Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why Don’t I Think the World is Ending Today?

Posted by Lynnette

Like most everyone I know, I’ve been pretty entertained by this whole the-world-is-ending-on-May-21 spectacle. I’ve gotten a kick of those who are planning post-rapture looting parties, or are signing up to be the caretakers of the pets of those who are raptured. I looked through several fabulous pamphlets, including “Another Infallible Proof” and “I Hope God Will Save Me,” from which I learned that about three percent of the population will be saved; that the Bible contains multiple infallible proofs, related to both the timing of the Flood and the Crucifixion; that God’s message is not meant to be easily understood; and that gay pride is a sign of the end.

(I was less interested in the numerical calculations than in the theology, which seems pretty hard core Calvinist. God will save whom God will save, and nothing you can do can in any way contribute to your salvation. This was repeated throughout the pamphlets in emphasized boxes. I was a bit surprised in that I was expecting an invitation at the end to recite the Sinner’s Prayer and accept Jesus, thus giving you a way out of the coming doom—but according to this group, the best you can do is express to God a desire to be saved. And here’s the kicker: God might or might not decide to do so, and it’s not up to you to dictate that. In that context, that nothing you do makes any difference, I don’t really understand the purpose of the billboards. Unless they’re simply meant as announcements, as opposed to calls to repentance.)

But as entertaining as I find all this, it’s hard to laugh too hard at other people’s religious ideas without seeing angels and gold plates out of the corner of my eye. Yes, this all sounds pretty crazy to me, and I have serious questions about the way this guy is interpreting the Bible. But I also belong to a tradition with a lot of ideas that sound pretty wacky to outsiders (Kolob? polygamy? seerstones?), and which has put our own unique spin on particular biblical passages. Is it really all that much stranger to believe that God has put a numerical code into the Bible revealing the end of the world?

It’s tempting to draw a line. There’s the crazy people (the ones waiting to be raptured today), and then there’s the normal religious believers (us). We’ve certainly worked very hard to be respectable, to be mainstream. We talk about strong families and downplay deification. We build universities and play football. We don’t exercise spiritual gifts (like speaking in tongues) at church. We even have ads sharing this message: “I’m a normal person—and I’m a Mormon!” Nonetheless, I suspect that for many people, Mormons are only slightly less crazy than the May 21st-ers.

Of course, I’m still unpersuaded about the world ending. But that’s only because unlike everyone else out there, my crazy-sounding religious beliefs are actually true.

13 Responses to “Why Don’t I Think the World is Ending Today?”

  1. 1.

    Hear, hear!

  2. 2.

    Of course, I’m still unpersuaded about the world ending. But that’s only because unlike everyone else out there, my crazy-sounding religious beliefs are actually true.

    Exactly!

  3. 3.

    ;)

  4. 4.

    Just to add to the mix, this is an interesting observation from Slate on why true believers don’t necessarily abandon the faith when prophecies (apparently) fail:

    . . . prophecies, per se, almost never fail. They are instead component parts of a complex and interwoven belief system which tends to be very resilient to challenge from outsiders. While the rest of us might focus on the accuracy of an isolated claim as a test of a group’s legitimacy, those who are part of that group—and already accept its whole theology—may not be troubled by what seems to them like a minor mismatch. A few people might abandon the group, typically the newest or least-committed adherents, but the vast majority experience little cognitive dissonance and so make only minor adjustments to their beliefs. They carry on, often feeling more spiritually enriched as a result.

  5. 5.

    Yeah, that boy’s been crying “wolf” for over 2,500 years now.

  6. 6.

    Nonetheless, I suspect that for many people, Mormons are only slightly less crazy than the May 21st-ers.

    Maybe on May 22nd we could find a reformed May 21ster to run for president in order to make the Mormons running look normal…..

  7. 7.

    What? The Rapture didn’t happen as prophesied? Just put it on a shelf, dearie! Put it on a shelf.

  8. 8.

    I need a ‘like’ button for Ziff’s comment.

  9. 9.

    [...] the rapture — partially because it’s too easy to make fun of these folks (and point out the similarities with respectable religion), but also because we’re talking about people who [...]

  10. 10.

    Amen.

  11. 11.

    So, Lynette, as your (and my, I suppose) religion is true, the world ended in 1891 like Joseph Smith prophesied in 1835? Good to know. As a side note I can claim my Great–uh, some number grandfather for having been at that meeting and writing the prophecy down in his diary.

  12. 12.

    Lynnette, the quote you give from Slate is really interesting. I’m especially intrigued by the “isolated claim” test by which outsiders dismiss a system of belief. The reason this intrigues me is because Mormons often use the “isolated claim” test in order to win converts and retain members–that whole “if Joseph Smith is a prophet, then it’s all true” or “if the BoM is true, then it’s all true” line of reasoning. On the other hand, almost all the really actively practicing Mormons I know are precisely like the believers Slate describes in that one or even a handful of evidences that there are problems in the church can easily be shrugged off because they subscribe to a complex system, not to discrete claims.

    Not really sure what to make of this, but I’m interested in this notion that Mormon insiders invite people to use the “accuracy of an isolated claim as a test of a group’s legitimacy” as an invitation into the church, but reject it as a reason for walking out of the church.

  13. 13.

    amelia: That’s a really interesting observation. I wonder if it’s because both experiences creates a feeling of certainty that people want in this world where so many things are completely out of our control.

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