"And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves on their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the middle of heaven, and hurried not to go down about a whole day."
-- Book of Joshua; 10:13 (KJV)
Y'know, I gotta admire a guy with the sack to shoot himself in the balls.
That's pretty much what Harold Camping did this past week, by way of making his proclamation about the end of the world.
When 6:00PM came and went with no earthquakes; no Rapture - and no Jesus - there's not much he could say; he'd painted himself into a pretty tight metaphysical corner.
"I don't know what happened," said Robert Fitzpatrick, who on balance is one of Camping's most-loyal followers (he's the guy who spent $140,000 of his own money on Rapture-ready billboards.) He didn't get a money-back guarantee, and I'm pretty sure the subway-company isn't going to cut him a break, either.
It's worth remembering that ambiguity, vagueness and doublespeak are the prophet's best tools. Back in the Bad Old Days, bribing priests for a good augury was common (Caesar did it, and became de-facto king of Rome - until the Senate decided the Republic was worth saving, after all.) Alexander sacrificed to the gods prior to invading Persia - but it was his superior tactical skills which won him the Persian Empire at Gaugamela. I'm sure Crassus sacrificed to Jupiter prior to entering Parthia. He got his head handed to him (literally) after Carrhae; I'm supposing Jupiter was in a foul mood that day, but we'll never know.
On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius' sacrifice to Jupiter and Mars brought about the Rain Miracle - or did it? Naw; probably not. That's the thing about 'miracles' - they're the things people remember; the 50% of the time when a prayer or a sacrifice works, it validates the belief which brought it about.
Religious texts are full of sheep-and-shepherd metaphors. What they don't tell us is that the sheep are kept for a reason; the shepherd might be an employee of a landowner, or the landowner himself. The outcome is always the same: The sheep are first shorn; then eventually turned into Souvlaki when their wool turns coarse. The shepherd looks after the sheep; in return, the sheep provide - well; everything they possess, up to and including their lives.
Galileo learned what happens to uncooperative sheep, back in the early 1600's; in spite of providing overwhelming proof, the religious powers in charge at the time realized the real threat - if Galileo were permitted to challenge the Pope's authority and win, then a whole continent of sheep would get it in their heads that it was all right to question the Church on anything and everything else. The People in Charge had a cushy life, thanks to the quiescent obedience of those millions of sheep. It's not that the Cardinals gave a damn about the sun, the earth, or the solar-system; they gave a damn about the status-quo, and keeping it together. If Galileo was right, then their 'god' couldn't make the sun stand still so Joshua and his buddies could kick-ass on their enemies-du-jour - another explanation entirely would be necessary, and the Authorities didn't want to go there. At all.
To do otherwise would have been to admit "We were wrong!" - and wind up like the guy in the picture, above. They knew what successful religious leaders have known for centuries: In order to remain in power, you never make black-and-white comments. If you do (or if your Book does it for you), then you'd better be capable of enforcing them with the crushing weight of law.
This is where Camping went wrong.
After all, he had it easy - we live in a age of cognitive dissonance; people from all walks of life are faced with logical decisions all the time, and ignore that logic even when faced with overwhelming fact. (By example, while there's ample proof that Congress is 'owned' by corporate interests and that both major political parties are equally corrupt, Americans continue to vote for them in droves. Religious organizations are corrupt; yet we continue to support them. In either case, those of us who point out unpleasant truths are either ignored, shouted-down, or sorted out for good when ignorance proves insufficient). It should have been an easy matter for Camping to make vague statements about the End Times, and keep the money rolling in.
Now, to keep things clear, I won't mention why a Creator would bother to date his Big Comeback and Great Snatch based on a human dating system - we'll leave that for those who've already ignored their own cognitive dissonance and are hence completely comfortable denying logic in favor of endless, pointless arguments - how many angels can dance, etc.)
Among those who were anxiously awaiting the aforementioned Great Snatch at 6:00PM this past Saturday was a fellow who'd maxed out his credit-cards after being out of work for quite a while. He said, "I suppose I was involved in wishful thinking." He probably has plenty of company - pretty much anyplace is preferable to staring down the muzzle of a gun labeled 'bankruptcy', and if that place is a vaguely-defined paradise, so much the better.
As to Camping, he, along with people like Hal Lindsay (remember "The Late, Great Planet Earth?"), will simply tip his hat in another direction, say, "Aw, shucks!", and "I guess I need to do some more reading." Meanwhile, his sheep will have been shorn, and even though cognitive dissonance will reign in place of Dashboard Jesus for a while, eventually things will settle back to normal - his 'flock' will continue to send him millions of dollars every year.
Now, that takes 'sack'. Plenty of it.
(People all over the world share two traits - first, they don't want to know what's really going on in the world, much less have to face real solutions - both are far too scary. Second, people love to create alternate realities, which involve greater or lesser forms of insanity.
I've long held that insanity is simply a matter of degree - the first involves the person who sings "The Old Rugged Cross" on Sunday morning; the second involves the person who 'speaks in tongues', rolls in the aisle and climbs the stovepipe in church, and the third is the person who stands in the corner of the local mental hospital and babbles uncontrollably. Three people; three degress of separation. The last two can't be helped; the first one really ought to give serious thought to the system he or she is helping perpetuate.)