Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Lord is late

Here I am, perched atop a cowshed roof in Rongotea, dressed in my white ascension robes and ready to go. It's 6.45. The Lord is late. Not as much as a tremor from passing cattle trucks.

Could it be a 1 Kings 18:27 moment? The prophets of Baal have been beseeching the deity to come down, but it's a no-show. Elijah, showing a singular lack of ecumenical compassion, begins to "take the Mickey."
At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened." (NRSV)
A note in my New Oxford Annotated Bible reveals that "he has wandered away" is a euphemism for Baal having been, um, "caught short." Harold Camping's god seems likewise indisposed. Nasty!

The prophets of Baal, of course, met a sticky end in the Wadi Kishon. Camping's fate will be less gruesome, no doubt. A mere byword for fanaticism and self delusion. Less pleasant will be the consequences for those folk who were sucked in by Camping. There'll be a lot of impoverished people with ruined lives and reputations after tonight, and they - unlike Camping - can probably do without the additional burden of ridicule.

What will be done with all those posters and billboards? What will Harold tell the faithful? Probably not "I've been a jerk and will gladly reimburse you all for the losses I've caused you."

Oh well, I'll give it another half-hour before climbing back down. Too chilly to stay up much longer...


  1. Ah, but this is NZ, Kiwis always turn uop late especially for social occasions ;)

  2. Gavin...are you scoffing? I'm thinking you are not being serious about this!

  3. See, now, Scripture remains intact:

    "No man knows the day or the hour".

    More proof of the Bible.

    My fave though is II Timothy 3. You know the one. The prediction that there will be those who are heady, high minded, lovers of themselves... etc. etc. "From such turn away" it says. Wise advice. It's too bad Harold Camping's campers are now unhappy campers.

    If only they had paid attention to the Scripture....

    Or ignored it entirely and not gotten caught up with an old cranky crusty curmudgeon.

    We wish you well. We've been where you've been. You'll recover. Mostly.

  4. Ronald Weinland - come on down!

    You're the next contestant on The Date is Wrong!!

  5. Love the I Kings quote -- I'd forgotten that one when I wrote this in A Brief Guide to Secret Religions (2011):

    Belief in Jesus’s imminent return goes right back to the New Testament writers, and has been a feature of millennialist groups in almost every century since then. How do they cope with the fact that he has not (at least yet) kept to the schedule others keep setting for him?

    Sometimes the failure of their expectations leads to loss of membership; both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Worldwide Church of God lost some members, who were both disappointed by Jesus’s non-arrival and disillusioned by the failed prophecies of their Churches’ leaders – seen as either their fallibility or, worse, their falsehoods. But in fact comparatively few left either religion because, as Melton argues, ‘within religious groups, prophecy seldom fails’. Over the centuries religious groups have developed a number of coping techniques to deal with the disconfirmation of their deeply held beliefs. These include: ‘We miscalculated; come back next year’, which is broadly what the Adventist William Miller said in 1843; ‘It occurred, but on an invisible plane’, which adds another layer of belief but has the twin advantages that the religion can still claim they were right, and that they can’t be proven wrong; or ‘The Lord was merciful and stayed his hand’, which emphasises God’s love and restraint; or ‘Our faith wasn’t strong enough’, shifting the blame to the Church members; or a flat denial, ‘We never actually claimed that anyway’ (millennial religions have a long history of rewriting history); or, very occasionally, an honest ‘We were wrong’ or ‘Our enthusiasm got the better of us’.

    A beautiful late-Victorian description of cognitive dissonance, decades before Festinger’s coining of the term, comes in a description of the English nineteenth-century millennial group, the Catholic Apostolic Church, who when Jesus didn’t return on schedule were: ‘forced by the stern logic of life to turn their backs upon their past history, and to make their doctrines square with facts when facts absolutely refuse to square with doctrines’.

  6. In 1843, William Miller was a Methodist minister.

  7. I thought he was a Baptist. But as a belief rather than a Church, Adventists belonged to many denominations -- then, as now.
    1843 was Miller's first stab at it, like Camping's 1994.