Category Archives: Religion

Betting Against the End of the World

Edward Hudgins over at the Atlas Society published a great article regarding Harold Camping’s ridiculous prediction of the end of the world this Saturday. I couldn’t top him, so I thought I’d repost his article:

May 17, 2011 — Throughout human history and especially in recent centuries, cults of all kinds have predicted the end of the world. You’ve probably noticed that they’ve all been seriously wrong.

The latest such silliness has come from 89-year-old Harold Camping’s Family Radio network of 66 stations. Based on his study of the Bible, Camping calculates [3] that doomsday will be on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

Christianity is particularly prone to such nonsense. After all, the Book of Revelation is all about doomsday, though with details from a clearly delusional mind. The “son of man” appears out of the clouds with a two-edged sword coming out of his mouth: that makes it tough to eat and talk! He has seven stars in his hand: a star is a million miles in diameter and a million degrees at its core, making things pretty hot and crowded on the Earth. You get the picture.

American history is full of cults that saw no future for the world. Starting in 1843, William Miller and his followers predicted a dozen doomsdays. One would think that after the first few predictions failed, followers of the cult would disappear. Remarkably, more such cults and followers followed.

The problem is not only found in fringe Christian sects. The landscape of the twentieth century is littered with the failed predictions from a plethora of mystic and New Age groups. The members of the Heaven’s Gate flying saucer cult, to get ahead of the game, all committed suicide.

Rich Suckers

What is perhaps most disturbing about the adherents to cults that make such failed predictions or, more generally, are as crazy as March hares, is that they are not just the most poor, ignorant, or downtrodden in society.

The Heaven’s Gate members were mostly middle class and made money writing computer software. Scientology charges hundreds of thousands of dollars for their “courses” that in fact brainwash those naive enough to take them. Scientology’s victims must be smart enough to make enough money to pay the stiff cost in order to hear L. Ron Hubbard’s delusional alien fantasies. These dingbats count Fox talk show host Greta Van Susteren as one of their suckers.

And the Family Radio network has enough cash to plaster the country with the endtime ads. They’re apparently effective fundraisers.

Money and Mouth 

Here’s a deal you might offer all believers in end-of-the-world predictions. Don’t worry if you’ve missed the May 21 doomsday deadline. There will be plenty more opportunities with new predictions in the future.

Seek out those who mouth a belief that the world will end on a certain date. Confirm that they have assets and possessions—a house, car, savings account, and/or 401(k). Then offer to turn over to them assets of your own, valued at half or less of the value of theirs. They can use your assets to pass out copies of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Late, Great Planet Earth, or whatever on street corners. They can buy TV, radio, Internet, or print ads to announce Armageddon. But on the day after they predict the world will end, title to all of their asserts and possessions will transfer to you.

If the world ends, they’ll have used your assets to promote their cause and their assets will do you no good as you wallow in fire and brimstone. In the nineteenth century members of some sects did give away all their possessions as they anticipated the end. Today few believers in such things actually put their money where their mouths are. Oh ye of little faith!

Big Blind Brains

Many such believers, especially those who hatch and propagate such nonsense, deserve to be countered with the weapon of ridicule. But such cases reveal a far more serious problem with the culture, one that is a major cause of both individual and societal ills.

Consider the report about Michael Finaldi, the 60-something-year-old head of Tele-Solution, a successful business in New Jersey. One watches with pain as this otherwise solid, responsible, individual talks about [4]how Harold Camping’s ravings have convinced him that the world will end on a certain spring weekend. It’s like watching a sound human mind descending into mental illness, a sickening tragedy.

We might simply observe that many otherwise sensible individuals have blind spots, and in the case of cult believers, those spots are huge. But in the twenty-first century, with all the marvelous products of the human mind evident, the continued existence and even spread of new cults suggest something deeper. And we see the same mindset on display in politics. How can people in Greece or in California really expect governments to continue to spend massive amounts of money that they do not have and have no way of getting?

Individuals must think for themselves and make up their own minds on every matter that faces them in life. But what does it take for us to activate our analytic abilities? We must have a firm understanding that reality is objective. We must have an unswerving commitment to seeking the truth, whatever it might be. We must not let comforting fictions lull us into mental illusions of our own making. We must not let preconceptions or an ideology blind us to reality. That goes double for those like Objectivists and Ayn Rand fans who explicitly advocate a philosophy of reason but can let this fact make them uncritical of their own beliefs because they assume that they have a monopoly on truth. We should acknowledge that the root of all immorality is the refusal to think, to focus our minds, to honestly seek to know.

To the extent that we can, we should try to shake the unthinking out of their blindness. But in the long run we must understand the importance of fostering a culture that places reason and truth first. It took centuries in the West for that Enlightenment culture to develop—a culture that produced the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, and the political revolution that gave rise to the United States. In this way the past should be our path not to the end of the world, but rather to a better tomorrow.

Links:
[1] http://app.readspeaker.com/cgi-bin/rsent?customerid=5076&lang=en_us&readid=wookie&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.atlassociety.org%2Fnode%2F1837
[2] http://www.atlassociety.org/category/atlas-article-author/edward-hudgins
[3] http://www.familyradio.com/index2.html
[4] http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlla/california-family-radio-doomsday-craziness-spreads-across-america_b28604

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Christianity’s Unreasonableness

I would like to respond to Jack Kerwick’s Sunday article “The Reasonableness of Christianity over at The American Thinking. In his article, Mr. Kerwick committed a great injustice by marrying the concepts of reason and mysticism in an aberrant matrimony conceived in a grasping effort to legitimize God. In doing so, Mr. Kerwick demonstrated an egregious misunderstanding of the concept of reason.

Mr. Kerwick defines reason as man’s ability to convince, observe, and act upon that which cannot be seen – God. Reason is not some supernatural human ability that allows us to understand that which we cannot observe. Reason is an earthly, uniquely human characteristic that aid’s man in his pursuit of life, not his pursuit of leprechauns, unicorns, and magic.

Reason is man’s only means of knowledge acquisition. He must use and depend upon his senses to collect evidence of his environment, to process that knowledge with his mind, to formulate concepts, ideas, and goals based on that evidence, and act accordingly. A student seeking to attend a good college must first gather data on a variety of universities, collate them with respect to his academic interests and goals, and take note of tuition costs and how it measures against his budget. In choosing what to have for dinner, a parent must keep in mind the nutritional needs of the family, the available ingredients in the home, and how much time is left until dinner is expected. A young couple similarly must take precautions before starting a family, keeping in mind their budget, the size of their house and car, and their family’s support.

In every respect of our lives – small or large – we take action based on a series of observations whether they are instantaneous or long research projects. In acting without reason, the student goes to a university ill-suited for his pursuits; the parent cooks a poor meal; the young couple raises a child in poverty.

Faith, the concept that Mr. Kerwick claims can never be substituted for reason, is by its very definition the antonym of reason – believing in something without evidence. This violates the nature of man.

If it isn’t already clear, I am an atheist. I know that God cannot exist. I know this for the following reasons.

There is absolutely no evidence for the existence of God. Evidence unequivocally proving the existence of a supernatural being is nowhere to be found. Since the burden of proof is upon those who claim a thing to be true, my argument remains uncontested so long as proof is absent.

I also reject the fallacy that existence requires a causal explanation. The universe is all that which exists, thus, something outside the universe cannot exist. Inquiring about a cause of existence is a contradiction. By asking “what caused existence?” one is inquiring about something outside of existence. Something cannot come out of nothing. Causality presupposes existence and existence is an irreducible primary.

Mr. Kerwick ends his piece by crediting Christians with a “rich intellectual tradition” worth exploration. I agree that such a “tradition” should be explored, but I doubt the evidence found on that journey is congruent with Kerwick’s assumption. The Christian faith has a long and enduring history of standing in opposition to human scientific progression. Christianity’s imperial roots necessitated the sequestration of new ideas that contradicted the church, including those of Galileo and astrology, Newton and physics, De Maillet and evolution. It would behoove Mr. Kerwick to not forget the multiple inquisitions, crusades, and backwards practices of justice by the church throughout history sending millions to their deaths for no objective reason.

The crimsoned hands of Christianity should not be confused with intellectualism. Mysticism should not be confused with reality. Faith should not be confused with reason. Mr. Kerwick holds before us a model of ignorance counterproductive to the human spirit, and an active destroyer of it both in the past and the present.

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