What’s The Harm?
(The following commentary is part of a weekly series called “Reflections” by John Mill. John is a noted free thought advocate and broadcaster. His series airs on my American Heathen® internet radio show. Air date of this particular segment: 06/03/11)
“Would you risk it all for something you believe in?” I know you think I’m going to talk about the May 21st end of days prophecy by Christian broadcaster Harold Camping and his followers at Family Radio, but that’s actually the tag line for a new series on Animal Planet called “Whale Wars.”
But now that you’ve brought it up…
This is John Mill and there were plenty of disappointed believers come May 22nd, including former civil engineer Harold Camping himself. Camping, you see, applied the pseudoscience of numerology to his favorite book and yielded a prophecy that on May 21, 2011, Jesus would return to earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues from his loving god, with millions of people dying each day. This would culminate on Oct. 21, 2011, with the end of the world.
Charming. But – didn’t happen. And, unless some Millennialists and Apocalypticists push it that way, ain’t gonna happen.
The mainstream media and mainstream churches never took any of Camping’s camp seriously, of course. It was a great diversion from covering the real news and didn’t require journalists to do any, you know, journalism. Which is just as well, because finding facts is a lot harder for overpaid, blow-dried news personalities than just the standard, non-demanding “We report, you decide” fare we get in today’s info-tainment culture.
So what’s the harm in a little religious credulity? We all had a good laugh, right?
But what about that 60-year-old retiree who put $140,000, his life savings, into advertising that failed prophecy? Camping says he will not be returning money donated by followers to publicize the failed May 21 prediction, saying: “We’re not at the end. Why would we return it?”
Camping also admits that, “when May 21 came and went, it was a very difficult time for me.” Difficult for him? Two months before the May 21st rapture, an apparently normal, 47-year-old Palmdale, California, mother, Lyn Benedetto, tried to kill her 11- and 14-year-old daughters and herself. She slit their throats and then her own. Happily, the woman is behind bars and the children survived. What’s the harm?
What’s the harm when you let somebody else do your thinking for you? What’s the harm when you give in to “occult, paranormal, pseudoscientific, and supernatural beliefs?” That’s like asking…
What’s the harm in the large number of children interred in the Peaceful Valley Cemetery in Canyon County, Idaho, where their parents deferred to a faith-healing preacher instead of standard medicine?
What’s the harm in the children of Ukrainian immigrants in Salem, Oregon – ranging in age from newborn to 15 years – who are regularly beaten because the Bible says they should be?
What’s the harm in the father arrested for raping his autistic daughter based on the testimony of a woman practicing the pseudoscience of “facilitated communication”?
What’s the harm in the 9-year-old child who died of untreated diabetes in Broken Arrow, OK, because his mother relied on prayer for his cure?
What’s the harm in the so-called “America’s Prophet” who raised more than $6 million from over 100 investors based on his claimed ability to predict stock market changes?
What’s the harm in the 16-month-old Baltimore child who was starved to death by his religious caretakers because he failed to say “Amen” properly at meals?
What’s the harm in the 17-year-old Scientologist who was beaten several times by her leader and forced to have an abortion
What’s the harm in the 11 San Diego children diagnosed with measles because their parents feared the vaccine would give them autism?
Or the Christian couple arrested for planning to sacrifice three children in Jesus’s name. Or the Rev. Dwayne Long, who took a lethal bite from a rattlesnake he handled during an Easter service at a Virginia church? And so on…
The list is endless. And I guess there’s a certain logic in a fundamentalist interpretation of “holy scripture.” That’s where the religious “moderates” miss the point: if you don’t swallow it all, like a horse pill, you’re an à la carte believer. And if so, by what metric are you deciding which parts are good and which are too crazy to follow? Let me give you a hint: it’s coming from you, not your invisible friend.
Once you realize that, you’re on the road to religious recovery! So when you follow a deluded, egotistical huckster like Camping – when you outsource your brain – you’re not surrendering your reason to a higher power. You’re bowing to a baser one.
Would you risk it all for something some charlatan believes in, based on a pre-modern anthology of poorly translated fables, folk-tales and falsehoods? I didn’t think so.
Now, here’s a coda to what I’ve been saying. Should we treat the folks who followed a con artist in some Darwinian, let-the-buyer-beware, they-got-what-they-deserved, tough-luck manner? Or was Camping abusing his right to free speech? Was he shouting “fire” in a crowded theater?
Don’t look to me for an answer. But consider this: unlike Heaven’s Gate or Jonestown, it looks like Camping had plans beyond May 21. We’ll see what Camping says on October 22nd, the day after his next failed prophecy. This is John Mill.
Special Thanks to Robert Todd Carroll and the Skeptics Dicitionary