Monday, May 23, 2011

So we are all still here hu?


I notice the world didn't end over the weekend. I had a plan but had it too late to carry it out. I was going to secretly contact all the Christians posting on CARM atheist and have them not post or show any presence on the net for several days after so that the atheists would begin to wonder "have they been raptured?" I didn't think of it until Saturday. So much for my whimsical contribution to the mockery of a bad idea. You can still read the warning on

I expect the guy who started all that, especially the guy who gave his savings to buy the posters, I expect them to become more committed to the idea than ever. This is a classic case of cognative dissonance, a major theory in psychology started by Leon Festinger.


Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology. A closely related term, cognitive disequilibrium, was coined by Jean Piaget to refer to the experience of a discrepancy between something new and something already known or believed.

Experience can clash with expectations, as, for example, with buyer's remorse following the purchase of an expensive item. In a state of dissonance, people may feel surprise,[2] dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior.

Notice the guy who started the idea also predicted it in 94. Being wrong once didn't prevent him from trying again, he was probably more attached to the idea. This is exactly what happened int the original case where Festinger developed the theory.

Festinger's original work was published in a book called When Prophesy Fails. The book was about Festinger, then a graduate student, who infiltrated a flying saucer cult. The cult began when a women in the mid west started receiving automatic writing from spirits who predicted the end of the world. The cult wound up believing that aliens were coming in flying saucers to save them. They were actually watching episodes of the classic tv sci fi show "Captain Video" to get "secret" messages form the aliens. The remarkable thing is several times the date came and went for the end of the world and yet the group became more committed each time, went out and got more members each time. Festinger contaminated his data because he asked so many questions and brought in so many "new members" (other graduate students and professors) that they began to suspect that he was an alien. They started taking opportunities in private to say "come on you can tell me I want tell the others, you are one of them aren't' you?" The cult finally disbanded the major people wound up in Scientology.


Of course very few Christians expected this guy's thing to be real. My feeling was if Jesus says he doesn't know the day or the hour, (only the Father does) what chance does this guy have of knowing it? As most of these things go this guy had some bogus theory about how to calculate secret messages from the Bible. His prmise is wrong on face value because he was calculating from the Flood, judging literal years (no way to know even if the flood was literally real--which it was not) when it happened. So there was no basis upon which to calculate anyway. Then he decided for himself that it could be traced that way, no Bible passage says it can be.

What is the basis for such foolish notions? First there is the kind of instruction in Bible reading that many people get in churches. When I turn past (I do mean past) televangelists almost without fail what I hear is total ignorance when they discuss how to study the Bible and how to read the Bible. They are the one's who set up this foolishness of secret codes and private meanings, becuase they don't know the basic scientific means of exegesis or textual criticism. American Christianity is based upon an revolution of anti-intellectualism led by harbingers of frontier life against the early Calvinist elites who founded the big schools in the east (such as Harvard and Yale). This revolution was called "the second great awakening" and it's legacy has been the sanctioning of uneducated guesswrok in reading the Bible and a profound suspicion and distrust of academic learning.

Although there may be broader ramifications for anti-intellectualism in America:

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
book by Hofstadter (quoting reader review on Amazon)
Hofstadter is careful to define what he means by the intellect and intellectuals. The intellect is the critical, creative, contemplative side of mind that examines, ponders, wonders, theorizes, criticizes, questions, imagines. It is the province of writers, critics, skeptics, professors, scientists, editors, journalists, lawyers and clergymen. Just being a "mental technician" in these fields is not enough; one also acts as an active custodian of values like reason and justice and truth.

Unfortunately, America's practical culture has never embraced intellectuals. The intellectuals' education and expertise are viewed as a form of power or privilege. Intellectuals are seen as a small arrogant elite who are pretentious, conceited, snobbish. Geniuses' are described as eccentric, and their talents dismissed as mere cleverness. Their cultured view is seen as impractical, and their sophistication as ineffectual. Their emphasis on knowledge and education is viewed as subversive, and it threatens to produce social decadence.

Instead, the anti-intellectuals believe that the plain sense of the common man is altogether adequate and superior to formal knowledge and expertise from schools. The truths of the heart, experience, and old-fashioned principles of religion, character, instinct, and morality are more reliable guides to life than education. After all, we idolize the self-made man in America.
my money is on this reaction of the second great awakening.

This common man stuff and common sense and so on usually means popular misconceptions and prejudices are enshrined as "common sense." When I was a kid the old people said "it's just common sense to keep the races apart." The same goes for the Bible, people want to feel that God is talking directly to them from the pages of the book and they don't some snob with a degree telling them what he says.

The other aspect of the equations, why we have this sense of "end times," in the first place, rooted in theology. Why does time have to "end?" Jurgen Moltmann, a major theologian of the twentieth century, explores this idea in this work Theology of Hope. (summary of book). He shows that the Israelites journey is spacial, through the desert toward the physical goal of a promised land. What happens once they reach it? Now the journey become temporal. They are no longer searching for the land, now it's a journey of time. They journey through history. Thus the bench mark of the end of times becomes the temporal goal. This theory might be in doubt due to modern scholarly notions that the journeying of the Israelites as been historically disproved. Lawrence H. Shiffman, Ethel and Irvin A. Edelman Professor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, says this is not a consensus. There is still a large segment of scholars who don't accept this idea.

Shiffman writes:

Further, this theory must explain away the historical and archaeological evidence. Numerous cities from this period show a cultural change at precisely the point when the Israelites are said by the Bible to have appeared. Indeed, the newcomers, since they came from the desert, show a lower level of material culture than the Canaanites whom they displaced. This situation fits well the notion of Israelite conquest and infiltration. Second, the Israelites, throughout their history in the land, were concentrated in those areas easiest to defend against the superior arms of the Canaanites, a fact that supports the notion that they were invaders. Third, the doubters have claimed that few cities from this period show evidence of armed destruction. But careful consideration of the biblical narrative, with due attention to the account in Judges and the evidence that the Canaanites were never entirely displaced, eliminates this inconsistency fully. Indeed, the archaeological record supports a reconstruction of the historical events of the conquest when both Joshua and Judges are studied together. Finally, these scholars often claim that the Bible is the only source supporting the Exodus. But they forget that several different accounts of the Exodus exist in the Bible, in books written at different periods, thus providing corroborative evidence for the basic scheme of events.

Still it seems there would be more to the idea of end times than just enshrining it in Hebrew Hopes. The early chruch got into the act when the gentile churches, not aware of the apocalyptic genre of writing, took literal the symbolism of Revelation. No doubt all of that plays a role. Yet it seems there must be a psychological pay off that people long for. There must be an end to this vial of tears we call "the world." This seems especially acute when we wake of and hear of tragedies like what happened in Joplin last night.

People need a goal they need a pay off, other than death. Yet the wrong prediction that sucks others into false hope is not the way to go. We do not have false hope. We have to cultivate the inner life in a relationship with God to understand the reality of the true hope we do have. We need to be aware of God's reality in our lives so the present nature of eternity is always pressing upon us. We should live a position which is aware of two points at once, the concrete now which is here in life, and the eternal which we will someday join. I probably look too lovingly at the past, but being a historian I can't help but think that knowing the past is a good way to demarcate the present.

(see an actual episode of Captain Video)


Jason Pratt said...

Good article, Meta!


Metacrock said...

thanks Jason!

Cuttlebones said...

I think Christianity itself sprang from Cognitive Dissonance.
Dissonance between the Messianic expectations of Jesus' followers and his crucifiction.

Metacrock said...

Cuttlebones said...

I think Christianity itself sprang from Cognitive Dissonance.
Dissonance between the Messianic expectations of Jesus' followers and his crucifiction.

that's an old argument. In fact at the time I got saved I had just read that book that semester and studied it in sociology of religion class. That was one of the first arguments I considered in dealing with new found experiences of God's presence.

Back then (1979) I had a list of counter arguments, none of which I can remmber.

Metacrock said...

I'll try and think of some of the arguments I had against that Festinger thing.