It didn’t really occur to me that anyone actually believed that the world was going to end the other day. Honestly. I had assumed that some crazy preacher made the claim, that it was being used to scam the gullible here and there, but that almost no one was really taking it seriously. But, in reading a few of the post-Rapture updates, this is clearly not the case. And, I’m sure that this is one of those things everybody else knew and that I was blissfully ignorant of.

Almost a hundred years ago, some guy named Miller came up with the idea that the world would end in 1843 or so. I apologize to the world that this occurred in the part of the country that I’m from, which is also were Mormons are from. Something in the water, most likely. Saratoga Springs Mineral Water? Radon from the Adirondacks? Fumes from the Hudson? Who knows…. Anyway, he predicted it, a LOT of people got on board, and it didn’t happen. So do you know what they did? They invented a new religion and got even more people on board! Today, this is one of the fastest growing religions, and it is known as the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Harold Camping predicted this latest rapture, and people gave him money. They money was supposedly used to put up billboards warning everyone of the coming end times. I don’t believe that for a second. I believe Harold Camping and his people stashed at least some of this money away and will be using it for things that the people who gave it would likely object to.

Do you have a problem with me accusing some guy and his organization of stealing money with no evidence? Tough noogies. I said I believe he did this. He said he believes the world would end on Mary 21st, and if not, October 21st. Start the betting pool on who is correct now! But I digress…

Now that the world did not end, you would think that all the gullible people that followed Camping into the Weekend of Doom would walk away, shaking their heads at their own dumbosity, and move on. But no. Some have become depressed and despondent (that’s reasonable) some have attempted suicide (not so reasonable), some probably have walked away, but a number seem to be lining up for another shot at demonstrating either a) that people who talk about the wonders of the human mind and the greatness of human civilization are clueless idiots or that b) there are a lot of people out there with a mental illness or deficit of some kind that should probably be addressed. Seriously. This may be a matter for the CDC.

Now, here is what is important about this: Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and many of the other once or future candidates for high office and/or leaders of the republican party are totally down with this Rapture thing. They may or may not have bought into this particular version of it … though I demand to know exactly where each one of them was on May 21st, and what was on their calendar for the following week … but they do believe in the Rapture, and the Second Coming, and the Apocalypse, and all of it. They believe that the fate of the world and the fate of humanity is determined by powerful magical undercurrents revealed in scripture and occasionally through what we know to be delusional ramblings of people, like Harold Camping, are not sane.

More importantly, the Republican Party’s policy and political strategy is based on the premise that guidance from these revealed truths is more important than guidance from verified knowledge, science, good engineering, and common sense. Anything bad that is happening, including things that humans are clearly doing, can be attributed to the mysterious plan of a god, and divine intervention can be counted on to intercede. When natural disasters happen they are often interpreted as sensible divine judgments enacted on a group of people who are either antithetical (politically or philosophically) to the American Right Wing or who are routinely denigrated by them, such as gay people, Haitians, people who live in North Minneapolis, or even religious people who are just not of the exactly correct religion.

The idea of this particular Rapture is a logical and ‘sensible’ (in an insane and delusional kind of way) part of the larger concept of Rapture and Apocalypse. And that, in turn, is an explicit part of the religion of a large number of American fundamentalists and evangelicals. And that faction of American Politics calls the shots for those who represent about half our country, and thus, are in power at the State and Federal level about half the time.

Was there an erosion of belief in this delusional religious doctrine last weekend? That is not a rhetorical question. I want to know. I want this studied. When October 21st comes along, the actual date of the Rapture that failed to happen last weekend, and the Rapture does not happen again, will there be an erosion of belief in this delusional religious doctrine? Again, this is not a rhetorical question. It matters because if there is a significant erosion of belief, then people were fooled. That’s manageable, thinkable, not-entirely-unreasonable. If there is not, or there is an increase in following, then the people engaged in this foolishness are significantly not normal in a potentially dangerous way. And, while there may not be many of those people around, those who appease them, use them for political gain, and associate and ally with them when convenient and useful, need to be booted out of mainstream politics in this country because it is not safe allowing them to run things any more than we would have Chuckie Manson in the cabinet or running a utility company or something. Sarah Palin will press the button if she has it to press and the right person tells her to do so.

Or, perhaps not. Perhaps these Princesses and Commodores of the Teabagging right … Pawlenty, Huckabee, Bachmann, Palin, etc. … are only using, as in exploiting, the delusional faction of the fundamentalist right. If so, now it is time for them to stop, drop, and denounce. Let’s hear Tim “I Only Tell The Truth” Pawlenty openly say that October 21 will NOT be the end of the world, and that people should NOT be giving money to the Church of Harold Camping. Let’s ask all of the candidates at the next few debates that occur at party events to speak about this social ill. Let’s find out where Rand Paul, Haley Barbour, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum stand, in precise and clear terms, on the question of the Rapture and Apocalypse. Yes, I do in fact propose a litmus test. Claim that the Rapture is not real or step aside and let the sane people, of whatever political stripe, continue with our national debate about important things like climate change and the economy, human rights and education, our health programs and public welfare.

Comments

  1. #1 Felix
    May 24, 2011

    Surely there must be a clause that prohibits the insane from taking office? Is this just a matter of no psychiatrist being willing to offend 80% of the country?

    And I’ll call anyone Shirley when I want to.

  2. #2 Nemo
    May 24, 2011

    I feel confident in saying that no one currently running for President, to assume office in January 2013, thinks that the world is going to end in October 2011. And the fact that they’re running is sufficient demonstration of that.

    Sadly I think there’s not much chance that any of them would denounce the idea of the Rapture in general, to occur at some unspecified future date.

  3. #3 HP
    May 24, 2011

    Almost a hundred years ago, some guy named Miller came up with the idea that the world would end in 1843 or so.

    That’s nothing. I predicted a great war in Europe in 1914 almost two decades ago. But did anyone do anything about it? No.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    May 24, 2011

    Nemo, exactly

    HP, whatever. A century here, a century there …

  5. #5 Lou Jost
    May 24, 2011

    It seems you won the bet. Camping supposedly says he will continue spending the donated money to alert the world that its fiery end will arrive in October. This means he had saved a lot of the donated money, in spite of his claim that the world would end last Saturday.

  6. #6 travc
    May 25, 2011

    I could sympathize with someone in London in 1665 and 1666 thinking the apocalypse was near, but today and in the US of all places? Sorry, all of them are complete loonies and should be nowhere near the levers of power.

    We have plenty of more-or-less secular apocalyptic cultists today too. You know the type… People who are certain that the dollar will suddenly become worthless paper, China is planning a world takeover, or that Muslim extremists are around every corner and under every bed. Same mental defect as the religious sort.

    This is all closely related to a phenomena best explained by an XKCD:
    http://xkcd.com/258/

  7. #7 mxh
    May 25, 2011

    @Lou, good catch.

    This is why I don’t trust any religious people to make real-life decisions. Whether it’s the apocalypse or the after-life, they make all their decisions based on those beliefs. They’ll destroy the world, if things it’ll help them have a better after life. It’s extremely dangerous and, unfortunately, rather than your litmus test, the litmus test we have is that you have to believe in these fairy tales to get elected.

  8. #8 Tommykey
    May 26, 2011

    It didn’t really occur to me that anyone actually believed that the world was going to end the other day.

    There were plenty of them here in NYC Greg, included the poor, dumb bastard who blew over $140,000 of his retirement savings plastering ads about it on the city’s subways and buses.

    I even got in an argument with one of them outside of Penn Station several months ago.

  9. #9 P Smith
    May 27, 2011

    Have I the power, I would enforce a rule: Anyone who makes and “end of the world” prediction on a specific date must be euthanized if he is wrong. This also applies to all those who believe it and blather about it to others.

    If these idiots really believed in this crap, they’d put their money where their mouths are and willingly die when they are proven wrong. The rest of us wouldn’t have to hear them anymore, and the followers would either stop talking about it or stop living.

    By the way, has anyone noticed that there is more than a passing resemblance between Harold Camping and Marshall Applewhite, leader of the “Heaven’s Gate” cult?

    Speaking of suicide, why isn’t Harold Camping being held responsible for a woman’s murder-suicide attempt of he two daughters, for the hanging suicided of a 14 year old Russian girl, and the suicide of a Kenyan man?

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/fearful-teen-commits-suicide-due-to-harold-campings-rapture-50542/

    .

  10. #10 P Smith
    May 27, 2011

    That should read, Had,/b> I the power…”.

    He wouldn’t write “Argh!”, he’d just say it….

  11. #11 Nate
    May 28, 2011

    Was there an erosion of belief in this delusional religious doctrine last weekend? That is not a rhetorical question. I want to know. I want this studied.

    It is being studied. The most widely cited study was participatory/anthropological, so you’ve probably run into it previously: Festinger, L., Riecken, H. W., & Schachter, S. (1956). When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of A Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World. Where several researchers infiltrated a UFO cult in the 50s. This lead to the development of cognitive dissonance theory, which unfortunately hasn’t produced much actual research because it is so loosely defined.

    Of course you note the Millerians, and there are several sources for information. Of special note should be the work of historian Ronald Numbers. He specializes in creationism and fundamentalism, but the modern movements trace back to the Seventh Day Adventists, who lead directly the the Millerites. If you’re not interested in the creationist/evolution side, you’d probably want to avoid his epic tome The Creationists, and concentrate on works such as Numbers, R. (1976). Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (p. 271). Numbers, R., & Butler, J. (1987). The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the nineteenth century.

    When October 21st comes along, the actual date of the Rapture that failed to happen last weekend, and the Rapture does not happen again, will there be an erosion of belief in this delusional religious doctrine? Again, this is not a rhetorical question. It matters because if there is a significant erosion of belief, then people were fooled. That’s manageable, thinkable, not-entirely-unreasonable. If there is not, or there is an increase in following, then the people engaged in this foolishness are significantly not normal in a potentially dangerous way.

    More than likely there will be an increase belief for at least half the followers, and an increased drive to recruit new believers. Several reasons for this, but essentially it supports beliefs that are central self-concept and understanding of the world – their personal epistemology, if you will. Of greater interest for me is the second half of the question above – that “people engaged in this foolishness are significantly not normal in a potentially dangerous way.”

    This is not the case. They are in fact significantly normal in a potentially dangerous way. Shorter version – the mental problems are embedded in our DNA. We’re not evolved for rational thought, and rational thought is not at present a significant evolutionary advantage. What we are adapted for is social and emotional cognition. We’re social creatures. The first and most basic evaluation we give to beliefs is emotional (see the Haidt and Pizzaro references below). We’re adapted to live in small groups of hunter gatherers, and brains that are optimized for small groups such as hunter-gatherers have been advantageous for about the last 100,000 years.

    During the last 10,000 or so years we’ve developed writing and agriculture, allowing a culture based on large numbers of interdependent people to emerge. Part of this development was the invention of logic and reason, including various versions of science over the last couple of centuries. But these are very recently invented cultural artifacts, and are not a ‘natural’ part of cognition the way social interactions are. In effect, people who are rational, thoughtful and plan for the long-term are not ‘normal’. Culture can encourage or impose rationality to a degree – laws, customs and social institutions can serve to encourage people to act more rationally than they otherwise would. But this is not the default mode for people – it’s a skill which must be learned and practiced.

    The upshot that researchers often get wrong is that these people cannot be reasoned with. This seems to make sense – we’re trained to reason, argue, match standards of evidence, consider alternatives and look for flaws in arguments. When you talk to a researcher, you’ve both agreed on these ground rules beforehand, and they’re assumed. But this is not how people operate in general. Instead decisions are made, and then reasons are found or invented to support those decisions. If you’ve ever tried to reason with a creationist, you’ve seen that disproof is not a problem – they simply move the evidence goalposts. And why not – as Camping shows, when a prediction is disproved, the response is simply to move the goalposts and give a new date. Such a move flabbergasts researchers, but it is standard and unremarkable within the social context that Camping and his followers live in. Disproving a belief doesn’t invalidate the belief – it is simply a “test of faith” and actually increases adherence and certainty.

    Having studied this in the context of science education, I’ve concluded that effectively dealing with the Campings, Palins and Becks of the world can’t be done through reason and logical argumentation. A more fruitful approach would be studying rhetoric (in the Aristotelian sense). Grab ‘em by the emotions, and their minds will follow. But for a large segment of the population, it’s simply not worth the effort – I guarantee it won’t work.

    Sorry to go on so long, but a serious question deserves a serious answer.

    Haidt, J. (2001). The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814-834.
    Haidt, J. (2003). The emotional dog does learn new tricks: A reply to Pizarro and Bloom (2003) Psychological Review, 110(1), 197-198. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.197
    Haidt, J. (2007). Edge: The Third Culture. Edge, 12.
    Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2004). Intuitive ethics: how innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues. Daedalus, 133(4), 55-66.
    Pizarro, D. A., & Bloom, P. (2003). The intelligence of the Moral Intuitions: A comment on Haidt. Psychological Review, 110(1), 193-196. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.193

Current ye@r *