26 May 2011

On a prediction come true...

Harold Camping's response to the failure of his eschatological prediction of the "rapture" (pardon my ignorance, but this is a term which appears only to been used in the past ten or so years, associated with the amazingly/bizarrely successful "Left Behind" series of novels) is exactly as might have been predicted by Festinger et al.

But Mr. Camping said that he's now realized the apocalypse will come five months after May 21, the original date he predicted. He had earlier said Oct. 21 was when the globe would be consumed by a fireball.

Saturday was “an invisible judgment day” in which a spiritual judgment took place, he said. But the timing and the structure is the same as it has always been, he said.

“We've always said May 21 was the day, but we didn't understand altogether the spiritual meaning,” he said. “May 21 is the day that Christ came and put the world under judgment.”
(source here: retrieved 25 May 2011; my emphasis)

But what strikes me most forcibly is that he took the "spiritual/non-empirical" way out. He took the Pauline (Paul-eye-ne) option. Jesus was open to empirical claims and tests. The most important was that he would rise from the dead: even Paul took this on board ( I Cor. 15:14), but it remains unclear about what this meant/means. Jesus claimed a gospel of liberation:
he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised... (Luke 4:18 [AV]) 
But there was precious little evidence of it happening (not his fault: I remember a vox pop interview in South Africa at the time of the first free elections, and the interviewee, who had been queuing for hours to vote, being asked what she expected from the ANC and Nelson Mandela. She recited a long list of perfectly reasonable but utopian aspirations. How long would all this take? asked the interviewer. "I'll grant them three months.")

If you can't deliver what you have promised--promise even more, but in less specific terms...Or those further removed from testable reality... Until no-one can tell whether or not you can deliver.... Prophets and politicians and perhaps pedagogues all do it.

Sometimes--not at all often, I hope--it's the best thing to do. Better than setting yourself up to repeat the same error five months down the line.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, James, but why only "perhaps pedagogues"? What are the units we use to gauge depth of learning? Judgement? Creativity? Any of the other things which most pedagogues insist are more important than those all-too measurable exam results or job prospects, safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever ask them to demonstrate any link between their "professional" activities and the acquisition by their students of these all-important but sadly unmeasurable qualities?


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