Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The Consequences of Irrationality

As we come closer to the end of the world on Saturday — declared so by Harold Camping, who said the same thing in 1994 — stories like this are inevitable:

Robert Fitzpatrick does not lack conviction.

The 60-year-old ex-MTA employee has plunked down $140,000, his life savings, to help spread the word that the world will end on May 21, 2011.

“I’m trying to warn people about what’s coming,” Fitzpatrick told the Daily News. “People who have an understanding [of end times] have an obligation to warn everyone.”

Here’s what he spent it on:

Fitzpatrick spent his money on 1,000 placards on subway cars and several more on bus shelters around the city. They read: “Global Earthquake! The Greatest Ever – Judgment Day: May 21.”

The retiree’s beliefs are based on the predictions made by Harold Camping, who claims the rapture will take place on May 21. Fitzpatrick said the cataclysmic event will happen just before 6 p.m. Eastern.

Camping made a similar world-ending prediction in 1994, but he admitted he got his calculations wrong that time.

Fitzpatrick said he has no doubt that Camping’s latest proclamation is correct.

And this is where the brain’s ability to cover up cognitive dissonance is at its most amazing. When Fitzpatrick wakes up Sunday morning and the world hasn’t ended and it isn’t judgment day, he will probably undergo a temporary crisis of faith as his beliefs crash up against the real world. But it will likely be temporary. He will almost certainly end up doubling down on his faith, becoming even more convinced than ever that he was right.

This could happen any number of ways. Camping could come up with a new date, explaining that he forgot to carry the one in one of his calculation, but now he’s absolutely certain of the real date. Or Camping could explain that this was purely a spiritual event that took place in heaven, not on Earth, that God has begun the process of judgment and it will manifest itself on some later date.

There are lots of other possibilities. Which will Fitzpatrick choose? It doesn’t really matter. Whatever it is, it will allow him to reconcile the beliefs to which he is fanatically attached with he observes in the world around him (i.e. reality). I just wish he had saved some of that money and agreed to give it to me when he was wrong.