Thursday, June 9, 2011

Knowledge?

[Originally posted on LiveJournal on May 21, 2011]

6:00 came and went today as it always does. The difference between today's 6 o'clock and the 6 o'clock of any other day was that today, a small but vocal group of individuals were eagerly and fearfully awaiting the rapture. Or were they?

I've been doing a bit of casual googling and I'm hard pressed to find any explanation by Harold Camping, the man who started all this nonsense, as to why his calculations were inaccurate. I also have yet to hear the voices of bummed out followers hoping to meet their creator at 6 pm today. A part of me wonders if Camping and crew at Family Radio just ran this ploy to make money. Whether this rapture business was serious or just the latest method of conning unfortunately gullible people out of their money, several issues are definitely raised as a result of the outcome.

Assuming for a moment that Camping seriously believed that he was a prophet of the end times, it leads us to wonder how many other people supposedly divinely inspired people are misguided yet still believed. The world is full of people who claim to have some sort of supernatural knowledge or power. Camping was criticized by certain Christians for ignoring Matthew 24:36:

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

(As a side note, I find it interesting that some versions of this verse omit "nor the son". I wonder which one is correct and, if the above translation is more accurate, how this meshes with the idea that the Father and the Son are two parts of one whole...)

Still, we mustn't forget that Camping is not the only religious man claiming divine knowledge. According to a Seattle Blog quoting the Pew Research Center, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus will "definitely" or "probably" return before 2050. I failed to locate the original source of the statistic in question, but I think it's safe to assume that at least some Christians expect the rapture to happen imminently. The Westburo Baptist Church does at least. Does this count as date setting? And what about the people who claim other sorts of God-given knowledge, such as the proper way to interpret the Bible or supposed miracles? If all of these claims were consistent, I might say that there was something to them. Unfortunately, we have Christians claiming to have felt the presence of Jesus, Muslims claiming to see the name of Allah written in all sort of natural phenomena, Hindus claiming that their children are incarnations of gods, etc. How do we know which claims are false and which aren't?

The bottom line here is that belief and knowledge are not the same, no matter how strongly you believe it. If a person's claim boils down to faith or suppose divine inspiration, I tend to skeptical. Without hard evidence, this seems like the most productive and safest route to take.

If we assume that Harold Camping made the entire prophecy up to make a buck, this opens a whole new can of worms. It brings us to the sobering realization that people are capable of fraud and trickery. We are also reminded that, if we allow ourselves to be gullible or if we are vulnerable for some other reason, we have a tendency to believe these people. I was watching several documentaries on Scientology the other day on YouTube and was utterly horrified by the lengths people went to to support this organization when it was obvious that it was all just a ploy for money and control. Unfortunately, the Scientologists are not the only ones who are guilty of misleading hoards of people. We can't forget to mention the mesmerizing charisma of mega church preachers, televangelists and faith healers who have effectively turned religion into an industry.

With these things in mind, we are reminded of the importance of critical thinking and, again, relying on solid evidence rather than testimony, hearsay, claims of supernatural or miraculous power, or even our own eyes. If we become blind followers of anything or anyone we may be risking our livelihoods, our families and friends and our own freedom of thought. We must also be wary of 100% certainty. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and if someone claims to be 100% certain about anything, they are probably lying or mistaken.

Even I freely admit that there could be a God or supernatural force somewhere out there in the vast universe. However, until I am presented with testable proof of such an existence, I reserve the right to remain as I am: a humble agnostic, an empiricist, neither pining for faith nor hoping for a certain meaning, but openly and freely seeking truth.

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