Monday, May 30, 2011

End-of-the-World Bingo (Everyone a Winner)

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death. 
                                       - (Revelation 6:8)

As you may already have heard, the world is coming to an end again. To date, the best guess puts it at October 21, 2011. I say that's the best guess because the same guy who prophesied that date also prophesied May 21, 2011, but right now October 21 seems like it has a better chance to attract the smart money. I haven't been able to find any good odds on the date, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

More likely with a bang than a whimper. Those persuaded of their own sure salvation favor the notion that intense heat will turn the lights out on everyone except them, their pets and their best friends.

The other Big Bang

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have always been lurking in one alleyway or another. I don't mean these guys . . . .

 Notre Dame's backfield, 1924
(l-r Crowley, Layden, Miller, Stuhldreher) 

. . . I mean these guys.


The rationale for this particular date, according to one Harold Camping, is something like this: "On May 21st, 1988, God finished using the churches and congregations of the world. The Spirit of God left all churches and Satan, the man of sin, entered into the churches to rule at that point in time. The Bible teaches us that this awful period of judgment upon the churches would last for 23 years. A full 23 years (8400 days exactly) would be from . . . ." (well, do you need Harold or me to do the arithmetic for you?)  And as you might imagine, this God-to-Satan handoff explains quite a lot about recent ecclesiastical history.

The piece that passeth understanding

It might also occur to you to wonder how the date for these festivities came to be so neatly adjusted. Easy one - Harold just got his arithmetic a little off. "By God’s grace and tremendous mercy, He is giving us advanced warning as to what He is about to do. On Judgment Day, May 21, 2011, a 5-month period of horrible torment will begin for all the inhabitants of the earth. It will be on May 21 [I think he means October instead of May] that God will raise up all the dead that have ever died from their graves. . . [who] will experience the resurrection of their bodies and immediately leave this world to forever be with the Lord. Those who died unsaved will . . . have their lifeless bodies scattered about the face of all the earth. . . . October 21, 2011 is also the last day of the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles . . . ." 

(And a timely reminder too - with a drawerful of "Happy Feast of the Tabernacle" cards at home, I thought they'd have to bury me with them. As it turns out, I can get them in the mail by mid-October, and no need to bury me - a "win-win" if there ever was one.)

Depending on the day of the week or how I feel on any given morning, I've thought any number of times that the five months of horrible torment was already well under way. But looking on the bright side (which I tend to do anyway), I've been wracking my brain to think of something to pass the time until I can get back to work. That problem will solve itself, it seems. And clearly there's no need to worry about environmental cleanup if the world is about to be strewn with corpses and then incinerated, after which whatever is left will look like Montana and have about the same population.

The interesting question is why these end-time announcements keep coming up. If it isn't the ancient Zoroastrians, it's the Mayans.

If it isn't the Mayans, it's the Aztecs, both of whom differ from the Camping Calendar and are shooting for sometime in 2012 . . . 

. . .  not an entirely implausible suggestion.

I call these utterances "announcements" rather than "predictions." A prediction is a complicated idea: if someone happens to say something that turns out to be true, most people simply take it to be an interesting coincidence, maybe an educated guess, but not a prophecy. If that person generally gets it right, we might say he has pretty good sense, or he's thought about it enough to figure some things out. If he gets it wrong, we don't hold him to it. If he gets it wrong most of the time, we don't listen to him much. But if he announces that he is prophesying the end of time, he invariably taps a fathomless ocean of gullibility which is willing to forgive numberless miscalls and allow endless recalculations of the "prophesy."

When anyone utters anything in the future indicative, that isn't sufficient to make it a prophecy, or even a simple prediction for that matter. More likely it's either a) perfectly obvious, as in "Looks like that there cow is going to have a calf," b) perfectly likely, as in "It's going to rain but I don't know exactly when," c) demonstrably false, as in "With 51 Senate seats, the Democrats will pass stricter banking regulations and thoroughgoing campaign reform," or d) completely unverifiable, as in "On October 21, 2011, the world will end."

Predictions about the end times are unverifiable because, for all we know the world has already ended, the rapture has occurred and we none the wiser. The fact that we and everyone we know are still here only proves that we may have all been left behind. Who knew what the rules of selection were? Lots of people we don't know might have been "raptured" while we were lustily sinning away. We'll never find out.

So there was never anything to worry about.

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