhere else.

Jack says:

You don’t need to know what monastic means but think monks or secluded people.

The big picture here is that these self-appointed prophets lead people and can influence thousands. They’re building cults and communes with scriptural precedent. They refer back to the bible to explain their point of view or why they’re important.

At this point, we don’t really know if the author likes him or not. He’s not suggesting anything other than that he’s influential.

[17:50] Paragraph 4, Sentence 1

Morris is out to prove this account wrong, and, in many ways, he succeeds.

Jack says:

This is probably Teed’s approach to things. We don’t really know what “account” means here. But most likely, this is Teed’s philosophy.

[18:30] Paragraph 4, Sentence 2

As it happens, a resilient strain of Christo-Marxist thinking has endured in America.

Jack says:

Now we’re given a term. Marxist refers to Karl Marx. You should be able to know Marxism to some extent. Socialism, Marxism, communism – think of them as the same thing, and capitalism is its separate own thing.

Christo-Marxist is referring to Teed. You don’t need this outside knowledge. It’s just pointing back to Teed. And if they bring up new terms. Go with it and think of it in a new way.

[19:52] Paragraph 4, Sentence 3

Its adherents have almost always been celibate, anti-marriage, anti-family, relatively enlightened on matters of gender and race, and unblushingly communistic.

Jack says:

It’s painting a picture of people who follow the Christo-Marxist thinking.

[20:11] Paragraph 4, Sentence 4

The Americans who spearheaded these movements had another commonality: they all believed, in one manner or another, that they were living gods.

Jack says:

It’s talking about how common it is but we don’t know what makes Morris suggest that this is not necessarily good.

It’s probably not doubting Teed approach but just presenting how Teed approached this.

[21:03] Paragraph 4, Sentence 5

For Morris, this fact has too often been exploited as an excuse to dismiss a radical tradition.

Jack says:

The account Morris has is that people can use Teed’s radical approach against them. The radical approach could include being celibate and caring for women and women’s emancipation. And those could be used against them or used against their point of views and political ideologies.

[22:19] Paragraph 4, Sentence 6

“Far more than for their heretical beliefs,” he writes, “the communistic and anti-family leanings of American messianic movements pose a threat to the prevailing socio-economic order.”

Jack says:

This is how Morris paints how other people are perceiving him as the Messiah.

[23:06] Paragraph 4, Sentence 7

In other words, these men and women were, morally speaking, light-years ahead of their time—and that’s why we don’t take them seriously.

Jack says:

The author is liberal in his stance because he’s saying that this messiah had good points of view. And so maybe this anti-capitalism ideology is a good idea. But the author is saying that they used some of Teed’s radical points of view against him to bring him down.

The fact that he’s divinely inspired is used against him and discrediting him. Read this in a way where that quote is Morris’ point of view. It was something that people believed. People did not like Teed because it would go against socioeconomic order.

But really, these men and women bringing up different points of view were actually very progressive. That’s why we don’t take them seriously is because we weren’t necessarily understanding their points of view at that time. We were discrediting them as much as possible even though they had some great ideas.

This paragraph is really key. It’s explaining to us how they know a lot. They’re enlighted on matters of gender, race, and against capitalism, as well as their beliefs about being divinely inspired was used against them. The point the author is trying to make is that even though they had some great ideas, they went downhill because they were too extreme. They did things that were out of the mainstream.

[26:21] Paragraph 5, Sentence 1

It is interesting that these movements had progressive goals long before mainstream society did.

Jack says:

Those who are lightyears ahead had these progressive goals.

[26:37] Paragraph 5, Sentence 2

One of the first prophets Morris writes about is a woman: the Quaker pacifist Jemima Wilkinson, who assumed her prophetic identity in 1776, following a bout of fever, when she was twenty-three.

Jack says:

The author talks about a person, Jemima, who is in Morrison’s book. This is another example similar to Teed.

[27:12] Paragraph 5, Sentence 3

She called herself the Public Universal Friend, the All-Friend, and the Comforter, among other names, and answered only to male pronouns.

Jack says:

So Jemimah had all these different identities.

[27:30] Paragraph 5, Sentence 4

This had less to do with modern conceptualizations of transgenderism than with Wilkinson’s belief, hinted at through four decades of missionary activity, that the spirit who inhabited her was Jesus.

Jack says:

Wilkinson thought Jesus had inhabited her that’s why she went by male pronouns. This is very similar to Teed, bringing in this whole messiah, divinely inspired idea.

[28:12] Paragraph 5, Sentence 5

Wilkinson cited a passage from Jeremiah—“A woman shall compass a man”—to account for this possession by the Christ spirit, and she had an abstemious Christian desire to expunge sexual activity from the human experience.

Jack says:

Jemima is citing a passage from the bible.

[28:53] Paragraph 5, Sentence 6

(Wilkinson shared this desire with her contemporary Ann Lee, who founded the Shakers, and who was supposed to have said that there are no “sluts in heaven.”)

Jack says:

Another name is mentioned here. This is yet another example of how America’s messiahs believed they were divinely inspired and in way, used to discredit their politically progressive beliefs.

The key was really the fourth paragraph that suggested that if you have these communistic and anti-family ideas and movements, it poses a threat to society. So you have to realize this is what the author believes, which is that they were used to discredit them.

[30:11] The Main Idea

America’s beliefs about being divinely inspired were used to go against their politically progressive beliefs. So being this messiah can hurt you. This is what the author is saying. If you didn’t present yourself potentially as a messiah, we really wouldn’t know what would happen. But the fact you were the messiah can hurt you. It will hurt your ideas and your progressive values.

[31:04] Understanding a Confusing Idea

This is not an easy idea to understand especially if we have our own biases. Jack recommends that you break it down and focus on one paragraph at a time.

Each paragraph is its own entity. Focus on a specific paragraph. Understand that and then go to the next paragraph. 

'Don't try to connect dots. That's not necessary.'Click To Tweet

For this passage, you know that the first paragraph discusses Teed and who he is. The second paragraph is more about Teed’s ideas and how he’s a messiah. The third paragraph discusses more of the messiah stuff again and how Teed was a cult leader and tied to the bible.

The fourth paragraph is where we have most of the information. It’s suggesting the author’s point of view. They were not taken seriously because of their radical positions. They established this entire story and all this context to tell you their opinion in the fourth paragraph.

Finally, the fifth paragraph just gives you another example. This is the structure of this passage. And those are all you need to know going into the questions.

So take it one paragraph at a time. You may not have an easy time with the fourth paragraph. But pay attention to catch that point about how they were not taken seriously, especially the last sentence of the fourth paragraph.

'You don't need to understand every little sentence... you need to know why the author is bringing things up.'Click To Tweet

Links:

Jack Westin

CARS Strategy Course

Link to Article:

https://www.newyorker.com/books/under-review/how-cults-corrected-america

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