The World Is Ending, Send Money

2006 has come and gone, and a new year is upon us. I don’t know about you, readers, but I feel a mood of unaccountable optimism. There seems to be a feeling of renewal in the air, one not solely accounted for by the unseasonably warm and pleasant weather in the northeastern United States, where I live. Despite all the evils and suffering still occurring in the world, which I don’t seek to deny or downplay, it seems to me as if we’ve been granted another chance to get things right: as if the new year is a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which we have the power to write whatever we like.

As does every year, 2007 brings with it a whole slew of things new and yet old. One of these things is a whole new crop of apocalyptic predictions, which pop up each year with the predictability of spring crocuses.

For example, Yahoo News recently reported on a decidedly pessimistic Associated Press poll which found that a substantial majority of Americans expect a major natural disaster or terrorist attack to take place this year. However, I also noticed the following bizarre statistic:

• 25 percent anticipate the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be clear about this and get our terms straight: 25% of Americans expect that sometime in 2007, the world will be destroyed. That is what the second coming of Jesus Christ implies in Christian theology: global disaster and catastrophe, the deaths of hundreds of millions, war and plague consuming humanity, and a day in which “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). A large number of believers are looking forward to this event and believe it is a good and desirable thing.

It is depressing how many people still believe this will happen during their own lifetimes, considering how many previous generations have also lived and died expecting it and turned out to be absolutely and completely wrong. But the lack of actual evidence for a coming apocalypse does not make these views any less dangerous. As Sam Harris wrote, the fact that a significant percentage of society expects this event soon should be considered a full-scale emergency. All it would take would be one apocalypse-believer in a sufficiently high position to decide that it is their sacred duty to start this world-destroying war in order to hurry Christ’s return along. (I realize this is a departure from my stated mood of optimism, but I think it’s important not to leave myself open to accusations that I’m ignoring the full measure of the dangers we must face.)

Then again, the lay believers in an apocalypse are in good company. As reported by Americans United, Pat Robertson has joined in the fun, predicting “mass killings” to occur on American soil due to a terrorist attack sometime this year. (Robertson said he expected this to come in the form of a nuclear attack, but emphasized that this was only his educated guess – as opposed to the rest of this prophecy, which was clearly straight from God’s mouth and not at all just made up.) The AU blog gives several examples of Robertson’s past conspicuous prophetic failures, such as that World War III would occur in the 1980s, that the November midterm elections would leave the Republicans in charge, or that the American coast would be ravaged by more hurricanes in 2006 (Robertson must have thought this one a particularly safe guess). Of course, as with all psychic pretenders, Robertson’s devoted followers will very likely oblige him by forgetting his past failures, and continuing to gasp in amazement at every new wild guess he puts forth.

Finally, as testimony to the efficacy of prophets: Regular readers of Daylight Atheism may recall a post from July of last year titled “Watch This Space“, in which I mocked a Bible-code site that had, by that point, erroneously predicted the nuclear destruction of the United Nations five separate times. I recently checked back in with that site, on a whim, and realized that their delusions go far deeper than I had guessed: they are still at it. For the better part of a year now, they have been setting dates for the destruction of the UN every two or three weeks, and every time their prophecy fails, they simply set a new date and start over again. Their latest prediction forecasts the destruction of the UN between January 16 and 17, and not to be outdone, adds this coda:

Announcing the Good News that the Kingdom of God begins in 2008

This will mean an end to the injustice, the corruption, the abuse, the lawlessness, the murder, theft, rape, infidelity, genocide, the institutional dishonesty, the self interest, the win lose dynamic of this system. It will mean a start to truly transparent government, true peace and security, incredible creative and technological prosperity, and genuine love between all humans and our angelic brothers and sisters in an environment of righteousness, which is the soil in which love grows best.

However, the people behind this site may not be entirely incapable of learning from experience, as they also say this:

If nothing happens by the end of Tebbeth i.e. by January 23/24, 2007, then we again really really do run out of options in our present understanding.

It remains to be seen whether they will give up when nothing happens by this date, although I suspect that the key is the phrase “in our present understanding”. At the appropriate time, this will probably be a convenient excuse for them to adopt a whole new erroneous understanding and resume their date-setting exercises in futility.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    Does this prediction of Jesus’ coming remind anyone else of Waiting for Godot?

    “Jesus will not come today, but surely to-morrow.”

  • Alex Weaver

    Jesus was born around 6 BC, if at all, by some estimates.

    His “second coming” is supposed to take place in 2007.

    2013 years.

    That’s one hell of a refractory period. :P

    (Some propositions are impossible to treat seriously ^.^).

  • Shawn Smith

    Alex, where did you hear 6 BCE? I’ve only heard 4 BCE (I think because of a conjunction of bright star-like objects at the time.)

  • Terry

    ‘This will mean an end to the injustice, the corruption, the abuse, the lawlessness, the murder, theft, rape, infidelity, genocide, the institutional dishonesty, the self interest, the win lose dynamic of this system. It will mean a start to truly transparent government, true peace and security, incredible creative and technological prosperity, and genuine love between all humans and our angelic brothers and sisters in an environment of righteousness, which is the soil in which love grows best.’

    What an utterly boring existence.

  • Alex Weaver

    More to the point, what a crock…

    Freedom is Slavery
    Ignorance is Strength
    Armageddon is Peace

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    Whenever I see that 25% statistic about the return of Jee-zuhs, I ask why this isn’t recognized as a national emergency. I think the answer is that nobody really believes that 25% of the population truly think this. Maybe they answer this way because of social desirability, but they can’t actually believe it, can they?

  • Chris

    All it would take would be one apocalypse-believer in a sufficiently high position to decide that it is their sacred duty to start this world-destroying war in order to hurry Christ’s return along.

    It has been semi-seriously (or maybe completely seriously) proposed that this has already happened, and that’s the *real* motive behind the war in Iraq. All the ostensible motives can be pretty easily shown not only to be false, but that Bush *knew* they were false, so that leaves religious motivations, war profiteering, and taking political advantage of a state of war. He is certainly doing the last, his cronies are doing the second, but if you think he is really religious there’s no reason to rule out the first as a contributing factor as well.

  • andrea

    the eternal “end times” nonsense. I wonder if this goes on for oh, another thousand years, who will be so stupid to still believe that “jesus is a-comin’”

  • Shawn Smith

    I wonder if this goes on for oh, another thousand years, who will be so stupid to still believe that “jesus is a-comin’”

    Who would have thought that after two thousand years, highly educated people would believe this, and be taken seriously? Especially since He was supposed to return before people who “saw” him died.

    My completely personal, unresearched, and pulled-out-of-my-butt opinion is that religious belief will decline only if it becomes highly costly for each individual to keep.

  • Freeyourmind

    People are sheep.

    I’m trying to think of more eloquent ways to put it but it’s all I’m coming up with at the moment.

  • bassmanpete

    Reminds me of a documentary I saw in the 60s about cargo cults. When it was suggested to one of the believers that 20 years was a long time to wait for the aircraft to return and drop ‘cargo’ (as they had during WWII), he replied “But you’ve been waiting 2,000 years for Jesus!”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Isn’t it amusing how religious believers’ own assumptions immediately strike them as ridiculous when those assumptions are presented to them in a different context?

    I’m reminded of a passage from The God Delusion, which this post summarizes well:

    …George Tamarin, an Israeli psychologist, had over one thousand Israeli school children, 8-14 years old, read the Biblical story of Joshua’s sack of Jericho. He then asked the question “Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not? They had three choices: A) they approved of Joshua actions; B) they partially approved; C) they disapproved. 66% approved and 26% disapproved. The remainder (8%) partially approved. He then slightly modified the story by replacing Joshua with “General Lee” and Israel with “a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago.” This time he asked for the same responses from a control group of 168 different Israeli children. Now 75% disapproved and only 7% approved of “General Lee’s” actions.

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    If it’s any consolation, the number of people expecting Jesus to come back “this year” isn’t higher than before, and is actually down from many years.

    Of course, it’s still way too high, but at least it’s not a sudden escalation.

    (Many people think that the Christian Right in this country’s fanatic support of Israel is tied to the need for Israel to exist when Armageddon is fought, by the way.)

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    Maybe they answer this way because of social desirability, but they can’t actually believe it, can they?

    I think that’s a big part of it. When people are responding to a petition, the expectations of the petitioner (as they see them) can weigh heavily on their response. Particularly if they’ve just said that they were Christian, they may feel pressured to agree to this aspect of Christian faith as well, lest they seem less Christian.

    There are ways to get around this, but they’re not often implemented. One such method is to let people take home the petition with them, and flip two coins. If both are heads, they answer “Yes.” If both are tails, they answer “No.” Otherwise, they answer honestly. Then you subtract 25% of the total responses from both the “Yes” and “No” responses, giving you the rough percentage who truly feel this way. However, this method is rarely done, as it puts more responsibility on the petitionee, who is usually reluctant to take the petition in the first place, plus it increases statistical uncertainty, even if it removes bias.

  • Christopher

    Sooner or later these Apocolyse nuts are bound to hit the target date for our destruction, but until then let’s party!

  • Jeff T.

    Ebon,
    I am not as optimistic about things as you are. Even the weather that you reference is probably a manifestation of impending global warming doom. With the arctic glaciers already melting at unbelievable paces—I think we have passed a major tripping point and are currently living on Venus II. Lol.

    On another note, the idiots believing in the second coming, tribulation, and ultimately Armeggedon probably include most of the Abrahamic religions which would bring this number to many hundreds of millions if not several billion people. Just as a person’s private belief system can affect his own reality, I propose that the sheer willpower of so many will affect global reality by causing the very thing they are predicting—obviously without supernatural intervention. We can see this by the unparalleled support that America gives Israel just because for some reason, a vast majority of Americans believe that Israel is God’s chosen. If an Israeli bulldozer runs over an American citizen, turn the other cheek.

    However, I admit that we all need to maintain a positive attitude. Perhaps in the near future, our merging as cyborgs with artificial intelligence will finally break our dependency on caveman belief systems and offer some solutions to the real problems facing our world.

  • http://www.alison.com Alison

    If they keep at it, maybe centuries from now, they’ll be at least partially right. Probably not, though. The loonies predicting the second coming and the apocalypse don’t scare me – the ones who are trying to hurry it along do.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    Pat Robertson has joined in the fun, predicting “mass killings” to occur on American soil due to a terrorist attack sometime this year

    Meh. On another thread somewhere, years ago, about 20-some people and I all agreed on a new scientific axiom. It went something like this: “The sun rises and sets. The tide comes in and goes out. The Earth revolves around the Sun. And every 12-18 months, Pat Robertson will say something totally laughable and/or completely shameful in a naked effort to remind people he exists.”

    Abrahamic religions

    Someone told me that, if you want to refer to Judaism, Christianity and Islam all together like this, the proper word is “Abramic” (3 syllables, not 4). Not sure if they’re right or wrong or why. Anyone else?

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    (Spoiler below, reader beware)

    Oh something else: Anyone read John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time? In it, the character finds himself slipping mentally in the lives of long-dead people. In one of them, he’s an Irish monk at the end of the first millennium, BCE. He (the monk) thinks to himself, “Surely the world will end soon, for God would not allow there to be more numbers in the year than the trinity.”

    That is, surely the world will end at midnight, December 31, 999 A.D., because otherwise there would be too many digits in the year.

    I know the medievals were HUGE into numerology. Anyone know if they actually believed this, though?

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    …George Tamarin, an Israeli psychologist, had over one thousand Israeli school children, 8-14 years old, read the Biblical story of Joshua’s sack of Jericho. He then asked the question “Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not? They had three choices: A) they approved of Joshua actions; B) they partially approved; C) they disapproved. 66% approved and 26% disapproved. The remainder (8%) partially approved. He then slightly modified the story by replacing Joshua with “General Lee” and Israel with “a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago.” This time he asked for the same responses from a control group of 168 different Israeli children. Now 75% disapproved and only 7% approved of “General Lee’s” actions.

    Remarkable! Where do you find this stuff? I find psychological experiments like this very interesting. We Humans certainly are funny creatures, aren’t we?

    Matt R.

  • Billy

    Ya know, I find it really funny how so many people will base their beliefs on the actions of other people. Pat Robertson says things that are wrong, so instead of just Pat Robertson being wrong now the whole Bible is wrong. How can the truth or false of thousands of years of scriptures and fulfilled prophesies have anything to do with what Pat Robertson says. Just because people are wrong does not mean that God is wrong. And just because someone identifies themself as a Christian does not mean that they really are. As for me, I could talk for days about how important it is to read. Read so that you understand from personal knowledge. Read so that you can spot the lies. Don’t read books about the Bible, read the Bible. Learn how fine details are woven together like fine clothe over thousands of years and many generations. You can’t begin to love a God that you don’t even know. Read and learn about him. Read like your eternity depended on it, because it does. I don’t want to pick a fight with any of you non believers. That is not my intent. I don’t think I’m smarter than you or better than you. My only motivation is from love. I just want you to know that my prayers are with you. I pray that God will open your eyes before it to late, as he did for me. I remember I used to think, “how could people ever really know that God is real.” The beautiful thing is that you can. Put some effort into it.
    By the way, no true Christian could ever kill people to bring about the end of the world, you have the wrong religion and it shows your ignorance by even making such a statement. Tell me, where on this planet do you find news reports of Christians blowing anyone up? The fundamental principals of your arguments are built on lack of knowlegde. But then again, your used to talking with people who have limited Biblical knowlege. You have never been properly challanged, intellectualy. You assume you don’t believe the Bible… You haven’t read it, but you don’t believe it. Does that make sense? Research man!!! Make an effort, seek, or don’t. But I will pray for you none the less. Have you noticed that the weather channel people are starting to sound like televangelists? Are you watching Israil? Read man, read! May God be with you.. you are all in my prayers.

  • Polly

    Read so that you can spot the lies. Don’t read books about the Bible, read the Bible

    Many have done exactly that and based on that have come to the conclusion that it’s not the word of any kind of god, but a tradition that was passed down by men. I will suggest to you that, though you may be reading the Bible, you are seeing its words through the religious (that is, Christian) establishment’s lenses. There are many layers to the text. The ones you are talking about are probably those that the Church has read into the text, such as the Trinity, the prophecy of virgin birth of a savior, a Messiah who was to save the world from sin rather than Israel from foreign occupation, etc.

    I just hope that you’ll change your mind and forget this Bible stuff. Read the Book of Mormon, just read it and you’ll see. I mean you haven’t even read the Koran, but you don’t believe it. Does that make sense? Research the Vedas and Upanishads,man!!! Read so that you can spot the lies. Don’t read books about the Avesta, read the Avesta.
    Ahura Mazda be with you.
    Namaste.

  • Alex Weaver

    Billy:

    Adam, along with many of the other commenters has read the Bible cover to cover. I have not yet gotten around to this, but I have read a great deal of it. I find your presumption that the only reason we might disagree with you is due to being ignorant of what you really believe obnoxious and offensive and your post above patronizing and superfluous. I’m sure I’m not alone.

    My suggestion: Read. Read the writings of actual atheists. At length. In depth. It really helps avoid those awkward situations where you find yourself making an argument they’ve already demolished repeatedly, or blathering a canard that fails the qualification of “argument” but has been similarly dealt with.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Billy: As Alex said, I have read the Bible. So have many other atheists, including many who were former Christians. We are nonbelievers in Christianity not because we haven’t read the Bible, but because we have read it and know about all the evil, ugliness and contradictions it contains.