Saturday, December 08, 2012
What with the end of the world approaching . . .
. . . in just a couple of weeks, my curiosity has again been awakened about why so many people believe in this particular category of balderdash, continually through the ages. This story about the followers of Harold Camping casts a bit of what little light there is to be found, but leaves me unsatisfied. (The on-line magazine Religion Dispatches, from which this is taken, is a good resource, BTW. They write about religion from the outside, without hostility but with appropriately critical thinking.)
As you may recall, Camping was the radio preacher who convinced thousands of people that the apocalypse would occur on May 21, 2011. They quit their jobs, spent their savings promoting the truth to the world, left their kids without college funds, abandoned their homes . . .
Spoiler alert: It didn't happen. The universe sailed on as serenely or tumultuously as ever. But why did they believe this? They weren't just betting on it. They were absolutely certain, as certain as the sun would rise on that day, the earth would be devastated by massive earthquakes, and then the rapture and the end of the universe would occur in October. Which also didn't happen, by the way.
It turns out that many of them are engineers or otherwise mathematically trained. They figured it out, by elaborate reconciliation of scriptural passages. The numerological and textual relationships they found in the Bible could not possibly have been coincidences, they were irrefutable evidence of the truth of the prophecy. Well, okay, but you really have to try very hard to get to that conclusion. Confirmation bias can't happen until you already believe. There's still a piece missing here.
But come to think of it, the same can be said of all religious belief. It's just that much of it doesn't smash to pieces against observable reality quite as hard. Anyway, I'm puzzled.