Just to highlight a couple paragraphs from the article:
What happened after May 21 matches up fairly closely with what scholars of apocalyptic groups would expect. The so-called disconfirmation was not enough to undermine the faith of many believers. From what I can tell, those who had less invested in the prophecy were more likely to simply give up and return to normal life. Meanwhile, those who had risked almost everything seemed determined to reframe the prophecy, to search the scriptures, to hang on to the hope that the end might be nigh.
I was struck by how some believers edited the past in order to avoid acknowledging that they had been mistaken. The engineer in his mid-twenties, the one who told me this was a prophecy rather than a prediction, maintained that he had never claimed to be certain about May 21. When I read him the transcript of our previous interview, he seemed genuinely surprised that those words had come out of his mouth. It was as if we were discussing a dream he couldn’t quite remember.
I read this and can’t help but think back to another failed prophecy, about Jesus establishing the kingdom of God in the lifetime of his followers. That prophecy failed, too, in a big way, when Jesus was publicly executed. Then, as now, those who had invested less in the prophecy fell away, but those who had given their lives to it were determined to reframe the prophecy and edit their own past to “remember” a new narrative about atonement and resurrection—a spiritual resurrection at first (I Cor. 15), but one that became a literal, physical resurrection by the time the Gospels were written. (And even then, the “materialized” version still retained the original “ghost story” elements of appearances and vanishings and walking through closed doors.)
Failed prophecy is a kind of magic, a magic that happens in the mind, transforming memories and preceptions and entire worldviews. Sometimes it gives rise to entire new religions. We can watch it as it happens, and see its effects on ordinary people—people who are neither crazy nor stupid who nevertheless end up with a perception of things that is shockingly out of touch with reality. And then, over time, this delusional worldview acquires the respectability of tradition, and spreads to just nice folks, who are also neither crazy nor stupid, but who are nevertheless anxious to prove their faith by defending the delusions of their founders.
There’s really nothing miraculous about what happened in Palestine 2,000 years ago. But it’s sad to see people still being misled by it today, to the detriment of those around them.