Harold Camping, what have you wrought? Other than copious media attention on a slow news day, that is. Rapturegate 2011: In short, Nothing Happened. Harold Camping led us astray, disappointing many, but on the upside, dumping over a hundred million dollars in to the American economy. Where did he go wrong? What was he thinking? How we could have prevented this? Let’s examine some possible answers within the framework of scathing critique. On second thought, answers are secondary, now ramming speed with the scathing critique.
The failure – or rather prediction of – Rapturegate 2011 can be traced back to what the thinking world would call cognitive bias. Specifically a confirmation bias, a term most common in legal & psychological circles. USLegal.com gives us the following:
Confirmation Bias is a tendency to look first for information that confirms a desired conclusion. As a result, a theory may be reinforced to such a high extent that later discovered negating information appears to reinforce a minority view at best.
Essentially: if I’m looking for hidden evidence of the rapture in the bible and I’m determined enough to find it, I will, and I’ll ignore all kinds of reasonable evidence to the contrary.
In the case of Rapturegate 2011 – a modern day Great Disappointment – we have a Christian Radio demagogue – whose stations do not broadcast content associated with any recognized church, and who has incorrectly predicted this event once before. His beliefs in Christian numerology – a field hardly known for its replete base of accepted fact – led him to publish a text called The Biblical Calendar of History in 1970, on which he has since based his failed 1994 and 2011 Rapture predictions. Just taking a look at the rationale behind the structure of this system illuminates any number of flaws, including but not limited to a bizarre, dynamic method of date recording that has never been used by any known culture.
At what point does your man HC look in the mirror and say to himself “I’m moderately to completely ate up with all these systems of symbolism I’ve injected into this widely-accepted religious text. I’ve assigned meaning to certain pieces of biblical phraseology and ignored others, and in 2,000 years of study, no one has ever come to these same conclusions. Am I really convinced that my my religious conviction combined with my background as a civil engineer is enough to prove that I have revealed a series of great truths – despite what other biblical scholars might say? Oh, and I guess the fact that I’ve distanced myself from other religious figureheads – legitimate or otherwise - doesn’t exactly help my cause.”
If you are Harold Camping, you do not ask this question, you are too busy self-publishing your books. Because that’s what winners do. Look, if Zecharia Sitchin (No disrespect, RIP, etc.) can sell The 12th Planet series to several major publishers, you really have to take a long hard look in the mirror when you can’t even get your crackpot theories on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, my man. WAIT HOLD ON, you say. Civil Engineering background? Surely this man is at least aware that the concept of “review by one’s peers” exists. Maybe it’s an incorrect assumption to think that Chicken Little McDoomsday here is aware that things like blueprints are signed off on by more than one person. Still, it’s easy to think that if this information is so important that it could lead mankind to salvation, you might want some verification. You know, so you and your followers don’t become a punch line for, seriously, like all the other people on the planet.
But in suggesting reasonable behavior, this is where it all breaks down. As the would-be Leader Of Men, it may benefit myself and my flock to do some self-checking.
- If I examine my motivations, am I interested in bettering humanity, or am I just using all the power I have accumulated to fuel my personality disorders including, but not limited to megalomania and narcissism?
- If I take a look at myself in the framework of comparative religion and mythology (you know, legitimate fields of study as opposes to oh, gosh, a because-I-say-so approach to bibilical numerology), does my Hero’s Journey involve spending millions of dollars that has come from those who believe in me?
- Am I turning healing the sick/delivering the flower sermon/similar, or am I running a website that is truly cutting-edge for 1995?
- Using pseudo-science that I kind of just made up, have I made a number of failed doomsday predictions greater than or equal to one?
If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, You Might Be A Failed Prophet. But at the end of the day, do we blame poor, ignorant Harold Camping? He caused this, yes. But we listened. Going forward as a global society, maybe we address this by placing value on rational thought and considerate action. But it’s probably more reasonable to propose that we do a better job of diagnosing and caring for the delusional. Maybe HC could have been entrusted to his family (for care-providing purposes) after his first failed prediction. Another way to frame Rapturegate 2011 is that most of us got some decent entertainment at the expense of Mr. Camping’s followers – specifically at the expense of their money and dignity. If we take it as a numbers game, most of us came out ahead.