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Regarding Our Once-Impending Doom

May 21, 2011

As everyone has noticed, Harold Camping of Family Radio in Oakland (a Cal alumnus) predicted that today would be the Rapture and that, at 6PM today in their respective time zones, believers would ascend to Heaven. As far as I can tell, this has not happened. I think it’d be fair to say that most people didn’t think that this would happen. Nonetheless, the media spent a lot of time talking about it, even though Camping has predicted incorrectly before.

Why do we pay so much attention to him then? His Biblical interpretation isn’t exactly convincing, so perhaps it’s because he had a lot of followers. But are there other Rapture predictors out there who deserve comparable coverage? And why do we pay so much attention to Doomsday predictions in general? The New Scientist takes a cut, saying that the belief in Doomsday predictions stems from the desire to make the unknown known. More broadly, they manifest the human urge to instill life with meaning, to find patterns in chaos. The idea that the universe will go on existing for billions of years after our death can make you feel pretty unimportant. In a certain way, the Rapture, with its limits and exactness, is more comprehensible than the future suggested by science. Our minds can make more sense of our impending ascension to Heaven than the potential incineration of Earth when the Sun becomes a red giant in 5 billion. Doomsday predictions are the universal longing for certainty and meaning taken to the extreme.

Even though Camping was wrong this time, 41% of Americans believe Jesus will return before the year 2050 so you can expect more of these predictions in the future – which, thankfully, still exists.

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