Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Children of Prophecy

As you will have heard, some Christians believe that today is the 'Rapture' when those chosen by god will ascend into heaven, and five months of unspeakable horror will begin for the rest of us. One of the first things which comes to everyone's mind is - what will those people do and say tomorrow? The most famous study of a similar event was When Prophecy Fails (1956) by Leon Festinger, who invented the term cognitive dissonance. In that case he studied a flying-saucer cult, who were predicting first contact on a particular day, which obviously did not occur.
man's resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view
I suspect that events will unfold tomorrow and the days following much as described by Festinger - some will fall away, some will renew their commitment in the face of all evidence.

I am particularly interested in the issues of belief and innocence. I think that in any situation of fervent belief there are two types of involvement. I think there are innocent believers - some children, a few adults - who accept what they are told with simple childlike trust. And I think there are others who want to believe, who fight their own doubts by the act of convincing their more innocent companions. (There may be a third category, utter con-artists and fraudsters, who are cynically exploiting the others and have no belief at all. I think it is hard to definitively prove this, and because these people are less interesting, I will leave this category aside.)

Festinger again:
The dissonance cannot be eliminated completely by denying or rationalizing the disconfirmation. But there is a way in which the remaining dissonance can be reduced. If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct... If the proselytizing proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it."
It is to their children that such people first proselytise. I feel pity for the children who have been convinced that the world will end today. I know not all children of cult members will feel this conviction, but some will. I think those children who are more imaginative or intellectual are particularly vulnerable. More robust people for whom things aren't all that real until they actually happen, are less vulnerable to apocalyptic despair I think.

Here is a blog post by an adult who as a child believed the world would end in 1988 - because his mum and dad told him, and he trusted them.
there’s nothing funny about kids believing and anticipating THE END. And while I know that the kids who believe in May 21st have what they consider to be “great faith in Jesus,”–trust me, they are scared. They’re nervous. Some of them aren’t sleeping. They’re asking lots of questions. They’re hoping that it isn’t true. But they believe it is.

And on May 22... these kids will be facing their “day of reckoning,” waking up to realize that their parents, pastors, and theologies were wrong. Many of those kids will lose something that day. The questions that many of them will ask will get answered with lies and excuses and bad biblical reasoning. Some of them will be angry with God for not bringing about Judgment Day. Some of them will lose their faith and yet be unable to escape it.

As a child I was not brought up to believe in an apocalyptic date, but I was brought up to believe that those who did not love god would burn forever. I don't think that my parents and church realised how simply and utterly I believed that there was only eternal pain to look forward to. I am very angry with them about that, and yet in another way I think it was only a failure of communication. They spoke about burning and suffering, not realising that I was not a sophisticated listener. I was a little girl, and I thought it would really happen.

slacktivist thread on this topic
ex-Jehovah's witness thread on this topic
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