#217: Rapture Lunacy

#217: Rapture Lunacy

It has been a bit amusing (to say the least) in the run-up to the apocalypse event that was supposed to take place on Saturday to watch the large number of Christians (including some friends), many of whom agree with Harold Camping about all of the finer details of the Rapture mythology, decry him as a lunatic and a moron for believing that he’d figured out when it was going to happen.

On the plus side, it looks like we get to celebrate the end of the world all over again in October! Hurray!

(Oh and BTW, today’s comic shamelessly steals material from a FB status update from my good friend Micah Dugas, who in turn shamelessly stole material from a drunken conversation during pre-Rapture celebrations.)

Discussion (14)¬

  1. Canuovea says:

    Yeah, totally funny stuff. I just hope Mr. Camping enjoys an even longer life then he has. Not just because I feel it is inane and stupid to wish for the death of someone harmless to me and others, but also because I want him to be around until at the very least November 2011…

    I loved his explanation as well. Spiritual judgment day. Wouldn’t it have been kinda odd if the Terminator judgment day came and went and Connor just said, “Well, a spiritual skynet has been uploaded today!”?

    dah dah dahn dah dah…

  2. chaospet says:

    Spiritual Skynet is a scary concept. I imagine even now it is sending a Spiritual Terminator back in time to spiritually destroy Sarah Connor before John is born – which of course, would mean he’d be born as a philosophical zombie. He’d still save humanity, but there would be nothing it would like to be John Connor saving humanity. Oh, the horror! Spiritual Kyle Reese is our only hope.

  3. wm tanksley says:

    John Conner, you must be born again!

  4. wm tanksley says:

    The amazing thing is how identically this is playing out to the Millerite “Great Disappointment” of 1844. Camping is taking the EXACT turns Miller did.
    The only serious problem here is the children who’ve been left without support due to their parents’ foolishness. This is a problem that annoys me.

  5. Canuovea says:

    wm, agreed.

    Won’t someone please think of the children!

    The Ironic thing is that isn’t it the Reverend’s wife who says that in the Simpsons? Obviously, these people have their priorities wrong. If I were going to be raptured and my kids weren’t, then I’d tell em to go… somewhere not nice.

    You know, when they do a remake of Terminator (and really, it is only a matter of time), then we can say it is the second coming of John Connor! Cool!

  6. Canuovea says:

    Err, I didn’t mean I’d tell my kids to go somewhere not nice, I meant whoever was doing the rapturing. Not entirely clear when I re-read that. Oops.

  7. EssBee says:

    Can’t wait to see the awesome comic conjured from the next Rapture Eve party’s drunken conversation. Yay annihilation inspiration! Totes.

  8. […] and my friend wrote an awesome comic discussing the very issue of rapture predictions, check it out! Comments […]

  9. chaospet says:

    Yeah, you’ve gotta feel bad for the children who are affected by all of this (and even some of the adults). I read one particularly awful story about an unhinged mother who killed her young son, and it is speculated by those who know her that she was motivated to do so by the impending rapture. This sort of massively hyped lunacy has some horrible real-world consequences.

    EssBee, totes!

  10. wm tanksley says:

    Canuovea, heh — I was pretty confused by your first message :-). Not because I thought you would DO that, just because it was such an obvious contradiction.
    chaospet, for all I despise the effect this has on children, I don’t count “crazy mother killed her child” as one of the effects. Too much noise in that signal to assign THAT as a causation — it’s not a rational response in any sense.
    On the other hand, Camping explicitly asked people to set up their financial affairs as though there would be no tomorrow, particularly including spending money to run ad campaigns. Doing what he said would get you exactly THIS.
    And of course, even if you IGNORED his instructions on that matter, you’d still behave generally in that way, so his instructions are broadly consistent.

  11. chaospet says:

    It seems to me that when you spend millions (in billboards, radio airtime, etc) trying to convince people that the world is coming to an end, a foreseeable consequence is that some unstable people are going to be pushed over the edge and do awful things. So for that reason, I’d say Camping is at least a little bit culpable for that child’s death. But yeah, even leaving that sort of thing aside, the way in which he explicitly convinced many people to part with all of their worldly possessions is absolutely despicable.

  12. wm tanksley says:

    chaospet, there’s a crucial difference between “the world is coming to an end” and “the world ends May 22nd”. The second statement causes rational people to dramatically and suddenly underweight the future value of investments; the first statement causes rational people to realize that deferring all spending is dangerous. (Note that “rational” doesn’t imply “correct”.) And when it comes down to brass tacks, the world WILL end relatively soon, at least as far as I’m concerned — even if all goes well, I only expect to be here until I’m 90 or so, and the last years I probably won’t have many pleasant choices to make about my life.

    THE END IS NEAR. For me at least.

    For you? I don’t know. I don’t even know whether you actually exist. You claim to be a philosopher, yet your icon doesn’t even have a beard. Suspicious.

    More seriously, the problem I have with assigning blame like that is that saying ANYTHING might motivate some unhinged person to do something crazy with a nonzero probability. It’s perfectly true that you can predict that in a large enough group the probability of crazy response goes up; but if that’s a problem, we should simply ban the printing press and all broadcasting.

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who claimed that the nutjob “pastor” who burned a Koran was therefore guilty of mass murder. I believe he’s guilty not of mass murder, but of threatening and performing an unjust act of war (easily proven, because he declared it to be an act of war and he’s not capable of winning a war). I don’t know whether we’ve got a law to punish (or restrain, or remove tax-exemption from) him for that, but it would arguably be just to do so; whereas it wouldn’t be just to punish him for the murders.

    In the same way, I would support finding Camping guilty of what he’s actually done; but I wouldn’t support finding him guilty of what provably irrational people who listen to him do. (I don’t think what he’s done amounts to a crime, but I don’t know. It’s certainly both wrong and silly, and should have been opposed from the outset, at least by churches.)


  13. chaospet says:

    Well, first I should be clear that when I say Camping is somewhat culpable, I mean strictly in a moral sense. I don’t know of any laws under which he could be legally punished for what that woman did to her child. Even so, I think he is somewhat morally blameworthy.

    I certainly wouldn’t say that you’re responsible for what crazy people do in response to any old thing that you say. What crazy people do in response to ordinary speech is unpredictable. The problem is when awful actions are a likely foreseeable result of what you say – especially when you’re spreading a message likely to incite panic. When you convince a bunch of people that the world is about to end in earthquakes and fire (and as you say, specifying a date really makes a difference), you can predict that some unhinged people are going to panic and do some awful stuff. It’s an irresponsible and dangerous thing to do (not unlike inciting panic by falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater), and that seems enough to make you, at least to some degree, morally responsible for the awful results that likely will follow.

  14. wm tanksley says:

    chaospet, okay; I’m getting a little ahead of myself. You’re right that Camping is culpable for some things, but obviously not for others. There are grey areas as well, although I really don’t think this case is one of them — if one could be held responsible for nutjobs acting irresponsibly based on imagined implications of anything unpopular one says, broadcasting would become even more mainstreamed and bland (or banned), because broadcasting by nature goes out to many unstable people.

    With that said, you do have a point and I am bound to admit that I’m partially wr… wro… mistaken. Camping gave not merely the fact that life as we know it will end (everyone knows THAT, even though most of us think the end will come via individual death rather than corporate judgement), but that life would end on a specific date. He then multiplied the social danger of his words by telling his followers that they were going to suffer if they didn’t prove they truly believed by acting on their special knowledge of the date.

    I still think the problems that Camping is morally liable for are the ones that are foreseeable rational consequences, not the ones that are simply foreseeable consequences; but there are enough of those that Camping should not simply be tolerated.

    You’re also right that how to deal with Camping’s type is an open question; law is almost certainly not the right solution (and if it IS the right one, the devil will be in the details). I do think that all religions should have their philosophers thinking about this kind of thing, as should philosophers of religion. (For example, Christianity and Judaism should have an easy time of Camping; both share the Old Testament rule that if an alleged prophet declares a sign that doesn’t come true, “ignore him.” Camping failed that test at least by 1994, and maybe back in 1988.) It’s not like this is the first time, after all…


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