Yesterday marked the 1 year anniversary of the day the world was to end – according to Harold Camping. Tom Bartlett wrote a great ‘Where Are They Now?’ piece on Camping’s believers.
The article does more than explore the fallout from the not-so-end-of-the-world, it showcases what I think we’ve all learned from Family Radio – Doomsday believers are no different from the rest of us.
Pop culture portrays such people as uneducated, impoverished, simple-minded individuals who are easily led astray by a mustache twirling con man.
But that’s not what happened here.
Camping fully believed what he espoused and as Bartlett’s article highlights Camping never discouraged them from seeking this ‘truth’ for themselves. They investigated his claims and found even more ‘evidence’ to support this prediction. In fact, it was more than a prediction – it was ‘MATH.’
Camping himself is an engineer and several of his fellow believers crunched the code and not only came up with the same results but found even more ‘evidence’ of a May 21, 2011 endgame.
Of course, people who look for hidden meanings usually find them. Like that episode of Ancient Aliens that posits Zeus wasn’t a misinterpretation of the natural phenomenon of lightning, he was an Ancient Alien, ZOMG! (The ‘z’ stands for Zaphod)
And while this might surprise most atheist science thumpers, math has a long and rich history of being religiously culty. Math and religion frequently hung out in ancient times…. usually with the help of some good old natural hallucinogens.
(Also, I am a science thumper, but not an atheist. Yay science! Yay god!)
A healthy number of people who listen(ed) to Family Radio are not uneducated sheltered individuals being conned by a Nigerian prince offering them millions of dollars through email. In fact, their intelligence is what helped them ‘uncover’ and ‘add up’ these intricate patterns of dates and scripture to reveal the ‘truth.’
But the real truth is – they are people, just like you and me, who took a leap of faith and the leap they took wasn’t that big.
Many religions are built upon the idea of someone who will save the world and simultaneously destroy it. It’s not just a Christian thing. Apocalyptic ideas are prevalent in most major religions (incidentally, so is the Great Flood).
Camping and his fellows simply claimed to know when this event would take place. They didn’t dress up their beliefs in metaphors to allow room for failure. They took the apocalyptic belief that the majority of Americans have and assigned a date to it.
And then we all laughed at them.
And then we all went to church/temple/mosque/whatever.
This is what needs to stop. This horrible dismissal of other people’s beliefs as so much more absurd than our own.
What kind of hubris must we have to believe that we know the mind of god?
I’ve been studying religious cultures for over 15 years and nearly all interpretations of god value humility and love above all else.
How have we overlooked such a simple tenant in our daily lives?
I may not be on board with the concept of an earth-shaking, tsunami ridden end of the world but that belief isn’t that far from what the majority of Americans believe. If you want to mock one person’s religion than you may as well mock your own.
It’s a dangerous vanity to believe that one knows the mind of god.
That kind of vanity is what fosters hate and causes wars. If we all just took a step back from our vanity and realized that the ‘Other’ person and their ‘Other’ beliefs aren’t really that ‘Other’ at all. They are human, they are flawed, they love and are loved, and their beliefs are achingly similar to our own.