Tuesday, May 24, 2011

cheer up, it's not the end of the world

As so often, what's so interesting about all the nonsense surrounding the latest Judgment Day prediction is not so much the specifics of the prediction, which is based on some loony numerology which you'd clearly have to be dumber than a bag of hammers to have believed, but the post hoc rationalisation employed by those who believed it in order to prevent their heads from imploding after we inevitably all woke up on May 22nd to find that we were all still here.

The notion of the "rapture", whereby the righteous and virtuous are all simultaneously hoovered up off the earth to everlasting glory and bliss at God's right hand on a given date was pretty much originated (or at least popularised) by a bloke called John Nelson Darby in the mid-19th century. After the salutary lesson of the Great Disappoinment in 1844, when the first attempt at attaching a specific date to it ended in predictably ignominious failure, those predicting the apocalypse have got a bit better at explaining away the series of failed predictions, and more importantly enabling the faithful to perform the necessary mental contortions to keep believing. The usual explanations include:
  • our devotion to preparing for the big day, and our fervent commitment to believing in it, have resulted in a stay of execution for everyone: praise be! This seems to have been the approach taken by the devotees of the barking UFO cult in the classic book When Prophecy Fails.
  • it really did happen, but in some subtle way that we aren't yet devout enough to understand. We must redouble our efforts, in order that we may get a second chance: praise be!
  • sorry guys, we got the maths wrong; this numerology stuff is tricky, you know. Here is a new date to prepare for: praise be!
In Harold Camping's case he's plumped for the third option (with perhaps just a smattering of the second): scarcely surprising in some ways as he's already been wrong about previous dates in 1988 and 1994. Your new date is apparently October 21st, so be sure and get your worldly affairs in order.

An even more amusing form of cognitive dissonance is that exhibited by those who ridiculed Camping for making Christianity look ridiculous, including, deliciously, Answers In Genesis - these are the people who not only run the ludicrous Creation Museum in Kentucky, but who are also planning to build a ruddy great replica of Noah's Ark elsewhere in the same state.

Lest you imagine that Ken Ham's insane carpentry posse are some bunch of freakish statistical outliers, boggle for a moment at the fact that a survey from last year reveals that 41% of Americans rate the likelihood of the second coming of Jesus happening by the year 2050 as "probable" or better, and 23% say it'll definitely happen.

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