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.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Rapture redux

If it hadn't been for a sharp-eyed loyal reader of Skeptophilia, I might well have missed the fact that the Rapture is going to happen next Tuesday.  Which would have sucked.  I hate it when the world ends and I only find out afterward.

Because, of course, the Day of Doom is very likely to come and go without fanfare, which is what's happened the previous 5,382,913 times they've predicted the Rapture or Armageddon or the Rise of the Antichrist or the Rivers Running Red With The Blood Of Unbelievers, or various other cheerful scenarios dreamed up for our edification by the God of Love.  Each time, I pop my popcorn, open a bottle of beer, get out my lawn chair...

... and nothing happens.

[Image courtesy of Pat Marvenko Smith via Flickr Creative Commons]

It's a pity, honestly.  I live in rural upstate New York, where if you are waiting for something exciting to happen, you're going to have a long wait.  Yesterday the news around here was dominated by the fact that the main highway through this area is going to be closed for a time for repaving, requiring a detour that will mean we are no longer in the Middle of Nowhere, we're in the Middle of Nowhere + two or three extra miles.  So I can say with some confidence that for most upstaters, if the Beast With Seven Heads And Ten Crowns showed up, we'd be thrilled to have something to alleviate the boredom.

Which brings up a question I've always wondered about, ever since I was a kid and first stumbled upon the bad acid trip that is the Book of Revelation; why would the Beast have three more crowns than he has heads?  To me, the crown-to-head ratio is most logically one-to-one.  Does he trade out crowns from day to day, and as he's getting ready for another busy day of terrorizing the populace, he stands there staring into his closet trying to pick out which ones he's going to wear?  Or does he have two crowns on three of his heads, and only one on the rest?  That's the way I recall picturing it, and it bothered the absolute hell out of me, because it seemed arbitrary and asymmetrical, and as a kid I was just the slightest bit tightly wound.  It was only later that I realized that I wasn't supposed to like the Beast, and if something about him grated on my nerves, that was probably all part of the Infernal Plan.

But I digress.

Anyhow, this time around, the Rapture has been predicted by a self-styled YouTube prophet who goes by the handle Generation2423.  He certainly seems sincere enough, but then, they all do, don't they?  Rapture prediction has been a game among that particular slice of the devout for centuries.  Generation2423, though, isn't generating the buzz that (for example) Harold Camping did, back in 2011.  Camping publicized the incipient End of the World so much he got a ton of people to do stuff like sell all their worldly goods and quit their jobs.  Then -- as it always does -- the day came and went, and everyone just went on loping about the place un-Raptured, doing their thing.  Undaunted, he rescheduled the Rapture for six months later, and that day too passed without any calamities.  Camping finally died two years afterward, disappointed to the last that he never got to enjoy seeing the Star Wormwood fall upon the rivers and lakes, and cause everyone who drinketh of the water to die in horrible agony.

Oh, what fun that would have been for him.

What's wryly amusing about all this is that the evangelicals who shriek the most loudly about the End Times are the same ones who claim to follow a man who is supposed to "come like a thief in the night" and who said "no one knoweth the day or the hour."  (Matthew 24:42-44)  The result is that they have about the same stealthiness level as these guys:

On the other hand, I have to admit that this time around, the lead-up to the big day has been a lot more subdued than usual.  Like I said, I damn near missed it.  Once alerted to what's coming, though, I did find a good bit about it online, especially on Reddit, Quora, and TikTok, and I did see a few people who found Generation2423's prediction genuinely scary.  One poor woman on TikTok said she was so terrified she felt nauseated, and was devastated she'd never get to see her kids grow up.  And I have to admit I felt a little sorry for her.

On the other hand, what always baffles me is the reaction of people like this after the prediction fails to pan out.  Because in a sane world, you'd think the True Believers would go, "Oh, what goobers we were to fall for such a ridiculous claim!  I shall learn some critical thinking skills right now!"  But that never happens.  Regular readers might recall that earlier this year, I wrote about the classic study done by psychologists Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, who back in 1954 infiltrated a doomsday cult.  When the predicted Day of Reckoning came, the cult members assembled in the home of the leader, praying like mad for fortitude to face the upcoming cataclysm.  At around 11:30 PM, the leader -- presumably concerned by the fact that all was quiet -- went into a back room, alone, to pray.  Then he came out just before midnight to announce the amazing news: God had told him he was rewarding their faithfulness and prayers by postponing the end of the world!

And there was much rejoicing.  Contrary to what you might expect, the result was that the cult members' belief became more fervent, because after all, how else could you explain the fact that their prayers had been granted?  Further illustrating the truth of the quote from Jonathan Swift: "You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into."

In any case, if you have plans for next Wednesday, I wouldn't worry about it.  Myself, I don't have any plans, but that's because I never do.  Assuming I'm still here Wednesday morning, I'm thinking I might head on down to Route 96 and see how the repaving is going.  That's about all the excitement I can handle.


1 comment:

  1. Sounds awfully like the failure of (oh---they're cultists, aren't they) MAGAs to be upset by Trump's lies. WHEN is that 1040 getting published?
    Anyhow, for perspective you might consider Mark Twain's remarks on music in Heaven; and rather later, Heinlein's "Job." The latter is a good story, as always, and I have read it 3 times but still feel unsure exactly what happens in the late parts. One view of Heaven, anyhow.