Sunday, May 22, 2011

Not the end of the world

I really didn’t want to say anything about May 21st, but it was so widely advertised I couldn’t resist. The only good thing I can see coming out of this is a larger awareness of how many people there are that believe that the end of times is near and how that type of thinking causes tremendous harm. The belief helps to explain a lot of our current problems. Why worry about where you’re great grandchildren will get clean water, if the world will be gone by then?

I was in college when 909 people died in Jonestown, followers of a man who had a utopian vision. These were smart people who wanted to build a better world. I have been interested in cults ever since. I was really bummed that the people with the May 21st vans were right near my work last week and I missed them.

Harold Camping’s Family Radio is not necessarily a cult but it shares the common theme of a large following of something that is based on a mix of very logical and very healthy teaching with some absolutely crazy shit. I don’t doubt that his programs have helped some people. The stories of people spending every last dollar right up to May 21st are people who will need a different help. I heard a pollster talking about the many people who believe the apocalypse will come in their lifetime, but younger people said they hoped it would come when they were 80. Harold Camping is 89.

One of the best studies on the phenomenon of apocalyptic preaching comes from Leon Festinger. In the 1950’s he followed a small group who believed aliens were going to destroy the earth. They didn’t. A few left the cult, but most deepened their faith when their leader had a new vision that it was their faith that had saved the world. This may be the strategy that Camping takes, according to this YouTube that claims to have some inside information. This is not the leader’s ability to tell a better story, it is the mind at work attempting to deal with doing something incredibly stupid.

If you need a humorous break at this point, this one is great.

There are many Christians who not too happy about all of this.

Even National Geographic felt is necessary to weigh in.

The craziest ones to me are the ones that say the prediction is wrong, but they know the real truth

I have not read all of those or made any attempt to critique the quality of one over another. They all say something about how his problem is that he uses an allegorical method of interpretation. Some say we should instead take Revelations literally. Using that method, you’ll know that the prophecy has come to pass when you see something like this:

7 The locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. 8 Their hair was like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. 9 They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle. 10 They had tails with stingers, like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. 11 They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer)

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