Monday, May 23, 2011
It turned out to be a pretty nice day, actually. I was invited to three rapture-themed parties, and we all had a good laugh about the May 21st doomsday prophecy of Harold Camping, the 89 year old charismatic responsible for the apocalyptic prediction. Between the throng of Camping's followers spreading the word around the globe, and the habitual jokesters of social media reveling in the absurdity of the prophecy, it made for quite a phenomenon.
But in the wake of this mirthful saturday, Camping's followers face a brutal reality. Some have alienated their families, others have left their jobs, still others have liquidated their assets to warn the world of their imagined catastrophe. Many of us have wondered what we might do if we knew the world were coming to an end. In Camping's followers, we have some experimental evidence. And the question now is, what's next for these disappointed followers? Will they lose their faith in Camping? Will they lose their faith in God? Or will they delude themselves into thinking that somehow the events of saturday (or more accurately, the non-events of saturday) are some kind of confirmation for their worldview? No doubt reactions will be diverse, but it will be interesting to watch. There have been many religious leaders who have predicted the end of the world, but few have gained so much traction as this one. Where many apocalyptic groups have lived on secluded compounds, Camping has managed to foster a global following.
But how could such a prophecy capture so many minds? Why are people so willing to trust in these sorts of far-fetched scenarios, when the same people are so dubious about scientific findings backed up by massive amounts of evidence? That question may be too large to answer here, but we can tease out some explanations.