Posted by: L. E. Barnes | June 1, 2011

False Prophets Come in All Stripes

Carl Olson, writing for Ignatius Insight, points out the hypocrisy of the mainstream media when it comes to reporting on failed doomsday predictions:

What’s the difference between fundamentalist and secular false prophets?

Yesterday evening, our Monday night Bible study group was discussing the Rapture that didn’t happen (well, not physically, to hear Mr. Camping tell it), and the point was raised about how fringe Christian groups such as Camping’s Family Radio are (rightly) called on the carpet for failed predictions, but secular prophets of doom usually get a free pass. Not only a free pass, but encouragement to keep up the ecolological dance of doom—after all, it’s all so scientific. (Speaking of which, see William Happer’s recent First Things essay, “The Truth About Greenhouse Gases: The dubious science of the climate crusaders”.) James Taranto—who is agnostic, if memory serves me—takes up this very point in this Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web Today” post:

Something else bothers us about the media mockery of Harold Camping, as justifiable as it may be. Why are only religious doomsday cultists subjected to such ridicule? Reuters notes that “Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994.” Ha ha, you can’t believe anything this guy says! But who jeered at the U.N.’s false prediction that there would be 50 million “climate refugees” by 2010? We did, but not Reuters.

Doomsday superstitions seem to fulfill a basic psychological need. On the surface, the thought that God or global warming will destroy the world within our lifetimes is horrifying. But all of us are doomed; within a matter of decades, every person alive will experience the end of his own world. A belief in the hereafter makes the thought of death less terrifying. But so does a disbelief in the here, after. If the world is to end with us–if there is no life for anyone after our death–we are not so insignificant after all.

To reject traditional religion is not, as the American Atheists might have it, to transform oneself into a perfectly rational being. Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore. But because secular doomsday cultism has a scientific gloss, journalists like our friends at Reuters treat it as if it were real science. So, too, do some scientists. It may be that the decline of religion made this corruption of science inevitable.

Read the entire piece, “The Christian Al Gore”.

I plan to post one more time about the Camping Commotion, something along the lines of “Ten Reasons People Root for the Rapture”, with a focus on a particular aspect that few, if any, commentators give attention to. I’m not into making predictions, but it should be posted sometime today or tomorrow. Or on October 21st. Whichever comes first.

UPDATE: Dennis Prager, who is not Christian, argues on NRO that the religious world has far fewer doomsday predictions than the secular Left does. It makes several good points, but this remark is not entirely accurate:

There is one major difference between leftist and religious doomsday scenarios. The religious readily acknowledge that their doomsday scenario is built entirely on faith. The Left, on the other hand, claims that its doomsday scenarios are entirely built on science.

Actually, many modern-day Christians who obsess over “Bible prophecy” and the fast-approaching Rapture event insist that their predictions and analysis are very much “scientific”, to the degree that some insist modern science and research have made it possible for them to (finally!) correctly interpret baffling, difficult Scripture texts. Approaches vary, of course, but many of them can be traced back to a method of biblical study that draws upon the inductive methods of Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Camping used such an approach while claiming that it rendered his prediction(s) factually based and mathematically sound. The fact is, most moden doomsdayers—whether religious or secular—make some sort of claim, even if implicitly, to using rational, scientific, verifiable means to arrive at their conclusions.Yes, it’s true that faith plays an obvious role in religious prophecies, but a little study shows that the differences between the two general groups is not as great as it might seem to be at first glace.

However, one big, big difference betweeen religious and secular doomsdayers is that while the former make grim predictions of judgment and destruction, the latter often does the same while leveraging for massive (and usually immediate) societal, political, cultural, and economic changes. Which are to be carried out, of course, at the behest of the all-knowing, all-wise, all-good State. Which means, for better or worse, that secular doomsdayers have far more of an actual impact on the general populace than do religious doomsdayers.



  1. I don’t know who said it first, but “Cui bono?” from all of this and “Follow the money.”

    • I’m afraid you’re right…

  2. Very well put!

  3. This is an interesting read. I have a real problem with religious doomsday messages…even when they come veiled as messages via apparitions. I would just rather live life the best I can; I wish people would stop trying to scare me into submission.

    But I’ve never thought about it from the perspective of scientific doomsday predictions. I had never heard that there was such a climate refugee prediction, actually. That’s interesting. I tend to think that the whole global warming debate–both sides–is a distraction from the real issue, which is our call as Christians to care for the world God gave us.

    • People have been making such economic/social/scientific doomsday predictions for a very long time. Just think of Thomas Malthus. And I recall people back in the 1980’s insisting that global environmental catastrophe was going to hit us very soon. Of course, all of that turned out to be a bunch of hot air. Why does anyone take these people seriously?

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