What happens when the apocalypse doesn’t?

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.)


  1. raven says

    Church of God Preparing for the Kingdom of God -- Wikipedia, the …

    COG-PKG is led by Ronald Weinland (born May 30, 1949), a minister who served …

    Recently COG-PKG has adopted an apocalyptic belief in the imminent end of … of 2012 (May 27)

    and recently began to ordain women in his church as elders.

    Almost pefect timing. The Apocalypse is scheduled for tomorrow, May 27, 2012. And if you laugh at Ronald, you will die of cancer, at least according to Ronald.

    If you miss this one, there is another one scheduled for June, 2012 by someone who claims his name is…Jesus.

  2. godlesspanther says

    I find this stuff fascinating. There is nothing — really nothing that is so ridiculous that nobody will believe it.

    We do make assumptions about people who believe this stuff — they don’t really believe it, they are just putting on an act for attention. No, most of them are completely sincere, they really do believe this stuff.

    They are just idiots, stupid enough to believe anything. No, most of them are reasonably intelligent people and they do not believe whatever someone tells them.

    They are insane, delusional, have a mental disorder. No, most of them conduct themselves in completely rational and reasonable ways in other areas of their lives.

    Of course there are some who do fit one or more of the above categories, but most of them are sincere, intelligent, and sane.

    There have been numerous studies as to how people end up indoctrinated into believing stuff that is obviously not true. Usually it’s a combination of things.

    We have several ends of the worlds for 2012. We will see again and again how people will believe, really believe it — and then — be totally flummoxed when it does not happen.

    Harold Camping has stated that he will not ever predict the end of the world again. He is quite old so he probably doesn’t have a whole lot of years left to make another one — but I will make a prediction — sometime in the near future, before he dies, he will do it again. He probably just can’t help it. It has been an life-long obsession with him. One cannot just shake an obsession off so easily. It consumes his thoughts every moment of his awake life. He will do it again and he will have to do it soon.

  3. Steve says

    The word you want is “monomania.” A monomaniac can be entirely sane in every other respect, but within the narrow scope of his delusion, he’s masturbating with a sack of macadamias.

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