I was curious about what happened to all those people who believed in Harold Camping’s prediction that the rapture would occur in 2011. Tom Bartlett followed and interviewed a group of Camping followers before the predicted date and one year later. He found that “you don’t have to be nuts to believe something crazy” and that they had an incredible level of certainty that the world was going to end.
It’s been noted by scholars who study apocalyptic groups that believers tend to have analytical mindsets. They’re often good at math. I met several engineers, along with a mathematics major and two financial planners. These are people adept at identifying patterns in sets of data, and the methods they used to identify patterns in the Bible were frequently impressive, even brilliant. Finding unexpected connections between verses, what believers call comparing scripture with scripture, was a way to become known in the group. The essays they wrote explaining these links could be stunningly intricate.
That intricacy was part of the appeal. The arguments were so complex that they were impossible to summarize and therefore very challenging to refute. As one longtime believer, an accountant, told me: “Based on everything we know, and when you look at the timelines, you look at the evidence—these aren’t the kind of things that just happen. They correlate too strongly for it not to be important.” The puzzle was too perfect. It couldn’t be wrong.
Bartlett hints that part of the problem is that such beliefs are not outside but part of the spectrum that encompasses ‘ordinary’ religious beliefs.
And it’s important to remember that mainstream Christians also believe that God’s son will play a return engagement, beam up his bona fide followers, and leave the wretched remainder to suffer unspeakable torment. They’re just not sure when.
The article provides fascinating insights into the minds of those drawn to apocalyptic thinking.
(Via Machines Like Us.)