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Sunday, December 21, 2014         

UNDER THE SUN


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The impulse to believe helps false prophets thrive

By Cynthia Oi

POSTED:



Curious that a pair of perfectly serviceable shoes would be abandoned on the road in front of a neighbor's house the day after the purported "rapture" was to have taken place.

There they were near the gutter, two black lace-ups with thick soles, one upright, tongue pulled forward, the other on its side, seeming as if their wearer had been lifted away, transported to heaven with the second coming of Christ.

My guess is that something more mundane had happened, that the sneakers had been set down atop one of the dozens of cars belonging to party-hearty types whose revelry continued to the wee hours of Sunday morning and tumbled to the tarmac when the pooped-out, forgetful owner drove off.

This rapture thing has provided heaps of fodder for late-night comedians, talk shows and cable screamers, not to mention amusement over office cubicle walls and water coolers.

But behind the quips and wisecracks, there should be a certain amount of sadness for the madness, and a lot of outrage at the instigator. News reports told of an uncounted number of people whose belief in the prophecy of a radio station oracle had them selling possessions, emptying bank accounts, yanking their kids from school, quitting jobs and giving their money to his so-called nonprofit organization to spread the word about the imminent end of the world.

Others used their cash to mount signs on their cars, which they drove across the country, or to print and pass out leaflets warning that judgment day was drawing nigh.

When the day came and their supreme being didn't, they were left high and dry, some financially, most, if not all, emotionally.

It's hard to say how people come to their beliefs, why they put their faith in swindling charlatans. People who study these issues suggest they are motivated by fear or that they seek to escape a world they view as harsh, unforgiving, unfair, full of confusion and unanswer-able questions. They wrap their arms around a notion of a savior, someone who will rescue them if they just believe.

And though it is easy to dismiss them as foolish, an outsider's reckoning would be mere conjecture.

Some of them have said they accept the soothsayer's explanation that he miscalculated the date and form of the rapture, that it will take place in October and that the ruin of the world will come on a single day instead of the months he predicted earlier. Others are left sadly bewildered.

Faith can be a powerful force for destructive behavior when mixed with intolerance, both religious and social.

It can also stimulate work for helping others and for the common welfare.

Unfortunately, the latter isn't the path the radio prophet, Harold Camping, is taking. Saying non-rapture day was "a very difficult time" for him — never mind for his followers — he refused to acknowledge his failure. He also refused to return the donations given him because he needs the dough for five more months of fakery.

"We're not at an end," he said. "Why would we return it?"

———

Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.






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