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The End is Coming, In Five Months!

That’s right, it’s official. The calculations for the end of the world were five months off. The official date has been pushed back to October 21, 2011.

But Camping said that he’s now realized the apocalypse will come five months after May 21, the original date he predicted. He had earlier said Oct. 21 was when the globe would be consumed by a fireball.

Saturday was “an invisible judgment day” in which a spiritual judgment took place, he said.

That’s right. When your predictions were wrong, you say your predictions were RIGHT, just invisible. It’s kind of how the Millerites said the whole 1844 Uber Fail was a party in Heaven. Can’t be seen.

Religion is man-made, and it shows.

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The Rapture, Animated

Religion is Not a Mental Illness

The psychiatrists should leave the religious alone. Even when their whole worldview is shattered by such things as evidence and common sense, they’ll keep believing, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Assuming May 21 ends without a cataclysm to end all cataclysms, those who believed God would whisk them up to heaven are now discovering they remain earthbound, and this might be unsettling to some of them.“I would say it would probably be similar to going through a trauma, like when your worldview changes,” Francine Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist with the Morris Psychological Group in Parsippany, said Saturday.

“I would expect there might be some anxiety, some shame and embarrassment,” she said. “You can even see kind of a severe outlet of emotions, crying and whatnot. Fear — what should we believe in any more? It’s going to put everything they’ve ever believed in into question.”Rosenberg said those who might be disillusioned can reach out to their local mental health professional or to someone in the religious community.

No no no, you have it all wrong. Those people don’t need any help. They don’t need us to comfort them. They aren’t going to question anything. It’s not going to make a difference.

As I mentioned before, when everything they believe is shown to be demonstrably wrong, it is natural for the religious to make up some desperate rationalizations for their worldview. It happens automatically.

It’s no wonder why we have so many crazy and wacky forms of religion:

-Joseph Smith is demonstrably one of the greatest frauds of all time, yet Mormonism is alive and well in the United States.

-According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, we’ve been in the “last days” since 1914.

-Many of the thousands of believers who were in the Great Disappointment of 1844 formed the 7th Day Adventist Church, another wacky sect with crazy eschatological beliefs.

But of course, I don’t mean to pick on the weak ones.

About half of all Christians still believe that the Rapture is going to happen: they believe the bodies and corpses of all Christians, dead and alive, will suddenly disappear into God’s world, leaving all the non-Christians to suffer a period of tribulation.

If you believe in the above, and you suggest a date, then you’re a crazy crackpot fundamentalist. But if you believe in the above without saying a date, you’re a normal Christian.

Is Everything You’ve Lived For A Lie?

It’s only a few days until the Apocalypse, and I’ve been thinking, what if it doesn’t happen? What do people who have absolute faith in a prediction do when they find out that they are wrong?

I suggested on my last post that a lot of people will gravitate towards a more scientific understanding of the world. Ptolemists become Copernicans. Creationists who dedicated their lives to advancing pseudoscience often change their minds. Psychologists reverse their opinions about homosexuality based on evidence. The Flood didn’t really happen. Adam and Eve weren’t actual people. Muhammed didn’t really fly to Jerusalem. Dedicated believers, even priests, become atheists. But these positive changes are not singular events–they come from an gradual buildup of knowledge, experiences, public debates, self-reflection, and self-questioning over many years and with many different kinds of people. We can’t teach the value of reason or the methods of science in a day; it has to be built over a lifetime.

So that’s why it was naive of me to assume that a singular event, like the Great Disappointment, would shake the faith of believers.

Part of the problem lies with the way religion has turned out after centuries of criticism, often from secular society. As Greta Christina notes, religion is often a pile of mushy nonsense.

And when I ask religious believers who aren’t theologians to define what exactly they believe, they almost always evade the question. They point to the existence of “sophisticated modern theology,” without actually explaining what any of this theology says, much less why they believe it. They resort to vagueness, equivocation, excuses for why they shouldn’t have to answer the question. In some cases, they get outright hostile at my unmitigated temerity to ask.

I’m pretty sure all of us who’ve had experiences talking to or debating with people of faith can relate to the problem above. It’s a problem that seems to come from a reluctance to truly examine or rigorously defend the propositions of what it really means to be a person of that faith, as well as a deep fear of being wrong, which is a common characteristic of religion. However, I think the greater problem is described below.

Even when religions do make falsifiable claims — like “Prayer is effective in treating illness” or “The world was created 6,000 years ago” — their defenders slip and slide and squirm away when their claims actually do get falsified. They find the most convoluted rationalizations for why the evidence doesn’t count… or they just stick their fingers in their ears and ignore the evidence altogether. The beliefs are falsifiable in theory — but in practice, they’re unshakeable articles of faith.

The scariest thing is that I sometimes worry that there’s nothing you can do about this. No matter how much evidence you put on the table, no matter how rigorous the studies are, or how clear it is that a position leads to results that benefit the common good and promote human flourishing, religious people may never lose their faith in their immoral, unscientific positions. On topics like blood transfusion, to circumcision, to marriage, to talking snakes, to the movement of the sun, there are some people who will never change their minds, no matter how strong the evidence or clear the reasoning.

It’s definitely true for people who make End Times predictions. Harold Camping, the mastermind behind the May 21 prediction, previously predicted 1994 to be the lucky year, but just admitted that he made a “calculation mistake.”

What about the Great Disappointment? Did the thousands who gave away their possessions on the lie that Jesus was coming back in 1844 leave their faith? Did they vow never to make predictions again? Did they become atheists?

Of course not. Instead, as we expect, all kinds of desperate rationalizations came into existence, ranging from the “shut-door” hypothesis to the idea that the whole event was actually the beginning of a judgement party in heaven. All kinds of new sects and denominations formed, many of them popular and thriving today. They still make all kinds of eschatological predictions, although they don’t dare to be as precise.

This rationalization process that Greta describes is a widely understood by psychologists to be a coping mechanism for cognitive dissonance. It’s the way we humans have evolved to take into account all the contradicting information in the world and to find a pattern that fits the evidence. It keeps us functioning, so that we won’t be shocked every time we learn something new, and it keeps us happy, so that we don’t always have to know that everything we’ve lived for is a lie.

Part of understanding this world and understand who we are, of course, is to understand our limitations. Although there are millions of people of different contradicting faiths who say otherwise, we don’t have to capacity to know whether there’s a supernatural being with any definitiveness. We almost certainly don’t know this being’s mind, instructions, or commands. Yet, the religious always find ways of making human predictions about supernatural events.

Greta Christina put it most nicely.

… supernatural explanations of unexplained phenomena have never once panned out… and a natural explanation has always, always, always turned out to be right.

We’re atheists because religion has had millennia to prove itself right — millennia in which it has dominated the intellectual and scientific discourse, for all but the past few decades — and has utterly failed. We’re atheists because the religion hypothesis has been tested — and tested and tested and tested, and tested again, and tested yet again, and then tested one more time to be sure, and given the benefit of the doubt and tested again, and then again, and again — and has never, ever, ever panned out.

What Is So Crazy About End Times?

The eschatologists are the new birthers. I’ve not only seen the “May 21, 2011” predictions on newspapers like USA Today, but I’ve talked to many people who think it has a fair chance of happening.

A 2010 Pew study showed that 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus Christ will literally return to Earth by 2050. As for the date, they aren’t so sure.

The Rev. Randy Carson believes the world is in its last days and that the time is quickly approaching for apocalyptic biblical prophecies to come true.

What he doesn’t believe is that it’s going to happen on the third Sunday in May, as proclaimed by a California-based biblical prognosticator.

“It’s just another crackpot,” Carson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nahunta, Ga., said of the proclamation of Harold Camping, who says Christ will return on May 21.

Yes, when a person believes in the Biblical apocalypse on a specific date, that person is a total crackpot. But when a person believes in the Biblical apocalypse without specifying a date, that person is a normal Christian.

This “Biblical apocalypse,” of course, involves the following.

 The rapture is described primarily in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-54. God will resurrect all believers who have died, give them glorified bodies, and take them from the earth, along with those believers who are still alive and who will at that time also be given glorified bodies.

…the rapture is the return of Christ in the clouds to remove all believers from the earth before the time of God’s wrath. The second coming is the return of Christ to the earth to bring the tribulation to an end and to defeat the Antichrist and his evil world empire.

Hear that kids? At any given time, all the Christians in the world, including the resurrected corpses of all the dead ones, will suddenly disappear into God’s world. For the rest of us atheists and other non-Christians who are still on Earth, God will send his wrath and judgement for some undetermined period, but maybe 7 years. (But a day in God’s time could equal billions of years, ask any Christian scientist).

Of course, whenever religion tries to make some prediction or claim about the world, it doesn’t make it very coherently, and there are many different versions of the End Times, all of them claiming to be the right “metaphor” and “interpretation”. But let us not get confused here.

Religion has had thousands of years to make its claims. It’s been tested again and again and again. And the best it could do, after events like the Great Disappointment, was to align itself reluctantly with science.

Carl Sagan put it brilliantly, as usual.

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science?