May 20th, 2011
09:01 AM ET

My Take: Doomsdayers not so different from the rest of us

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

I know a lot of people are eagerly awaiting 6 p.m. this Saturday, either to greet the rapturous return of Jesus with open arms or to snicker at the idiocy of the followers of radio host Harold Camping, the evangelist behind all this holy hoo-hah.

I’m looking forward to 6:01 p.m., and the recalculations and reinterpretations that invariably ensue whenever Bible believers are proud enough to imagine that they know the day and the hour of Jesus' return, and bold enough to announce their imaginations to humanity.

People have been predicting the end of the world ever since they started thinking about the world as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Thus far everyone has been wrong. So we have a lot of experience as a species with what the Millerites of the 19th century called the Great Disappointment.

Initially, the Baptist doomsday preacher William Miller predicted the return of Jesus between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When the latter date passed his followers did some recalculations (based on a different Jewish calendar) and settled some other dates. When those dates passed they found another date—October 22, 1844—based on a prophesy in the Bible's Daniel 8:14 (“And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed”).

After this Great Disappointment, some Millerites slinked away. Others decided that Jesus actually had returned, just not as they had expected. The notion that October 22, 1844 marked a spiritual rather than a physical return of Jesus became the basis for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

As for Harold Camping, he has been here before, too, predicting the arrival of Judgment Day in September 1994 only to go back to the Bible and his calculator and settle on this coming Saturday.

Predictions–and disappointments–such as these have inspired a cottage industry of social scientists trying to figure out how doomsday believers deal with the cognitive dissonance that comes “when prophecy fails.”

But the bottom line is that religion persists because it is adaptable. And one of its adaptations is that it almost never goes the route of Emily Litella, the hard-of-hearing "Saturday Night Live" news commentator who would come on "Weekend Update" (in the body of Gilda Radner) and complain, for example, about the effort to turn Puerto Rico into a steak, only to be corrected by Jane Curtin. At which point she would say, “I’m sorry.  Nevermind.”

I know my atheist friends are getting ready to party on May 21, and many Christians are already embarrassed by Camping and his followers. But I’m not convinced the rest of us are all that much different.

When confronted with facts that disprove their pet theories, for instance, our politicians almost never say, “Nevermind.” They recalculate and equivocate and go about their business. The rest of us do much the same, often preferring in our relationships, our jobs and our worldviews (religious or otherwise) the comfort of the stories we carry around in our heads to the reality of the facts on the ground.

Religious fanatics aren’t always so different from the rest of us. They are bolder, perhaps–more willing to air their craziness to the world. But the rest of us are crazy in our own way, harboring illusions about the federal budget deficit, or our spouses, or our politicians that are disproved by the facts, and dealing with cognitive dissonance with more of the same.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • End times • Fundamentalism • Obama • United States

soundoff (1,432 Responses)
  1. Muneef

    The Reality of Death
    By Dr. Saleh As-Saleh
    From Oklahoma & Islam
    © Daar Al-Bukhari 

    Life in this world has an appointed term, and the end of the term will definitely come...
    The righteous will die and the wicked will die...
    The worriers for just causes will die and those who run from death will die
    Those who busy themselves with correct belief will die...
    and those who treat people as their slaves will die...
    The brave who rejects injustice will die, and the coward who seeks to cling on to the life at any price will die...
    The people of great concern and lofty goals will die, and wretched people who live only for cheap enjoyment will die...
    Wherever we will be, in a fortress or in a tent, we will die...
    All will die:
    Allah (God) says:
    Everyone shall taste death...
    [Quraan 3: 185]

    No one will escape death. Allah says:

    Say: Verily, the death from which you flee will surely meet you, then you will be sent back to (Allah), the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen, and He will tell you what you used to do.
    [Quraan 62: 8]

    This life is a period of trials and tests. Allah says:

    He (Allah) has created death and life, that He may test which of you is the best in deed. He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.
    [Quraan 67:2]


    Death: An Ultimate Reality
    By Prof. Shahul Hameed
    Throughout the ages, mankind viewed death as something gruesome and frightening, something that should be postponed indefinitely or abolished if possible, once for all.

    This was because of two reasons. First, death cuts short the life of this world. Second, there was no "proof" about the chance for a new lease of life in a world to come. Death is, as Shakespeare's Hamlet said, "the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns" to tell us their story.

    All the same, there was also the belief among religions that death served as a kind of passage to another more important arena of life.

    From the Islamic point of view, death is a reality of life, a certainty from which no one is exempt. God says in the Quran what means:

    [Every soul shall have a taste of death: and only on the Day of Judgment shall you be paid your full recompense. Only he who is saved from the fire and admitted to the garden will have attained the object (of life): for the life of this world is but goods and chattels of deception.] (Aal `Imran3:185)

    As it is mentioned in the verse, there is going to be a Day of Judgment one has to face after death, when each will be paid in full the fruit of what he or she has earned in this life.

    Those who sowed evil will reap evil and those who sowed good will reap good. All the allure and glamour of this world would then prove to be of no real worth; what is of enduring value would be provided in that world to come.


    May 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  2. Muneef

    Do although feel that such dooms days Reminders or Warners and not a gamblers who enjoy such allegation...after all how long Prophet and Messenger of God "Noah" had to warn his people before and while building his Ark in preparation for the God nominated doom date....!

    Such Reminders,Warners must be saying that with the present ways that all things are being handled globally. The over growth of Fungus on man's beliefs,faiths. The fast over breed of strange Mushrooms of Idologies,Cults,Clans terrorizing innocence on the plant earth.
    The time is closer where nature will be ordered to clean it self by having several dooms days for each nation before the One big and final doom date that comes before the judgment date where then all the earthly livings that had existed on earth from the date of creation until final day would be judged and condemned either for "Punishments or Rewards" for the deeds that they had adopted during their temporary test earthly transitional life...!

    May 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  3. Steve

    The Author states: "The notion that October 22, 1844 marked a spiritual rather than a physical return of Jesus became the basis for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church."

    This is actually not a correct statement of what Seventh-Day Adventists believe. The Adventist Church understands that October 22, 1844 marked a fulfillment of the prophecy of Daniel 8:14.

    This date marked the end of the 2,300 day/year prophecy (starting with the decree in 457 BC to rebuild Jerusalem (Daniel 9:25)) and the beginning of Christ's final work of the investigative judgment in Heaven.

    Once this work is complete, "then" Jesus will return to this earth. But that day, as the Bible clearly states, is unknown to us and will only be revealed at the time it happens.

    May 27, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  4. Muneef

     Times will be becoming harder for believers by the deprogramed robots who live among them with emptiness...

    Holding a Burning Ember

    Anas bin Malik (radi Allahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “There shall come upon the people a time in which the one who is steadfast upon his religion will be like the one holding onto a burning ember.” (Hasan) [Chapters on Al-Fitan: Jami At-Tirmidhi]

    This hadith informs us that the Muslim Ummah shall pass through periods when wickedness, lewdness and sinfulness will hold sway in society, and the believers shall find it extremely difficult to preserve their faith, and swim against the surging tide of worldly benefits and gains. Holding onto one’s faith under these conditions will in fact be like holding on to a live coal in the palm of one’s hand, which will be a highly challenging and trying task.


    May 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  5. Muneef

    Why wait for the return of one when you have already one??

    They said;

    The Pope Has All  Power in Heaven and Earth and Can Change Divine Laws
         "The Pope is of great authority and power, that he is able to modify, declare, or interpret even divine laws. The Pope can modify divine law, since his power is not of man, but of God, and he acts as vicegerent of God upon earth...".

    They said;

    "The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth...by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians.

    The Quran said; 
    [3:79] Never would a human being whom GOD blessed with the scripture and prophethood say to the people, "Idolize me beside GOD." Instead, (he would say), "Devote yourselves absolutely to your Lord alone," according to the scripture you preach and the teachings you learn.

    [3:80] Nor would he command you to idolize the angels and the prophets as lords. Would he exhort you to disbelieve after becoming submitters?

    [9:31] They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords, instead of GOD. Others deified the Messiah, son of Mary. They were all commanded to worship only one god. There is no god except He. Be He glorified, high above having any partners.

    [3:64] Say, "O followers of the scripture, let us come to a logical agreement between us and you: that we shall not worship except GOD; that we never set up any idols besides Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside GOD." If they turn away, say, "Bear witness that we are submitters."

    Special Warning to the Leaders
    [19:68] By your Lord, we will certainly summon them, together with the devils, and will gather them around Hell, humiliated.

    [19:69] Then we will pick out from each group the most ardent opponent of the Most Gracious.

    [19:70] We know full well those who are most deserving of burning therein.

    Everyone Sees Hell*
    [19:71] Every single one of you must see it; this is an irrevocable decision of your Lord.

    [19:72] Then we rescue the righteous, and leave the transgressors in it, humiliated.

    May 25, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  6. KingdomWork

    Just a question to ponder...Could it be that Jesus Christ is returning differently than we expect Him to? Everyone is expecting Him return with the rapture...
    In the New Testament, the religious people of the day crucified Jesus because they didn't recognize who Jesus was; as well as, His new Kingdom teachings. (Era of Grace) The Pharisees couldn't accept Him or His new teachings. They wanted to continue under the old era of Old Testament Law; thus, they had Him killed because they thought He was a false teacher.
    Maybe Christ is returning in the form of His Holy Spirit? Living through His believers? Our bodies are His temple, where He can live through us? Have you ever looked at what He taught? He taught The Kingdom of God/Heaven. The kingdom is supposed to already be here now! Interesting, right?
    Could it be that no one knows the time or hour of His return because we receive His spirit/return at different times? Just a thought?!?!

    May 25, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  7. ruemorgue

    Just another apologist for morons. Harcold Camping is senile and shoule be living in a *home*. This clown doesn't have the guts to call Camping what he is - a nutcase. Better to protect fellow nutcases than to be honest and admit the facts.

    May 24, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • religioniskillingtheworld

      He has to be somewhat politically correct, I think it was well written, I just hope that Harold Camping's followers clue in and leave him and hopefully stop sending money to him...religion of all kinds is the problem with this world...if we could abolish that then the world would be a safer place

      May 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.