Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Apocalypse yesterday

I find it simultaneously amusing and terrifying how steeped in self-delusion some folks are.

Now, it's not that I think I'm always right, or free from biases.  Those of you who are regular readers of Skeptophilia will no doubt be aware of my opinion of the accuracy with which our brains function; I'm no more immune to getting things wrong than anyone is.  But still, one thing the scientific, rationalistic point of view does have is a clear protocol for figuring out when you are wrong.  At that point, you have no choice but to reconsider the theory in question.

But some people work the whole thing backwards.  It brings to mind the wonderful quote from Doctor Who in the episode "The Hand of Fear," in which the Fourth Doctor says, "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: they don't alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views."

And at that point their altered facts, miraculously enough, always seem to support their model.  So without any apparent realization that they've just committed circular reasoning, they announce that their claim is vindicated.

Perhaps you remember the whole nonsense ten years ago about the Rapture, that came into the news largely because of the late Harold Camping, extremist religious wingnut extraordinaire.  Camping, you might recall, announced a date for the Rapture, and stated his case so vehemently that more than one of his followers sold all of their belongings and gave away the proceeds, or else used the money to purchase billboard space to warn the rest of us that the End Was Near.  The day before the Day, many of them bid tearful farewells to their loved ones, promising to say a good word in Jesus's ear on their behalf after all the dust settled.

Then, the next day, nothing happened.

So Camping revised his prediction to a new date, six months later.  This time he was right, he said, cross his heart and hope to vanish.  But once again, the faithful stayed put on Earth, and worse still, the Antichrist never showed.  So Camping closed up shop, and two years later, died of a stroke at the ripe old age of 92, disappointed to the last that he hadn't lived to see the Rivers Running Red With The Blood Of Unbelievers.  What fun that would have been!

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)  [Image is in the Public Domain]

You'd think that sort of failure record (100%) would be a little discouraging to the faithful, wouldn't you?  We keep having predictions of the End Times, and the world refuses to cooperate, and end already.  No Beasts appear, no Antichrist, no Seven Seals; everything just kind of keeps loping along as usual.  Eventually, you'd think people would say, "Hey, you know what?  Maybe we need to reconsider all of this apocalyptic stuff, because so far, it's running a zero batting average."

But no.  They'd never let a little thing like no results change their minds.  And now we have a guy who takes the alter-the-facts approach and pushes it to its ultimate endpoint: he says that the Rapture did too happen, and if you didn't notice, it was your own damn fault.

I'm not making this up.  According to the website Now the End Begins, the holy actually did get Raptured.  Millions are missing, the site says:
Well, we told you it was coming.  Perhaps you were a casual reader of this site, but never got really involved, "too many religious nuts" you said.  Maybe you had a family member who would plead with you night after night to "get right" with Jesus before His return.  "Nah, never happen", you said, "people been saying that for ever. Nonsense!".  But, it wasn't nonsense, was it?  Turns out the religious nuts were right after all.  The Rapture of the Church actually happened.  Now we are gone, and you remain.  Left behind.  I can only imagine the shock - terror - panic - and questions that must be running through your head right now.  My heart breaks for you, and that's why I made this page, to get you through what the Bible calls the time of Jacob's Trouble, the Great Tribulation, and it's moments away from starting.  Are YOU ready?
I... what?

What do you mean "we are gone?"  If you're gone, who is writing for and maintaining the site?  Are you suggesting that Heaven has WiFi and a fast internet connection?  Is the server hosted by the Lord of Hosts?  What do you do if Christ wants to use the Holy Computer while you're updating the website?  Do you tell him, "I'm sorry, Jesus, but you'll have to surf the web another time?"

But my main objection is, if all of those people really had disappeared, don't you think someone would have noticed by now?  Sure, the website tells us.  We all did notice.  And apparently, we're all pretty puzzled about it:
And that's exactly what just happened, and where we have now gone.  Oh, knowing the media as I do, I am sure that there are many attempts to explain it - UFO's, alien abductions, a harmonic convergence, a government program, FEMA camps, cosmic shift, worm holes, and the list goes on and on.  But none of those explainations [sic] really satisfy you, do they?  I mean, it's hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people, right?  Could any one government, no matter how corrupt, really process that many people in the "blink of an eye".  No, they could not.  You know better than that.
I do?  I mean, yes, of course I do.  I'd never fall for the media telling me that hundreds of millions of people were sucked into a wormhole!  That'd just be silly!  I'll believe instead that hundreds of millions of people vanished, and no one has mentioned it in the media at all!

Because, of course, the teensy little problem with all of this is that everyone seems to kind of... still be here.  While I understand that given the circles I travel in, it's understandable that none of my immediate friends and family were Bodily Assumed Into Heaven, you'd think that at least one or two casual acquaintances would be amongst the hundreds of millions who were holy enough to be Raptured.  Strange to say, I haven't noticed anyone in my community vanishing lately.  I really don't think that I'd have missed something like that.  There are even a few I can think of that I'd be happy enough to wave goodbye to, as they floated off into the sky, but no such luck.

The rest of the site consists of suggestions about what to do now that we've been Left Behind (number one piece of advice: don't accept the Mark of the Beast).  But all of that really pales by comparison to the opening bits, wherein they tell us that the Rapture happened while we were otherwise occupied, and we Ungodly Types have yet to notice.

I've said before about the extremely religious that they'll never let a little thing like facts stand in the way of their beliefs, but this may be the best example yet.  The whole thing reminded me of the words of George Aiken, Republican senator from Vermont, who said, when it became obvious that the United States was losing the Vietnam War, "The best policy is to declare victory and leave."  Or in this case, don't let the fact that the Rapture didn't happen interfere with your conviction that the Rapture has actually happened.

Bringing to mind a final quote, this one from George Orwell's 1984: "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your own eyes and ears.  It was their final, most essential command."

Me, I'm just going to do what the world does, namely, keep moseying along and not worry about it.  Even if the UltraChristian crowd is right, I'm pretty certain to be Left Behind anyhow, a possibility that doesn't scare me much.  I've read the Book of Revelation more than once, and I have to point out that whatever else you can say about it, the apocalypse sounds interesting.  There's the Scarlet Whore of Babylon and the Beast with Seven Heads and the Star Wormwood and the Four Apocalyptic Horsepersons and various other special offers from the God of Love and Mercy, any one of which would certainly alleviate the boredom around here.  So if the Rapture really has already happened, let's get this apocalyptic ball rolling, okay, people?  The End Times are a-wastin'.


One of the most devastating psychological diagnoses is schizophrenia.  United by the common characteristic of "loss of touch with reality," this phrase belies how horrible the various kinds of schizophrenia are, both for the sufferers and their families.  Immersed in a pseudo-reality where the voices, hallucinations, and perceptions created by their minds seem as vivid as the actual reality around them, schizophrenics live in a terrifying world where they literally can't tell their own imaginings from what they're really seeing and hearing.

The origins of schizophrenia are still poorly understood, and largely because of a lack of knowledge of its causes, treatment and prognosis are iffy at best.  But much of what we know about this horrible disorder comes from families where it seems to be common -- where, apparently, there is a genetic predisposition for the psychosis that is schizophrenia's most frightening characteristic.

One of the first studies of this kind was of the Galvin family of Colorado, who had ten children born between 1945 and 1965 of whom six eventually were diagnosed as schizophrenic.  This tragic situation is the subject of the riveting book Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker.  Kolker looks at the study done by the National Institute of Health of the Galvin family, which provided the first insight into the genetic basis of schizophrenia, but along the way gives us a touching and compassionate view of a family devastated by this mysterious disease.  It's brilliant reading, and leaves you with a greater understanding of the impact of psychiatric illness -- and hope for a future where this diagnosis has better options for treatment.

[Note: if you purchase this book from the image/link below, part of the proceeds goes to support Skeptophilia!]


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