Tag Archives: the rapture may 21

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Rapture-Ready Kitten

Last Monday, 86 year-old “humble Bible teacher” and millionaire failed Doomsday prophet Harold Camping emerged to say he wasn’t wrong, after all.

His cognitive dissonance lasted precisely one day (Sunday) — a “very difficult time,” he admitted, when he “was wondering, ‘What is going on?'”

Not, apparently, a mistake, blunder, faux pas, outrageous misreading of Scripture or insulting and irresponsible display of arrogance. No, “what is going on,” he concluded, was that “God brought Judgment Day to bear” — it’s just “we didn’t see any difference.”

Say what? What about all those earth-shattering catastrophes he’d predicted as recently at last Friday? A kind of technicality.

Camping dug into his Bible on Sunday and found a text that let him off the hook, for now.

Revelation 9:4 continues a sci-fi vision where “locusts” are said to appear out of a smoke cloud and:

“… they were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”

And in 9:5, we are told these locusts “were not given power to kill them [people without the seal], but only to torture them for five months.” During which time we — the unelect — will suffer “agony” like the “sting of a scorpion.”

Now, this passage certainly contains the key phrase “five months.” No doubt. Camping takes his literally. But what about the rest?

No “locusts” I can see — so they’re symbolic. Of what? Unclear. Although recent bad weather was taken to be a sign of impending Rapture pre-5/21, this passage would seem to preclude it. But near my house in Northeast Minneapolis last week, a tornado most definitely DID “harm the grass” and a whole bunch of “plant[s]” and “tree[s],” in direct defiance of Scripture.

So the locusts are unruly. What about the “agony” of the unelect. Notice any more pain than usual, sinners?

And then there’s that crucial “five months.” Camping’s original Rapture date required interpreting Noah’s “seven days” of warning as 7,000 years. So those “five months” should be equivalent to at least 150,000 years, right?

Perhaps October 21st won’t be so bad after all.

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Camping Out

We’ve been joyously rubbernecking the pile-up of Harold Camping’s latest failed Rapture prediction in the pages of the Christian Post. Lest our short term memories fail us, this time last week two reasonable polls showed 3% of respondents thought the world would end last Saturday and another 10% thought “maybe.”

Why? Point thumbs at Harold Camping, girls. The 89 year-old founder and resident prophet of the 66-station Family Radio network seems to have spent almost $100 million on billboards and broadcast spots predicting The Rapture would occur at 6pm on May 21st.

A very practiced Biblical hyper-reader, Camping based his date on a text in Genesis saying Noah had a 7-day warning of the Flood. In an exponential leap beloved of doom-sayers, he turns 7 days into 7,000 years, adds that to his own date for the Flood (4990 B.C.E.) … and here we are!

Or not.

The week before the faux-Rapture, Camping delivered an inadvertently insulting letter to the 300 employees of his California-based 501(c)-3 non-profit:

“As I bid you farewell,” he wrote, “may you steadfastly continue to stand with us to proclaim the Gospel through Family Radio.”

Why insulting? Camping believed the truly elect would be snatched up before the Tribulation. But not, apparently, his employees, who would remain on Earth with the rest of us to suffer Hell-on-Earth, still “steadfastly” clinging to the airwaves.

Hours after the non-Rapture, evangelicals tripped over themselves to denounce Camping and his calendar. Some of this was just good business: a rival Christian radio outfit self-righteously said, “Do not lend your ears to anything from Harold Camping.”

And Left Behind series author Tim Lahaye excoriated him as being “not only wrong but dangerous,” since, of course, a Tribulation would be a disaster for sales of apocalyptic fiction.

How did Camping himself react?

Although repeatedly saying he wouldn’t give interviews, he seems to have had some trouble keeping his mouth shut. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle went to the door of his Alameda mansion and got him to admit he was “flabbergasted” and was having a “really tough weekend.” An IBTimes reporter got him on video saying “I’ve got to think it out.”

So he thought. Didn’t show up to work Monday morning.

That same day, an apparently disgusted Family Radio employee gave an interview to a Christian Post reporter so revealing it makes us wonder how much control Camping really has at the network.

Among other things, the employee said Camping raised the $100 million 5/21 advertising budget by selling a TV and FM radio station. He painted Camping as a lone crazy man in an office that didn’t believe him. He’d made ten previous Doomsday predictions, most of which were not publicized. Family Radio Employees didn’t trust him anymore. Donors were openly told not to sell their homes.

Monomania? Megalomania? Something worse, perhaps. Camping’s brother “said he has always been like that since he was a child,” said the employee.

Monday night, Camping had emerged. Thought was over. Utterly unrepentant, he said the Rapture had occurred but was “silent” and pushed out the date of ultimate destruction to October 21st.

We’ll have more to say on Camping and this fascinating non-event. But for now, let’s point out that while many of his followers may indeed have experienced classic “cognitive dissonance,” the prophet himself had a different response.

He failed to feel any dissonance at all.

After the Rapturin’ … I’m Still in Love with You!

Sananda from the Planet Clarion

One might think that after the failure of the long-awaited Rapture to materialize at 6pm on Saturday May 21st, legions of credulous fundies would admit defeat and join the steaming ranks of shame-based human doings. And one would be wrong.

Since the time of Jesus, committed Christians have been predicting the Apocalypse — in fact, Jesus himself probably started it. His mentor John the B. and ace publicist St. Paul certainly knew the end was near. And with so many failed predictions come pew-loads of bereft believers.

Or not. What happens when prophecy fails?

The clinical term here is “cognitive dissonance,” which is a topic in social psychology championed by psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1950s. His Theory of Cognitive Dissonance holds that when people have two conflicting “facts” in their heads, they seek to reduce the tension between them. As, say, when someone knows the world is going to end on 5/21 (Fact #1) and it doesn’t (Fact #2).

How is this tension resolved? Well, the person has to minimize the truth value of one or the other. And because of their emotional (perhaps even financial) investment in Fact #1, it’s usually Fact #2 that falls victim.

Here the games begin. Festinger didn’t think believers were stupid: they knew their conviction had bumbled. They can tweak or edit or rationalize, but there’s always some tension left. So what do they do? Something rather strange:

“There is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced,” Festinger wrote. “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.”

Thus, failure lends emotional momentum to greater proselytizing — not apostasy. People confound.

Festinger’s original experiment, described in a recent essay by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones, is mondo gonzo. Having read a newspaper headline “Prophecy From Planet Clarion Call to City: Flee That Flood,” about a cult surrounding a Minnesota homemaker named Marian Keech, Festinger and two intrepid colleagues infiltrated the cult and started taking notes.

Keech believed she channeled Guardians via automatic writing. A being named Sananda from the planet Clarion (coordinates unknown) told the Lake City, Minnesota dweller that he was the reincarnation of Jesus and that her hometown would be destroyed by a flood on December 21st. Festinger and his new cult-buddies waited in Keech’s kitchen overnight and found they were not evacuated in alien spacecraft to elude the flood. There was no flood.

What did they do? Resolved the dissonance. Of the eleven non-spying members, only the two most “lightly committed” quit. The rest, observed Festinger, were “more strongly convinced than before.” Keech just revised the date.