The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Somebody’s Got to Drink the Kool-Aid

with 2 comments

This judgment day thing has gotten me to think about just what would I do if I believed the world was coming to end in a couple of days.

Would I start running around in horror and try to escape the monster like they do in the movies? Would I madly grasp at doing one more fun (and perhaps socially unacceptable) thing before I’m doomed?

Another thing I wouldn’t do is what Harold Camping and his followers of his Family Radio Network are doing, or trying to do, which is to alert the rest of us the gory horrors of judgment day.

Camping is the 89-year-old fundamentalist Christian radio preacher who says that the shit hits the fan on Saturday. He knows this from his studies of the Christian Bible, which he explains on his web site. He says he holds the Bible to be the literal truth, but he has done some elaborate arithmetic to derive the date of May 21, 2011. His numerology, a favorite pastime of believers and gamblers, is too obscure for me because he relies on a bunch of stray quotes from the Bible, which I have never read. (I’ve tried, but I can’t justify the time and effort.)

Anyway, Camping produced a previous prediction of judgment day — in 1994 — but afterwards, he explained that there was a miscalculation and missing information. All that is odd if you consider the Bible to be the literal truth, why then, is it so obscure that no one, including Camping, can read it correctly?

Now that he’s recalculated the date, he’s come up with several other numbers. For one thing the process foretold in the Bible really began in 1988 — the start of “the Great Tribulation”. Like everything else Camping says, it’s impossible to understand but easy to believe if you want to. I cannot tell what makes the events since 1988 special. If you take an 20-odd-year chunk of time in world history, you are going to find many with far greater woes than the most recent.

Another thing Camping has come up with is a headcount of those to be saved, scooped up and taken to heaven, an event he calls “the rapture”. Of course, this elevation of your soul depends on your faith — which I assume must be from among the 2.1 billion Christians in the world, leaving out way more than 4 billion others. And of the Christians, only 100 million are going to be saved.

That means if you’re a Christian, you have less than a 5 percent chance to make it. Yet Camping is happily urging followers to get on the road and spread the word: “Blow the trumpet … warn the people,” he says on his web site. He organized four caravans of followers to drive around the country and promote his prophecy. The implication is that all those people who gave up their homes, got into an R.V. and started driving and horn-blowing, are promoting competition for their places in the rapture. Of course, his message is in English, and it is broadcast mainly in the United States, so Americans have a leg up on scoring rapture tickets.

In Camping’s theology, there isn’t much you can do to secure a spot in the rapture. Like a strict Calvinist, salvation is not really up to the individual, but something one just gets. Still, Camping suggests that followers start begging for mercy immediately. Isn’t that just typical of religion?

I personally think that Camping’s cult is no more or no less than any religion. All of the religions with millions and billions of followers today started out as weird little cults; some grow and some don’t. It often takes centuries, but a few do. It doesn’t even seem to matter whether the prophesies come true. Like Camping, all prophets make mistakes and recover. Camping was wrong about 1994, and he’ll be wrong again, but look at the attention he’s gotten.

Camping and his Caravans have been covered by major news organizations. It doesn’t matter whether the tone of their stories and broadcasts are ironic: they, too, are spreading the word and lots of us who never heard of this guy know him now.

When you think it about, cults are a pretty good deal for the people who start them. Without making any sense, they are able to float dumb ideas, find acolytes, become famous and get rich all at the same time. What is revealed truth but something that springs from the imagination (or delusions) of an individual. By definition, revealed truth cannot be verified, need no logic or support.

There’s no yardstick for size or longevity. Some cults make the leap, some don’t. Mormons were a persecuted group of adherents when Joseph Smith Jr. got the word of God and created yet a new variety Christianity almost 200 years ago, and now the group claims 14 million souls. They’re generally considered legit and established. Farther out is Scientology, started in 1952 and struggling with an estimated 50,000 members (though they claim 8 million), but they’re still in the game with some famous movie actors as converts.

And there are those that just fell apart. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had 5 million followers, but if any of them are still around, they’re very low key.

Most spectacular are those that created their own apocalypses, like Heaven’s Gate, the sneaker cult and its group suicide in 1997 in preparation for their transport by extraterrestrials, or the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists who went out in a shootout with federal agents in 1993. Even though it is described as quasireligous, 900 members of the People’s Temple committed a mass suicide in Jonestown, in Guyana in 1978.

The point is that whenever truth is revealed in some supernatural way, it can be anything the revealee wants it to be. It doesn’t matter whether or not that revealee starts with an established holy book that he declares to the an ancient revealed truth or not. It doesn’t matter whether you start with Camping’s calculations — likely to be revised on Sunday — or quirks in the ancient Mayan calendar, which will require some explanation next year.

As far as Saturday goes, I will make an offer. I will take a bet from anyone who says the world will come to an end on Saturday, any amount of money, on any terms.


Written by theunbiasedeye

May 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Culture, Trends

2 Responses

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  1. That bet is genius!


    May 20, 2011 at 1:02 am

  2. ok so it is set, we all meet back here the day (which is now plan B formerly known as armageddon day) in 2012 if the newly appointed armageddon doesn't pull through. cheers cya then 🙂


    May 21, 2011 at 2:23 am

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