Monday, August 23, 2010

The end is never as nigh as you think it is

A while back my blogging buddy Gumby brought up Harold Camping.  For those who do not know, Harold is a Christian preacher (and I'm using the term extremely loosely here) currently famous for 2 things:

1 - Telling Christians they need to get out of church (personal Bible study and his radio show is all you need)

2 - That The Rapture is going down on 21 May 2011 (with the whole world ending later that year)

He knows this the same way every wannabe prophet throughout history has known it - Biblical numerology.  Sure, that very same method failed when he made the exact same prediction for 6 September 1994, but I don't think any Rapture predictor in the history of forever has ever let silly things like being proven completely and utterly wrong slow them down.  It certainly never seems to give their loyal followers any pause.  They all just stick around for the next prediction like the previous fiasco never happened.

Now I guess I could blog about why using a pseudo-method to calculate a non-existent event is stupid, but honestly what is the point?  It would be like trying to explain why using a drowsing rod to find the Loch Ness Monster won't work.  Even attempting to debunk it is giving it more credit than it deserves.  So instead I decided to blog about how pointless it is to even try to argue with such people.

If history has taught us anything it's that ideology can be incredibly resilient in the face of disappointment and reality.  When someone believes in something deeply enough it doesn't help one bit to prove them wrong time and time again.  It doesn't matter if the idea they cling to is obviously and demonstrably wrong in a lets-dry-the-puppy-in-the-microwave kind of way, some people will just stubbornly refuse to let go of it.  Somehow, when it comes to the end of the world and the rapture, otherwise intelligent people can act pants-on-head retarded.  Case in point, The Millerites:

William Miller (1782 - 1849) was one of the pioneers in the field of being wrong about the date for Christ's return.  Like most in the field he was fascinated by the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation.  He (like so many since) believed that if he fitted all the verses together in the right way and interpreted/decoded them correctly, it would reveal God's planned timeline for the world - including of course the Second Coming of Jesus.  To wit he had charts, illustrations and timelines that laid it all out.  He was a charismatic speaker and soon his movement grew out of obscurity and gained thousands of followers - as these messages are wont to do for some reason.

Now to his credit I must add that Mr Miller never gave an exact date for the return of Jesus (or the Advent as he called it) but he did teach that it would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When those dates came and went with no Jesus in sight the date was revised to April 3 and then again to April 18. Again no Jesus, just thousands of disappointed faithful.  Now you may think that this would be enough disappointment for the Millerites but you would be wrong.

See while William Miller refused to set an exact date, one of the more ambitious members of his movement had no such qualms.  Samuel S Snow taught at a Millerite meeting that the true date for Christ's return would be October 22, 1844.  For reasons I can't grasp the Millerites grabbed hold of this date despite all the previous disappointments.  In fact, if anything they seemed even more convinced of this date than the previous ones!  When the date came near "fields were left unharvested, shops were closed, people quit their jobs, paid their debts, and freely gave away their possessions with no thought of repayment".  Thousands of Millerites gathered across the United States in churches or on hilltops, fully expecting Jesus to arrive before their eyes.  You can guess what happened next right?  Yep, nothing. This time their despair and dissillusionment matched their previous levels of excited expectation - there were reports of uncontrolled weeping and deep depression and despair.  This final, crushing blow became known as the "Great Disappointment". The Millerites became a joke amongst the rest of the populace and members were roundly mocked and even assaulted.  Several members gave up on the Christian faith completely as a result.  William Miller however continued to expect the immanent return of Jesus right up to his death.

I bet you think that is where the story ends, right?  After all, who would use such a definitively debunked doctrine as a foundational belief?  Turns out people will never fail to surprise you.  See, while a fair number of Millerites realised that they were obviously mistaken, some decided that they were in fact right all along.  A number of strange theories started cropping up to make sense of what happened, the most popular of which taught that instead of the expected physical return the day actually marked a spiritual event.  Jesus didn't return to Earth that day, He instead entered the "heavenly sanctuary".  1844 therefore was the beginning of a still-ongoing process of "investigative judgment" of the souls of believers with the physical return due any day now.  A couple of fragmented Millerite groups reformed under this teaching.  You may have heard of the most successful of these - The Seventh Day Adventists.  They have - rather prudently - decided to not dabble in date setting again however.

Interestingly enough,  two other infamous groups with a strong apocalyptic focus can also trace their linage to William Miller.  One former Adventist - Charles Taze Russel - founded the Watchtower Society, better known today as the Jehovah's Witnesses.  Another Adventist splinter group in Waco, Texas would later rename themselves "Branch Davidian" in 1934 and would later become world famous (for all the wrong reasons) thanks to a charismatic leader by the name of David Koresh.

And that, cats and kittens, is why I don't see any point in addressing the claims of self appointed prophets claiming to have the inside scoop on Christ's return and the end of the world.  These guys have been with us for centuries and I'm willing to wager that they will continue to be with us for centuries more.  Their predictions will consistently come to nothing as they always have and yet their followers will never stop supporting them.  It's just one of those things.


GumbyTheCat said...

Heh heh. I'm glad you wrote this. I have a half-finished piece on Harold Camping that I just can't muster up the ooomph to finish. I GOTTA get my blog going again.

You are absolutely correct when you say how pointless it is to even try to argue with people such as the Campingites. I read one psychologist who was talking about Camping's 5/21/2011 Rapture date prediction as it related to Camping's cultish, fevered followers. He warned against mocking those people on 5/22/2011, as psychological studies of cults have shown it will actually drive these people further into the clutches of their cult leader.

Screw that, I say. On the religion-oriented discussion forums I frequent, the Camping doomsday date-setters have been harassing and stalking people for months. I have already warned them that I, and many others (from atheists to evangelicals), would be on them with a vengeance on 5/22/2011. We are going to have great fun at their expense, with much derisive mocking. As a matter of fact we're going to throw an online party, complete with virtual cookies and Kamping Kool-Aid.

If that drives them further into the clutches of their cult master, so what. It's not as if these psychologically damaged lunatics were going to walk away from their freak-show doomsday cult anyway. I have absolutely zero sympathy for these death-cultists.

Sounds harsh, I know. But everything we throw at them on 5/22/11 will be small potatoes in comparison to the crap that these smug, robotic, mindless, self-sanctified, arrogant, judgmental "I'm part of the 3% elect and you're not" sickos have been harassing people with for the last year or so.

I just wonder how many duped but otherwise innocent people will sell or give away their houses and other possessions, give all their money to Camping's Family Radio, or ruin their credit by running up their credit cards making purchases they couldn't possibly pay back, all because they think they won't be around after 5/21. I have read some "survivor's tales" from people who did just that during the run-up to Camping's infamous failed 1994 prediction. I have also heard a rumor of at least one suicide stemming from 1994, but do not have confirmation.

This is why I plan on being heartless and cruel to the Camping cult message-spreaders come 5/22. Their foolishness deserves to be widely mocked and mercilessly ridiculed. This is the first big end-times date-setting event of the Internet era, and it needs to be as widely and publicly scorned as possible. The more public the ridicule, the greater the chances are that maybe some peoples' lives won't be ruined the next time Camping or another dangerous religious fraud sets a Rapture date.

GumbyTheCat said...

Here's the Reader's Digest version of Camping's mathematical nuttery that he used to conjure up his 5/22/11 date.


The number 5, Camping concluded, equals "atonement." Ten is "completeness." Seventeen means "heaven." Camping patiently explained how he reached his conclusion for May 21, 2011.

"Christ hung on the cross April 1, 33 A.D.," he began. "Now go to April 1 of 2011 A.D., and that's 1,978 years."

Camping then multiplied 1,978 by 365.2422 days - the number of days in each solar year, not to be confused with a calendar year.

Next, Camping noted that April 1 to May 21 encompasses 51 days. Add 51 to the sum of previous multiplication total, and it equals 722,500.

Camping realized that (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17) = 722,500.

Or put into words: (Atonement x Completeness x Heaven), squared.



Cuckoo. Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

Eugene said...

C'mon Gumby, you can do it!! The blogoshpere misses you!

Thanks for sharing his "math". In my wildest dreams I never would have realised it would be that retarded.

The psychology behind this must be fascinating because it's not confined to religious groups. How many times has Alex Jones for instance prophecied an imminent police state and FEMA concentration camps for everyone? He's been wrong about it every year for I don't know how long and yet otherwise intelligent people still pay attention to him! The mind boggles...

GumbyTheCat said...

How many times has Alex Jones for instance prophecied an imminent police state and FEMA concentration camps for everyone? He's been wrong about it every year for I don't know how long and yet otherwise intelligent people still pay attention to him!

A very popular thread on the discussion site I frequent is titled "Was 9/11 a conspiracy?" It attracts every Alex Jones-worshiping nutcase on the planet, apparently. I don't post in that thread, but read it on occasion to remind myself what a bunch of paranoid nutters so many Americans are. It's scary reading the thought processes of my fellow countrymen and women. Occam's Razor is not welcome there. All theories must be as convoluted, complex and conspiratorial as possible. The truth about 9/11 can't be as simple as a bunch of terrorists hijacking planes and ramming them into buildings. No, it must be a Zionist conspiracy with the "JOOOOOOS" controlling everything behind the scenes. These paranoid tinfoil-hat idiots live in a miserable world where the government hires explosives experts, dresses them up in construction worker outfits, and has them install explosives behind the drywall of the World Trade Center Towers in order to bring the towers down in a controlled implosion. All in order to kill 3,000 of the government's own citizens so that we have justification to go to war for oil.

The mind reels at the frightening stupidity.

Oh, and for the record, 9/11 was indeed a conspiracy. Just not by us!