Today, Harold Camping is a man who has some explaining to do. Some, possibly even many of his followers are in trouble because they believed his interpretation of the Bible.
Many of us, including me, have had a good laugh. People who know my opinion on religion might expect that I would be gloating. But they would be sorely mistaken. I am not gloating over this pathetic display. I feel deeply sorry for Camping and his followers. How can that be? Did I change my opinion on religion?
Of course not, not in the slightest. Religion is a belief, an unreason. Religion is both silly and highly dangerous. Skepticism is the only reasonable position, and atheism is its unescapable conclusion. Only the naive, the gullible, the deluded, the clinically insane and the uneducated believe in religion.
However, following the skeptical method does not mean abandoning our humanity, our empathy. One is not born a skeptic, and I know very well how it feels to be wrong, and not understand why. I know how it feels to feel completely ridiculed and embarrassed. I know what it means to make the wrong decision and having to live with its consequences.
I have also not lost sight of the sad reality that Camping and his followers are not paid clowns. Many, possibly most of these people truly and honestly believed that the Day of Judgment had arrived. These people are now not only being ridiculed, they are also extremely disappointed. All their hopes have been destroyed. Only an unfeeling boor can ignore that and not feel for them.
Today, I am not gloating, nor do I find any reason to. While the skeptical position turned out to be the right one, numberless other Christian sects and other religions also did not believe in Camping's silly prediction. The problem is now that many -if not most- sects and religions will use this to tell their followers that their own interpretations of the holy books are the right ones, even though these interpretations are just as silly and unreasonable and baseless as Camping's.
Also, while Camping has been disproven, and my predictions
have come out and that -as a consequence- I have been denied a gourmet hamster dinner and my hamster has a not-so-new lease on life, there is a good chance that both Camping and his followers will become even more rigid in their religious practise. After all, faith is seen as a virtue by the faithful. They do not believe because of the evidence, but in spite of it. The more adversity, the sillier the belief, the more virtuous the believer is believed to be.
Because of that, it is probably not entirely unuseful to revisit the skeptical position.
Skepticism and atheism are often misrepresented and misunderstood. A skeptic is not someone who merely rejects anything he or she doesn't like. However, a skeptic also does not give all hypotheses equal value.
When the skeptic knows nothing, he or she gives an equal opportunity to all hypotheses. However, skeptics are humans, and they are able to learn. Over time, some hypotheses will get less attention than others, or even hardly any attention at all, based on what has been learned. Doesn't that make the skeptic just as hard-headed, narrow-minded and stubborn as the believer who believes, no matter what? Not quite.
A skeptic is always ready to reject what he or she (thinks he or she) knows on the basis of new evidence. However, the less likely a hypothesis is true, based on what has been learned so far, the less time the skeptic has for this hypothesis.
One example: there was a time that people in Christian countries could get burned at the stakes for not accepting that the earth was the centre of our solar system and even our whole universe. There was relatively little doubt among scientists that this was the correct position, although we should not forget that science and scientists did not really exist yet, it was still called philosophy and mostly based on speculation and wishful thinking, not on the scientific method.
People like Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Nikolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei showed us otherwise, and even the stake-burning Christians have -with precious few exceptions- accepted that the sun is at the centre of our solar system.
If someone now came around and claimed that we've got it all wrong and that, say, Jupiter is the actual centre, skeptics will tend to have a good laugh and ignore this crackpot. However, if this person would be able to show that her or his Jupiter-centric model solves more problems, is more trustworthy and is an altogether better model than the heliocentric one, the skeptic will accept this model and drop the heliocentric one. Needless to say that this is rather unlikely though not impossible. The skeptical position is one in which uncertainty plays a fundamental role.
In the same vein, most skeptics had a good laugh when Harold Camping and Family Radio predicted Judgment Day for today. Why didn't they take him seriously? One reason is that he had predicted it for 1994 already, even though at the time he still admitted that he could be wrong and that it could actually happen in 2011. This time, he didn't hedge his bet. On the contrary, he provided what he called "infallible proof
As the god of the Bible is a homophobe, most all Christian churches or ministries preach homophobia, and Harold Camping is no exception. As a result, he saw "Gay Pride
" as a powerful sign of the end of times.
Even now, after his failure, he has started to reinterpret the Bible to make it fit the failing of his prediction: see
This is one of the big problems with Christianity. While most sects are fairly close in their interpretation of the Bible, they are interpreting the Bible in different ways, as they always have. This should not be a surprise, as the book contains countless falsehoods and contradictions. As a result, we find the Catholics claiming that non-Catholics are not True Christians and will not be "saved", we find other Christian sects claiming the same about the Catholics and each other. For the non-Christian, this whole circus leads to these two essentially inescapable conclusions:
Any person who claims to be a Christian is a Christian.
Christian sects have only one thing in common: they know that all the others are wrong.
Non-Christians do have the easier argument. Since they do not accept the Bible as a Holy Book, they have also no problems seeing and accepting the reality that the Bible is an artificial assemblage of questionable myths and stories from the childhood of part of humanity. It speaks for itself that this is also true for the origins of other religions and the relationships between religions, but there is no need to discuss those here.
While Christians often honestly attempt to get to a reasonable position on the basis of Bible cherry-pickings, they do miss the point when they do so: the Bible is a work or rather, a collection of works of fiction. It is very unlikely that a reasonable and reality-testable position can be reached by using the Bible as its exclusive basis.
Scientists have in the past defended untenable positions. The phlogiston theory is a good example. However, because science is not a belief, extensive testing eventually lead to the conclusion that there is no such thing as phlogiston. The theory was abandoned and the science of chemistry advanced with leaps and bounds as a result.
This is the fundamental difference with religion. Even though the Bible is known to be a product made by humans, the faithful happily disregard this fact and believe the Bible because such is the command they received. They do not do any tests, they do not look at the reality that created the Bible and in which it sits. At the very most, they interpret the Bible in ways that make it sort-of seemingly compatible with reality: they quote-mine, change the meaning of an otherwise simplistic and unambiguous vocabulary, but they don't do what any reasonable person would do: Accept the Bible the way it should be accepted, as a work of fiction.
And now, Camping and his followers are having to deal with the inevitable: their God did not come for them. It could not have come, for it does not exist in the first place, something the skeptic knew all along. Not because the skeptic rejects God outright, not because skeptics hate the god of the Bible or any other, not because they reject the idea of one or many gods, but simply because one plus one is not three and a half, i.e. the idea of a god or many gods simply does not make sense, based on what we know.
The one thing positive about Camping's Day-of-Judgment prediction is this: very few people were harmed, and not a single one -as far as we know- has been intentionally harmed or killed by these people. That may be a sign that Christians are slowly evolving and adapting to an increasingly skeptical (secular) society: even Christians seem to be leaving behind the days they were killing their fellow believing and non-believing primates with great enthusiasm for believing the wrong things or for not believing at all.
In other words, there is hope, and who can be against that?
And for those who are disappointed: you are in good company. Remember that according to the Bible Jesus -God himself!- did not get his facts straight, and failed to accurately predict his own return. Read Jesus' failed prophecy
Keep a stiff upper lip and your heads straight: we are still on track for the next two doomsdays, 21 October 2011 and 21 December 2012, and since those will fail as well, I am sure we will be able to enjoy quite a few more doomsdays. Keep those party shoes polished!