So here we are. Rather, I should say, here we are still. Completely unsurprisingly Harold Camping's Rapture prediction failed miserably and the 2000 year track record of failed Armageddon prophecies remain untarnished.
I'm in a bit of a moral quandary though. See when I first started seeing all the ads for the May 21st end of the world my first thought was "Oh yes please! Come May 22 I'm going to mock the fuck out of these people!". Then, as the day got closer I was reminded of my own childhood as a believer in the Rapture and how terrible a burden it was to live with (not to mention the constant fear that you've been left behind everytime you're home alone). So I decided to change tactic, I was going to post a sweet Marilyn Manson Armageddon themed video (guaranteed to offend 7 kinds of Gehenna out of most Christians) and then post an addendum about how everyone should be offended, not by Mr Manson and his dirty words but at the real suffering caused by this scam masquerading as prophecy.
But now the day after the Rapture-that-wasn't is finally here and I don't even feel like doing that anymore. Harold Camping left so much human wreckage in his wake that I just can't work up any kind of lighthearted response. Families have been torn apart. Old people are left without their life savings. People are dead. None of this is funny. You know what else is not funny? The fact that the Family Radio cult is going to move forward largely unscathed. I can know this for a fact because one of the greatest forms of prophecy known to man - science - guarantees it.
Strong beliefs - religious beliefs especially - are remarkably persistent in the face of disagreeable evidence, to the point where it can be well nigh invulnerable no matter how much evidence can be shown to contradict said belief. In their article "On the Presumed Fragility of Unconventional Beliefs", David A Snow and Richard Machalek note:
"The devoted Christian ... and other millennial enthusiasts can maintain faith in unfulfilled claims by invoking the unfalsifiable belief that ultimately all the promised benefits will be provided."
So even when something that was guaranteed to happen doesn't happen, the true believer will typically find a way to keep believing that it will still happen at some later time. So instead of letting go of the promised thing, they just adjust the time they expect to receive it in. This is especially heartbreaking when it comes to faith healing.
Another article, "When Prophecy Fails and Faith Persists: A Theoretical Overview" by Lorne L Dawson notes:
"Successful religious organizations have developed a variety of strategies for managing cognitive dissonance and preserving belief."
He goes on to give some examples of these cognitive dissonance management tools:
"We can distinguish at least four kinds of rationalization: spiritualization, a test of faith, human error, and blaming others."
If I was a betting man (and thanks to my short and exciting career as a professional gambler you can bet that I am!!) I would put my money on Camping using both human error ("I got the maff wrong again!") and a test of faith to explain away his latest failure. I expect to hear things among the lines that this failure was actually a blessing, that God is testing them and allowing the world to mock them for some obscure purpose. I strongly doubt that they will blame any other group for this failure and I don't think many would go the SDA route and spiritualize their failure. Whatever excuse they use I also think it's a fair bet that this entire scenario will replay itself on whatever new date Camping chooses.
UPDATE: 24 May 2011
Called it! The new date for the Rapture according to Harold Camping is 21 October 2011
Boom goes the dynomite?
Thar she blows...?
OK I'm looking for a catchphrase but this is clearly not working out for me...