4 Mar 2011

Apocalypticism is a simplistic but dangerous world view spreading rapidly like a toxic virus

The Montreal Gazette - Canada February 19, 2011

The rise of apocalypticism

What on earth is the world is coming to?

By AL KRATINA, Freelance

The world is coming to an end.

Depending on how closely you paid attention in science class, the above statement could either refer to entropy on a massive time scale or a belief that the Mayans predict a galactic stroke in 2012. To Concordia professor Lorenzo DiTommaso, the latter assertion is troubling in its popularity.

DiTommaso studies apocalypticism past and present at Concordia's Department of Religion. He's written and lectured extensively on the subject, and his latest work, The Architecture of Apocalypticism, is set to be published by Oxford University Press. To DiTommaso, apocalypticism is not simply the belief that the world will end. "It's not chaos; it's not destruction or anything like that," he explains. "Rather, apocalypticism is a world view that expresses a radical way of understanding time, space, and human destiny."

According to DiTommaso, apocalypticism is a unique collection of four beliefs. To adherents, we live in a world of strictly defined right and wrong. A transcendent reality exists beyond our own, and the world is so damaged or corrupt that it must be swept away. Finally, once the SyFy channel movie about tidal waves or rogue planets is over, a new creation will come into being.

Although this belief is most commonly found in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, DiTommaso says that apocalypticism has gone global over the past century, spreading like a really pessimistic virus. "Apocalypticism has been transformed into a global, multicultural, trans-border phenomenon," he explains. "Its very nature allows it to thrive in all sorts of ecologies, religious or otherwise."

Currently, says DiTommaso, we're in an upswing of apocalypticism, both in traditional forms and in new hybrid varieties. "Beyond the biblical aspect, it's gained a secular aspect as well ... in music, in videos, in role-playing games, in graphic novels, in fiction," he says, citing The Matrix, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and books such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road as examples.

DiTommaso also describes the 2012 phenomenon, which posits that the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world by running out of calendar pages, as indicative of the apocalypticism's modern strain.

"You have a fusion of the apocalyptic world view," says DiTommaso, "standard biblical notions of time, space, and human existence ... attached to completely non-biblical timetable." DiTommaso attributes part of this new blend -which also mixes in New Age beliefs and bad astronomy -to the Internet, which has given the 2012 phenomenon the same level of ubiquity as 9/11 conspiracy theories and pictures of cats.

Which is not a good thing. "Apocalypticism is unhealthy," says DiTommaso, "It's a toxic way of dealing with these problems." A key issue is apocalypticism's sharply defined dualities. "It's a simplistic response to complex problems. Either good or evil, nothing in between," says DiTommaso. "(That's) not a productive way of looking at the world ... You can imagine a view of a good and evil leading to views that say, 'You're either with us or against us.'"

Perhaps worse, apocalypticism sees civilization's decline -be it on moral, ethical, environmental or economic levels -as unfixable. "The resurgence of apocalypticism ... is indicative (of a belief) that our problems are so great that they are impossible to solve by ourselves," says DiTommaso. Believing the Earth will be destroyed, he explains, isn't much motivation to ensure the soil isn't full of industrial tailings.

"The argument goes, the problems with the environment are really irrelevant," says DiTommaso, "because the whole problem's going to be swept away on whatever date you want."

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  1. Oh Magog! Why End-Times Buffs Are Freaking Out About Syria

    Novelist Joel Rosenberg has the ear of Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, and the Heritage Foundation. He thinks conflict in Syria was foretold by the Old Testament.

    By Tim Murphy | Mother Jones September 4, 2013

    In early 2012, best-selling novelist Joel Rosenberg came to Capitol Hill for a meeting with an unidentified member of Congress to discuss the end of the world. "I thought the topic was going to be the possible coming war between Israel and Iran," Rosenbergexplained on his website. "Instead, the official asked, 'What are your thoughts on Isaiah 17?'"

    For the better part of an hour, Rosenberg says, the writer and the congressman went back forth on something called the "burden of Damascus," an Old Testament prophecy that posits that a war in the Middle East will leave Syria's capital city in ruins—and bring the world one step closer to Armageddon. As Rosenberg put it, "The innocent blood shed by the Assad regime is reprehensible and heart-breaking and is setting the stage for a terrible judgment."

    But Rosenberg and his anonymous congressman aren't alone in viewing Syrian presidentBashar al-Assad's actions through a biblical lens. With Congress set to vote next week on the authorization to use military force in Syria, the Damascus prophecy has taken on a new significance among the nation's End Times industry—writers and pastors who believe the world is hurtling toward the return of Christ as forecasted in the Book of Revelation—and its adherents in the pews and in public life. On Saturday, Rosenberg will travel to Topeka, Kansas, at the invitation of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

    The idea behind the prophecy is a fairly straightforward one. In Isaiah 17, the prophet explains that, in the run-up to Armageddon, "Damascus is about to be removed from being a city, and will become a fallen ruin." The implication is that it will be leveled by God on behalf of Israel as part of the last great struggle for mankind.

    How exactly that will happen is a bit less clear. "The honest answer is that the Bible does not say," Rosenberg wrote on his blog last June. But in Rosenberg's Twelfth Imam series, he postulates that the emergence of the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah, leads to the rise of a new Islamic caliphate in the Middle East that prepares to decapitate Israel by launching nuclear warheads from Damascus. As the top-rated Amazon review for the final book in the series, Damascus Countdown puts it, "This is a great read for anyone interested not only in the prophetical future of Israel but for Iran and Syria as well…[It] makes one want to keep his or her eyes wide open on current day Middle East events, and see if they line up to eschatological Old Testament passages."

    Rosenberg may seem like a fringe figure, but he has a large base of support and friends in high places. Damascus Countdown was, like the two preceding books in the series, Twelfth Imam and Tehran Initiative, a New York Times bestseller. He has been cited as an expert on nuclear policy by Fox News, where host Shannon Bream noted that he had been referred to as a "modern-day Nostradamus." Former (and future) Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum wrote a blurb for the hardcover edition of Damascus Countdownand brought the author onto his radio show, Patriot Voices, to discuss the book last spring.

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  2. In March, Rosenberg met privately with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Louie Gohmert in Austin. Gohmert was such a big fan of the novelist he brought a copy of Damascus Countdown as a gift to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. (Because he's Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman knocked over Netanyahu's coffee cup and bottled water in the process of handing over the book.) In April, he discussed Damascus Countdown at the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank. Rosenberg did not respond to a request to comment from Mother Jones.

    Rosenberg is not the only Christian thinker making a buck off the burden of Damascus. Jan Markell, on whose End Times radio program Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has frequently appeared, blasted out an email to followers last summer warning that the Burden of Damascus may be close at hand. She reiterated that position in an interview with OneNewsNow last week. Walid Shoebat, a self-described "ex-terrorist" who is a frequent guest at right-wing confabs, told birther news site WorldNetDaily in August that while he wasn't sure the Burden of Damascus was imminent, "We can sense the beginning signs for the fulfillment of Isaiah 17's destruction of Damascus when we witness the influx of refugees from Syria to Jordan as predicted by the prophet Amos."

    Hal Lindsey, a Texas-based evangelist famous for his 1970 treatise, The Late Great Planet Earth, has been beating the Damascus drum for years. He addressed the subject head-on in a 2008 column at WorldNetDaily (where Santorum is also a columnist), inspired by fears that then-President-elect Obama might bring the world closer to a war between Israel and Iran.

    As Lindsey explained, the prophesied ruination of Damascus did not mean the end for everyone else—it would just bring the world one step closer to the final confrontation. "[A]ccording to Bible prophecy, Iran survives the Israeli strike and plays a major role in the coming Russian-led Gog-Magog Alliance foretold by the Prophet Ezekiel," he wrote. "Israel also survives, since the Gog-Magog Alliance eventually marches against it."

    After warning once more of the "burden of Damascus" throughout the spring and early Summer, Lindsey offered a more dire warning on his television program on Friday, the day before Obama announced he was taking his case to Congress.

    "As I prepared for this weeks program, I was again struck by the speed with which events are moving into the scenario the prophets predicted for the end times," he told his audience. "I believe we're there. People on the street are talking about what all of these things mean. Folks that wouldn't go darken the door of a church or pick up a Bible are now very curious. This may be our greatest opportunity—maybe even our last opportunity—to share the gospel of Jesus Christ before we're silenced by political correctness."

    Your move, Congress.

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  3. A Threat to Us All: Millions Buying into Apocalyptic Religion Pose a Direct Threat to Modern Society

    By Jeffrey Tayler / Salon January 4, 2015

    I would like to thank Reza Aslan. In his recent Salon rebuttal to denunciations (including mine) of religion put forward by people the media has come to call New Atheists, he resurrects a word the late Christopher Hitchens, now three years departed, used to describe himself: antitheist. (Aslan even provides the link to a relevant Hitchens text from long ago that is well worth reading.) Antitheists hold that the portrayal of our world and humankind’s place in it as set out in the foundational texts of the three Abrahamic religions constitutes, to quote Hitchens, “a sinister fairy tale,” and that “life would be miserable if what the faithful affirmed was actually the case.” The reason? “[T]here may be people,” he wrote, “who wish to live their lives under a cradle-to-grave divine supervision; a permanent surveillance and [around the clock] monitoring [a celestial North Korea],” but he certainly did not. The eternally repressive alternate reality concocted by the religious of eons past, if true, would be, in his words, “horrible” and “grotesque.”

    Well said! Speaking for myself, I’m happy to be labeled an antitheist. Or an atheist. It makes no difference to me. The point is, I do not, cannot, believe, and do not wish to believe. I have never envied people of faith their worldview, never esteemed the ability to consider something true without evidence, never respected as morally superior those who manage this feat of credulity and illogicality. For that matter, I have never had an experience for which I sought a religious – that is, supernatural or superstitious – explanation. For Aslan, though, the semantic distinction between “atheist” and “antitheist” is key and intended to discredit those speaking out for rationalism and against religion.

    “Not only is New Atheism not representative of atheism,” he writes. “It isn’t even mere atheism.” It is in fact antitheism, which he finds “to be rooted in a naive and, dare I say, unscientific understanding of religion – one thoroughly disconnected from the history of religious thought.” He contends that “atheism has become more difficult to define for the simple reason that it comes in as many forms as theism does” – negative atheism, positive atheism, empirical atheism, and even agnosticism. He cites an obscure poll dividing nonbelievers into categories – academics, activists, seeker-agnostics, “apatheists” and “ritual atheists,” with the least numerous (and hence ostensibly least credible) being the antitheists, who account for only 12.5 percent. His conclusion: “the vast majority of atheists – 85 percent according to one poll – are not anti-theists and should not be lumped into the same category as the anti-theist ideologues that inundate the media landscape.”

    Just how an atheist’s understanding of religion per se differs from that of an antitheist Aslan does not say. Neither of them, after all, believe in God. And is he saying that an atheist’s concept of faith is more “scientific” (and thus presumably more accurate) than an antitheist’s? Doubtful: Aslan is a Muslim. The critical factor would appear to be that unlike (upstart) antitheists, (old-time) atheists, at least as he sees it, don’t speak out much about religion. Presumably, (plain-old) atheists keep quiet and humbly listen to scholars such as Aslan explain away the role of faith in, for instance, the barbarities that assault us daily in news from abroad. If, however, atheists forcefully advocate their rationalist convictions, they become antitheists and join the negligible 12.5-percent minority of his poll, to be safely dismissed or regarded as an annoyance.

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  4. These are questionable assumptions, to put it charitably, but they are beside the point. Aslan is hoping to discredit and classify into irrelevance those who publicly insist, as I have (and he quotes me), that religion is “innately backward, obscurantist, irrational and dangerous.” Backward, because it relies not on reason for solutions, but on looking to ancient texts for ready-made answers. Obscurantist, because it discourages searching for truthes about our world using empirical methods. Irrational, because (for starters) the very notion that this or that shepherd or merchant ages ago was chosen by a divine being to deliver a message valid eternally and for all humanity offends reason and commonsense. Dangerous, because (again, just for starters), armed with “holy” texts, the faithful practice all sorts of mischief and savagery, damaging both members of their own communities and those outside them. But atheist or antitheist, no matter: what counts is the shared bedrock of nonbelief, the refusal to accept as fact, and defer to, what is asserted without evidence.

    There can be only one reason that Aslan adduces his taxonomy of nonbelievers: to confuse the argument, this time by claiming that atheists (or antitheists) are busy propagating a fundamentalism of their own, and a potentially murderous one at that. Once harmless, some of the faithless, in his telling, have been horribly transmogrified into wannabe tyrants. He opens a brief but otherwise interesting historical excursus on the roots of nonbelief by erroneously deciphering the Greek roots of the word atheist, atheos, which breaks down not as “without gods” but “without god.” In any case, antitheists, from the middle of the 19th century, he says, have professed a “stridently militant form of atheism,” and seen “religion as an insidious force that must be rooted from society – forcibly if necessary.”

    To lead readers to this conclusion, he presents a misapprehension of history from which he draws an incorrect analogy injurious to New Atheists. He announces that Marx’s vision of a “religion-less society was spectacularly realized with the establishment of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – two nations that actively promoted ‘state atheism’ by violently suppressing religious expression and persecuting faith communities.” But it wasn’t “atheism that motivated Stalin and Mao to demolish or expropriate houses of worship, to slaughter tens of thousands of priests, nuns and monks. It was anti-theism that motivated them to do so.”

    Untrue. In both countries, faith enjoyed nominal constitutional protection as a private matter and was never outlawed, lingering on despite official efforts to the contrary. Militantly atheist, the communist governments of the two countries opposed religion because it rivaled the all-encompassing state ideology they were bent on inculcating in their subjects. This was particularly true in the case of Russia, where the tsar had claimed a divine right to the throne and ruled as God’s viceroy on earth, and the Russian Orthodox Church functioned as an arm of the state. Lenin and then Stalin waged a decimating war on the Old (faith-buttressed) Order, with the clergy numbering heavily among their countless victims, with many houses of worship destroyed or expropriated. But Stalin eventually had to backpedal and enlist the Church to help him rally the masses in World War II. The point is, both Russia and China aimed to break resistance to their versions of Marxism, with the goal of establishing dictatorial temporal power.

    (Perhaps, though, religion did play a part in deforming Stalin’s psyche. He was a seminary student until he found his calling with the Bolsheviks.)

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  5. But back to New Atheists and antitheists and their alleged penchant for dangerous fundamentalism. Having equated them with history’s most notorious tyrants, Aslan provides incendiary quotes from Richard Dawkins and Hitchens, and poses the question: “If you honestly believed [such terrible things] about religion, then what lengths would you not go through to rid society of it?”

    Aslan is not alone in saying this. Religion scholar Karen Armstrong suggestedmuch the same in a recent Salon interview. But both are wrong. Rationalists – I’ll dispense here with Aslan’s spurious taxonomy and use a more appropriate term – are assertively making their case because religion, since the Reagan years, has been abandoning the realm of private conscience (where it has every right to be) and intruding itself into national life, with politicians and public figures flaunting their belief, advocating and (passing) legislation that restricts women’s reproductive rights, attempting to impose preposterous fairy tales (think intelligent design) on defenseless children in science classes, and even,in the case of Texas, recasting the Constitution in school textbooks as a document inspired by the Bible. Abroad, militants pursuing Islamist agendas have been raining death and destruction on entire populations, with religious extremism the main cause of terrorism the world over. Given the possibility that terrorists may acquire weapons of mass destruction and nuclear states with faith-based conflicts may let fly their missiles, religion may be said to endanger humanity as a whole. No one who cares about our future can quietly abide the continuing propagation and influence of apocalyptic fables that large numbers of people take seriously and not raise a loud, persistent, even stridentcry of alarm.

    Aslan has often argued that we atheists are eschewing interpretation and reading religious texts too literally. Well, if we want to see religion as the majority of believers do, we should continue to do so: three-fourths of Americans believe the Bible to be the word of God – numbers that, to the shame of the Republic, find reflection in our resolutely anti-science Congress. Pew research shows that a majority of Muslims believe only one interpretation of Islam is possible. Chances are it’s not the Latte flavor apparently popular in today’s university religion departments. Whether or not interpretations are possible, what the religious texts actually say does matter and must be taken seriously.

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  6. Aslan doesnt touch on this subject in his Salon essay, but he does provide a link to an interview he gave the Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur in which he skirts Uygur’s refreshingly bold questions about why he has chosen to believe in Islam, the texts of which Uygur finds “wrong.”

    “If you actually do believe the [Islamic] texts,” Uygur asks, “then you’re one of the most dangerous people on the planet . . . or, you don’t believe the texts, [so] what’s the point? Why do you” – Aslan – “choose to believe Islam, if you know the text isn’t really true?”

    Dodging the question, Aslan terms Islam a “man-made institution, a set of symbols and metaphors that provides a language for which to express what is inexpressible, and that is faith . . . . It’s symbols and metaphors that I prefer, but it’s not more right or more wrong than any other symbols and metaphors, it’s a language, that’s what it is.”

    No matter how many times Aslan deploys such sophistry, it will not work. Nonbelievers reject the comic-book cosmogony propounded as “sacred truth” by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – “sacred truth” far too many in the present day are eager to die, mutilate, and kill for. We ask, quite rightly, how reasonable people could believe it. We dismiss as incompatible with modern life the master-slave ethos, the affirmation of slavery as an institution, the patriarchal misogyny, the wanton punitive cruelty (check out Leviticus, for example), the vile stigmatization of gays, and the shaming of the female body that permeate the religious dogma and its canon.

    We understand the real purpose behind religion whenever it exceeds the bounds of conscience, as it has done throughout history, and seeps into politics. More than two centuries ago, the English and American revolutionary Thomas Paine penned words that still ring true: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

    Atheists, New and old, hold religion to be of human provenance and based on texts of human authorship riddled with human flaws exploitable for entirely profane purposes. Once one ceases regarding religion as quaint myth or a source of comfort (albeit false) for those who accept it, and begins grasping the lethal force it is regaining in much of the world, alarm and outrage ensue.

    In his Salon essay, Reza calls New Atheism “a reactionary phenomenon.” He is right about that, in one sense: nonbelievers have taken to reactingvociferously against attempts of the past decades to drag us all, in the name of faith and our own good, away from secularism and the Enlightenment, and back toward a more primitive age.

    Benjamin Franklin once observed that, “The way to see by Faith is to shut the eye of Reason.”

    We all have a choice to make – with both eyes open.


  7. Apocalyptic beliefs may explain why Francis is a pope in a hurry

    John L. Allen Jr., CRUX associate editor January 25, 2015

    Pope Francis’ most recent airborne news conference, held coming back from Manila on Monday, was another sensation. It generated a couple of instant classic sound-bites, including why Catholics don’t have to “breed like rabbits” and his wish to kick a couple of corrupt bureaucrats “where the sun doesn’t shine.”

    There were two other tidbits, however, that have been somewhat lost in the shuffle, both of which are important for understanding what is more and more a defining trait of this pope — his sense of urgency.

    One of those nuggets is about a book; the other, a trip.

    As he has before, Francis went out of his way to invoke an apocalyptic 1907 novel by an English convert from Anglicanism called “Lord of the World.” The novel lays out a dystopic vision of a final conflict between secular humanism and Catholicism, with the showdown taking place on the fields of Armageddon.

    Author Robert Hugh Benson depicts a world in which Marxism and secularism have run the table, culminating in a charismatic “savior” figure, increasingly recognizable as the Anti-Christ, who arises to lead a one-world government. Attacks on Christian symbols and believers mount, and euthanasia is widely practiced.

    Francis first praised the novel back in November 2013, in the context of a homily in which he denounced what he called “adolescent progressivism.” He returned to “Lord of the World” in the recent airplane news conference, saying, “I advise you to read it” because it explains what he meant by a reference to “ideological colonization” during a session with 20,000 Filipino families in Manila.

    Some find the novel prescient, others a little ‘out there.’ For analytical purposes, the important thing is its keen sense that the world is reaching a turning point and there’s not much time left to set things right.

    That’s not to say Francis believes doomsday is around the corner. However, his fondness for the novel seems to track with his belief that humanity is making some definitive choices today, from the economy to the environment, and that if we get those choices wrong, the consequences may be far worse than we realize.

    All of which brings us to a second striking bit from Monday’s news conference, which was Francis’ overview of his pending travel schedule.

    Aside from his September visit to the United States, Francis said he also plans to visit three Latin American nations this year — Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay — and three more next year, including Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, with Peru probably being slotted in to one of those trips as well.

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  8. The pontiff also said he intends to visit two African nations toward the end of 2015, saying they’ll likely be Uganda and the Central African Republic.

    That’s an ambitious set of plans, with his intention to go to the Central African Republic standing out as especially audacious.

    The country is still an active war zone, with the conflict to some extent breaking down along Muslim/Christian lines. Because of the violence, the Central African Republic is currently under a United Nations Security Council ban on travel, which was recently extended through the end of January 2016.

    Francis technically wouldn’t be in violation should he arrive in November or December, as he hinted, since the ban contains an exemption for “religious obligation.” One still has to wonder, however, why the pontiff wouldn’t prefer to wait for the shooting to stop.

    As in the Philippines last week, when the pope was scheduled to fly into the teeth of a tropical storm in order to visit the survivors of a 2013 super-typhoon, one imagines that aides and security personnel will try to persuade Francis to rethink the outing.

    Based on his insistence last week on going ahead anyway, Francis may not be in the mood to wait around.

    Since his election two years ago, Francis has launched a whirlwind of initiatives — from Vatican reform to blockbuster documents, from bold diplomatic initiatives to spontaneous meetings and gestures. It sometimes seems as if he’s trying to cram activity that would last most papacies a decade into his first two years, raising the question of why he’s in such a hurry.

    Given his repeated references to “Lord of the World,” his rush may not be related only to a hunch that at 78 he’s got limited time, or his knowledge that he was elected on a reform mandate.

    Shortly before his retirement last November, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said in a Crux interview that he’d like to ask Francis about his “eschatological vision that the anti-Christ is with us,” and whether that explains the pope’s intense pace.

    (In Catholic theology, “eschatology” is the study of the end stages of human life and history, featuring what are sometimes referred to tongue-in-cheek as the “final four” – death, judgment, heaven, and hell.)

    “Nobody seems interested in that, but I find it fascinating,” George said. “I hope before I die I’ll have the chance to ask [Francis] how you understand your ministry, when you put the end-times before us as a key.”

    In effect, Francis may already have answered George’s question.

    Monday’s comment about “Lord of the World” suggest his reply might boil down to: “Yes, Virginia, there’s a devil, an anti-Christ, and an end time … and if we want to avoid the worst of it, we’d better get cracking.”

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  9. Utah parents who killed selves, children feared apocalypse

    By LINDSAY WHITEHURST, AP January 27, 2015

    SPRINGVILLE, Utah (AP) — A Utah couple and their three children who were found dead in their home last fall overdosed on drugs after the parents told friends and family they were worried about the apocalypse, authorities said Tuesday.

    Police also found old letters written by the mother to a Utah inmate serving time for killing family members in the name of God, slayings chronicled in the 2003 Jon Krakauer book "Under the Banner of Heaven."

    Benjamin and Kristi Strack and three of their four children — ages 11, 12 and 14 — were found dead in September in a locked bedroom of their Springville home. All five were tucked into covers in and around their parents' bed.

    At a news conference Tuesday, Springville Police Chief J. Scott Finlayson said investigators have concluded their probe and determined the family members died from drug toxicity from either methadone, heroin or a combination of drugs, including those found in cold medicine.

    Authorities determined the parents committed suicide. The younger two children's deaths were ruled homicides, although Finlayson said there were no signs of a struggle.

    The manner of death for the 14-year-old, Benson Strack, was undetermined.

    Police said Benson wrote a goodbye letter, leaving some of his belongings to his best friend. The only other recent writing the family left behind was a notebook containing handwritten to-do lists about feeding the pets and other chores.

    Finlayson said interviews with people who knew the Stracks indicated the parents were worried about evil in the world and wanted to escape from "impending doom."

    "There seemed to be a concern about a pending apocalypse that the parents bought into," Finlayson said. "While some friends though that suicide may have been, or could have been, included in their plans, others believed they were going to move somewhere and live off the grid."

    During their investigation, police found years-old letters between Kristi Strack and Dan Lafferty, who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of committing a double-murder with his brother Ron.

    "Under the Banner of Heaven" is about members of an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told through the true story of the Laffertys' crimes. The two killed their brother's wife and 15-month old daughter.

    Ron Lafferty is on death row after his conviction in the July 1984 slayings of his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her baby in American Fork. He claimed to have had a religious revelation sanctioning the slayings because of the victim's resistance to his beliefs in polygamy.

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  10. Investigators said Kristi Strack was deeply interested in the case and struck up a friendship with Dan Lafferty.

    "It was almost like he talked to her like one of his children," Lt. David Caron said. She and her husband both became close to him, and he had directed his remains to go to them after his death. They hadn't talked to him since 2008 and investigators do not believe the couple's beliefs came from Dan Lafferty, police Cpl. Greg Turnbow said.

    "He felt really sad they had committed suicide," Caron said.

    Benjamin Strack's brother Jacob said the final report from investigators wasn't surprising to relatives still mourning the family's deaths.

    Looking back, the connection to Dan Lafferty was a troubling sign about the couple's mental state, he said.

    The Stracks' older son and the children's grandmother found the bodies Sept. 27, according to search warrants. The older son was Kristi Strack's child from a previous marriage.

    Police found cups with liquid inside next to each of the bodies and a child's sand bucket behind a door with traces of the same combination of methadone and cold medication that was found in their systems.

    Police believe that Benjamin Strack died last because he was the only member of the family who wasn't underneath bed covers.

    In a recording of the 911 call released Tuesday, family friend Maureen Ledbetter tells the dispatcher about the deaths as grandmother Valerie Sudweeks screams in the background.

    The methadone used in the deaths was prescribed to Kristi Strack, police said.

    Court records show Benjamin and Kristi Strack had a history of legal and financial problems and had gone through court-ordered drug treatment several years ago. Investigators said they weren't aware of any contact with state child services workers.

    Benjamin Strack's boss, bricklaying company owner Alex Short, has said it appeared those troubles were behind them.

    Springville is a city of about 30,000 near Provo, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.


  11. Autopsy reveals Utah family of five with fixation on apocalypse died in gruesome murder-suicide

    By Lindsey Bever Washington Post January 28, 2015

    After dark on Sept. 27 last year, a Springville, Utah, teen returned home with his girlfriend. On a normal evening, he would have seen his parents and three siblings. But that night, he couldn’t find anyone. He couldn’t hear anything. And when he went to his parents’ bedroom, he couldn’t open the door. He called his grandmother, who forced her way inside.

    They found five dead bodies spread across the room.

    “Oh my god,” family friend Maureen Ledbetter told a 911 dispatcher, as the grandmother screamed in the background. “The whole family killed themselves.”

    Since then, what exactly happened to Benjamin and Kristi Strack and their three youngest children seemed a mystery. And, in many ways, it still is.

    But on Tuesday, police revealed what they found when they responded to the 911 call from one of the worst murder-suicide scenes in Utah’s history.

    When police got to the home in the small town about 50 miles from Salt Lake City, they found Benjamin and Kristi Strack and three of their four children dead inside the master bedroom. They found empty containers of cold and flu medication, allergy medication, sleeping medication, pain reliever and cherry-flavored liquid methadone. And they found a plastic sand pail filled with a lethal yellowish-orange concoction, a mixture of the drugs.

    It’s still unclear how the children consumed the cocktail.

    The Utah State medical examiner said the children, ranging in age from 11 to 14, had toxic amounts of diphenhydramine, which is an antihistamine, and methadone in their bodies. Kristi Strack had the same drugs, plus dextrophan and doxylamine. And Benjamin Strack had toxic levels of heroin in his system, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

    The parents’ deaths were listed as suicides. The two youngest children’s deaths were ruled homicides because they were too young to consent to die. The death of their 14-year-old son was labeled “undetermined.”

    “Because of his age, it is difficult to determine if he was capable to make a decision to commit suicide or to consent to join with his parents in committing suicide,” Springville police said in a news release.

    Much less certain, and perhaps more perplexing, is why they wanted to die. But relatives believe mental health issues played a role in their decision.

    Friends and family told police that the parents were worried about the “evil in the world” and wanted to escape a “pending apocalypse.” But most assumed they just wanted to move somewhere “off the grid.” In the home, police found a to-do list with instructions to “feed the pets” and “find someone to watch over the house.” They also found a note from the Stracks’ 14-year-old “bequeathing his personal possessions to his friend,” Springville Police Chief J. Scott Finlayson said at a news conference.

    continued below

  12. Investigators believe the cocktail put the children to sleep before it killed them. Benson, 14, and Emery, 12, were discovered on mattresses on the floor in their parents’ bedroom. Benjamin and Kristi Strack and their 11-year-old son, Zion, were on the parents’ bed, police said. Investigators believe Benjamin Strack was the last to die, after climbing between his wife and youngest son on the bed, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

    There were no suicide notes — only the letter that 14-year-old Benson wrote to a friend two days before the family died.

    “It was a goodbye letter to a friend. And it basically mentioned that he would no longer exist on this Earth,” Benjamin Strack’s brother Jake told the Deseret News. “Just saying goodbye, and he had an inkling he would be found dead.”

    Authorities believe their only surviving child, 19-year-old Janson McGee, who found his family dead, was not included in the murder-suicide because he was grown and engaged to be married, the newspaper reported.

    Investigators also found letters written by Kristi Strack to one of the state’s most infamous convicted killers, Dan Lafferty, who was convicted in the 1984 fatal stabbing of his sister-in-law and her 1-year-old daughter. According to trial testimony, he killed the victims at the order of his brother, Ron Lafferty, who claimed to have had a revelation from God. The story became a book called “Under the Banner of Heaven.”

    Police said Kristi Strack became friends with Dan Lafferty, and she and her husband even visited him in prison.

    “It was almost like he talked to her like one of his children,” Lt. David Caron said, according to the Associated Press.

    Police said Lafferty had asked the Stracks to handle his remains when he died, though they don’t believe the couple had seen him since 2008. Police went to question Lafferty after the Stracks’ suicide pact. He said he no idea about it.

    “He felt really sad they had committed suicide,” Caron said.

    According to news reports, Kristi Strack had a history with heroin. She was receiving methadone treatments for heroin use, the Deseret News reported.

    Alex Short, who owns a bricklaying company where Benjamin Strack worked, told the AP that, over the past several years, Strack had skipped work for long stretches of time. He told Short he was helping his with wife with things. Before the murder-suicide, Strack had been absent for more than a week, though Short said he thought the couple’s troubles were in the past.

    “He was kind of at the tail end of all those problems,” he said.

    Relatives said there was also frequent talk of leaving this world.

    “There seemed to be a concern about a pending apocalypse that the parents bought into,” Finlayson told reporters. “While some friends though that suicide might have been, or could have been, included in their plans, others believed they were going to move somewhere and live off the grid.”

    “There are some questions we can’t answer and may never be able to answer,” Finlayson added.


  13. Remembrance of Apocalypse Past

    The Psychology of True Believers When Nothing Happens

    by Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 38.6, November/December 2014

    Research on belief in the 2012 “apocalypse” demonstrates that specific psychological processes contributed directly to the maintenance of paranormal apocalyptic beliefs, even after the apocalypse did not occur.

    As is fairly obvious by now, the much-heralded end of the world in 2012 didn’t happen. Quetzalcoatl didn’t return on his raft of snakes. The earth was not torn asunder. Alien overlords did not materialize. It didn’t even rain very much that week.

    We were privileged to publish an article in the Skeptical Inquirer last year (Sharps et al. 2013) concerning the psychological factors that made it possible for modern human beings, even with modern access to scientific information, to believe in this type of baseless nonsense. We found that disturbingly high numbers of university students either believed in or entertained the likelihood of the “Mayan end of the world.” We found curious incoherencies in their patterns of belief: for example, many believers in the Maya “prophecies” did not believe in what those prophecies predicted. The idea expressed is completely illogical, but this illogical incoherency was in the minds of a great many people who were attempting to think about the 2012 apocalypse before it didn’t happen. Whether the believers expected world peace and a new age, or world destruction and apocalyptic doom, logical inconsistency was very commonly observed.

    This type of incoherency didn’t die with the nonexistent apocalypse; it’s still there, ready and waiting, in the minds of enormous numbers of True Believers.

    Dissociation, Imagination, and the Supernatural

    Dissociation, at a subclinical level, played a big part in our 2013 results. Those who exhibited dissociative tendencies exhibited a higher level of supernatural credulity in the belief that the Mayan apocalypse would actually occur.

    It is important to note what is meant by the term dissociation in this context. We emphatically do not refer to psychiatric concepts of dissociative identity disorder, or to a pathological level of dissociation in which psychotic ideation might occur. We refer tosubclinical dissociative tendencies, of the sort probably experienced from time to time by most people. This type of dissociation may lead to a diminished critical assessment of reality. As discussed in earlier Skeptical Inquirer articles (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al. 2013), there may be anomalous perceptions of individual experience. The world may appear to be “not quite real or… diffuse” (Cardena 1997, 400). This is emphatically not“mental illness.” However, the disconnection with immediate physical reality that occurs with subclinical dissociation might incline many normal people to view highly improbable things with enhanced credulity (see DePrince and Freyd 1999).

    In previous work (Sharps et al. 2006; Sharps et al. 2010), including previous articles in the Skeptical Inquirer (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al. 2013), we addressed the role of dissociation in paranormal beliefs. We found that dissociation is associated with beliefs in ghosts, aliens, and “cryptids” such as Bigfoot, and that the subclinically dissociated are actually more likely to see these things, to interpret ambiguous stimuli as paranormal in nature. Where others see a hoax, those with dissociative tendencies see a flying saucer or the Loch Ness monster. Such subclinical dissociation is very important in producing and maintaining the credulous viewpoints involved in paranormal thinking.

    continued below

  14. Seeing the Supernatural

    Credulous viewpoints, dissociated or not, are neither new nor rare. Humans have a long history of predicting our own doom, especially when that doom can be linked, however loosely, to the heavens. People see all sorts of things in the night sky, following which they tend to imbue them with supernatural significance.

    The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793 (Ackroyd 2011, 63) records that the beginning of the Viking Age was heralded by immense lightning flashes (maybe so), and by fiery dragons flying in the sky (probably not). Lightning is of course dangerous, but it has a lot more to do with atmospheric electricity than with angry Norwegians storming ashore in Lindisfarne. As to the Chronicle’s dragons, well, people tend to create meaning in the things they seen in the sky, turning atmospheric abstractions into meaningful (and scary) images. For example, in 1528, the surgeon Ambrose Pare saw an aerial blood-colored human arm holding a sword, surrounded by axes, knives, and evil faces (Connell 2001). Obviously a portent, but equally obviously, such a thing could not actually exist in the sky.

    What did Pare actually see? With the passage of time, it’s impossible to be sure, but previous research (Sharps et al. 2009) showed that eyewitness errors of the imagination, in which reported features of a given scene have no existence outside the mind of the given witness, are in fact the norm rather than rare anomalies. We suspect that the good surgeon’s imagination got hold of a cloud, or a distant storm, and then went a bit too far.

    Or perhaps he saw a comet or a meteor shower; those things really turn on the imagination. In 1095, Bishop Gislebert of Lisieux interpreted a meteor shower as a go-code from God for what would become the First Crusade. In 1664, on beholding a comet, Alphonsus VI of Portugal ran through the night threatening the thing with a pistol; and in 1773, when Halley’s Comet turned up, clergymen sold tickets for seats in Paradise for the date on which the world was supposed to end. Who was supposed totake the tickets was never made clear, but this apocalyptic nonsense goes on and on, from age to age (Connell 2001).

    Our current age is no exception. The mass suicide of the Heaven’s Gate movement (e.g., Vick 1997), in which believers planned to depart Earth in a UFO apparently hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp, and the Y2K phenomenon (e.g., Nolte 2009), in which many people believed that Ragnarok was going to hit because all the computers were going to stop working for no adequately explored reason, provide additional examples. In our modern world, apocalyptic and supernatural thinking are alive and well. One might think that compulsory education would cure this sort of thing, but that is not the case. Research has shown that college students frequently engage in supernatural behaviors in their examinations, especially when the consequences are perceived as particularly important (Rudski and Edwards 2007). In our work on the Mayan apocalypse, mentioned earlier (Sharps et al. 2013) 45.6 percent of these relatively educated people thought that world-changing events might very well occur at that time, and 9.8 percent were fairly sure that cosmic doom was imminent.

    So, our research told us that before the Mayan non-event of 2012, a frighteningly large proportion of the population entertained the magical thinking involved in apocalyptic prophecies. We also knew that definable cognitive incoherencies were involved, and we knew that individuals with subclinical dissociative tendencies (SDTs) were more likely to believe the pseudoscientific hype.

    But what would happen, psychologically, to the True Believers when Quetzalcoatl et al. failed to turn up and life went on as usual?

    continued below

  15. After the Ball Is Over

    Prior to the 2012 lack of apocalypse we had decided to conduct studies both before and after the relevant date. However, as we began to collect data on this second half of the project, we experienced a kind of collective intellectual doubt. After all, it wasn’t going to be very interesting. We knew what we were going to find: those who originally believed in doomsday would obviously disclaim these beliefs afterward, dissociative tendencies or not. It seemed hardly worth our time to complete the study.

    We were absolutely, and amazingly, wrong.

    Background to Apocalypse When There Isn’t One

    In 1956, Festinger, Riecken, and Schacter published a fascinating study of a splinter group who believed in an earlier version of the ever-recurrent apocalypse.
    This particular bunch of True Believers, led by a lapsed Scientologist named Keech, gave up their jobs, spouses, and assorted other valuable aspects of life for the opportunity to fly with obliging aliens, in a literal flying saucer, to the entirely fictional planet of Clarion. Boarding was to commence at midnight on December 20, 1954, in time to avoid an enormous flood that was scheduled to destroy the rest of the world. The Believers gathered together.
    Nothing happened.

    Everybody sat there for about four hours. Keech started to cry.

    Forty-five minutes later, Keech got a call (by “automatic writing”) from God, who had decided not to kill everybody for divine reasons, mainly because Keech’s followers had in fact been so amazingly wonderful in, well, sitting around waiting for nonexistent aliens at the boarding gate.

    Now, you wouldn’t expect that anybody over the age of six would be fooled by a cobbled-together last-minute desperate mess like this, but apparently Keech’s devotees bought it. They began to proselytize even more than they had before their promised event had failed to materialize.

    Festinger and his colleagues used this deplorable incident as the basis for their important research on cognitive dissonance.

    Cognitive Dissonance and the End of the World

    Cognitive dissonance basically comes down to the following fact: the more you pay, the better you like. In other words, if I make a substantial investment in anything, whether financial or emotional, in a business, an attitude, or an idea, I am more likely to place a high value, and consequently a high resistance to rejection, on that investment. A full discussion of this concept is provided in an earlier Skeptical Inquirer article (Sharps 2014).

    This phenomenon was strongly demonstrated in the realm of apocalyptic thinking by Festinger and colleagues (1956), as mentioned. Even though nothing happened on the fateless night of December 20, 1954, Festinger et al. found that many True Believers in Keech’s end of the world not only retained their previous beliefs, but in fact were galvanized in those beliefs by the failure of the apocalypse. Their faith, they believed, had staved off disaster for the present, but the inevitability of the end of the world was actually, and paradoxically, reinforced for these people. Cognitive dissonance provided an enhancement of their deluded beliefs, even in the absence of any real-world evidence that these beliefs might be correct.

    The Modern World

    In 2012, we were repeatedly told by many media stories that the world would end on December 21 of that year. It was suggested that this was predicted by the Maya, given that this date coincides with the end of a calendrical cycle, a baktun, within their “long count.” This date was also suggested to coincide with a “galactic alignment,” a phenomenon that had less to do with astronomy than it did with vague nomenclature concerning what actually constitutes, in cosmic terms, a line (e.g., Krupp 2009).

    continued below

  16. Even if such an alignment were a scientific reality, it would have no earthly significance; and anyway, there is at least one Maya document that mentions December 21, 2012, without any apocalyptic significance at all (Bower 2012). In 2014, we’re coming up on the sixtieth anniversary of the aborted trip to Clarion in 1954, and on Festinger’s classic study of 1956. Has there been no advance, in over half a century, in appropriate scientific skepticism that would defeat cognitive dissonance and result in a rational acceptance of the facts in the wake of yet another failed apocalypse?

    The answer is not reassuring.

    The Present Research

    One hundred and four college students at a California university completed several surveys in which they were asked to rate the degree of their earlier belief, after the fact, that major world changes were going to happen on December 21, 2012. They were also asked about the sources of this belief, and about their specific beliefs concerning what, precisely, was supposed to happen on that date. Subclinical dissociative tendencies of the given respondents were measured by means of the standard Dissociative Experiences Survey (Carlson and Putnam 1986).

    The respondents in this research, college students, continually engage in critical thinking and the scientific evaluation of information. Even so, this population gave evidence of unexpected levels of credulity in the case of the 2012 apocalypse.
    In our research prior to the non-apocalypse, 44.6 percent stated that they anticipated no major changes on 12/21/12, or that such changes would be very unlikely. In our present research, 23 percent stated that they had believed in, or at least entertained, the end of the world on this date—in other words, about half of those who had believedbefore the date were willing to admit these beliefs. Eleven out of the 104 respondents, 10.6 percent, believed that this apocalyptic event was still going to happen. This is very close to the 9.8 percent who were certain, before the fact, of the apocalypse (Sharps et al. 2013).

    Festinger et al.’s 1956 cognitive dissonance concept is the most parsimonious explanation of this result; about one in ten people were evidently unable to overcome their psychological investment in the 2012 phenomenon. But what were the cognitive mechanisms underlying this investment, so strongly held that it kept operating in the face of a non-apocalyptic reality?

    Dissociative Tendencies

    Dissociation continued to play an important role here. There was some good news: dissociation was not statistically important for the continuation of the overall belief in the 2012 end of the world. Nor was there a relationship between dissociation and belief that major physical changes, social changes, extraterrestrial aliens, global warming, or climate change would herald the end. The Christian apocalypse, in which Jesus Christ is expected to return at the end of the world, was also not endorsed by those with dissociative tendencies. These null results were entirely consistent with our previous work before the December 21 date (Sharps et al. 2013).

    However, there was a relationship (R2 = .065, F [2,101] = 3.51, p = .034, β = .248) between SDTs and belief in the return of Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl), the Mayan god anticipated in this particular apocalypse. Belief in the Mayan prophecies, with relation to SDTs, also remained significant, R2 = .101, F (3,101) = 5.68, p = .005, β  = .377. Finally, and oddly, SDTs were significantly associated with belief that “computer simulations” predicted the apocalypse (R2 = .052, F [1,102] = 5.60, p = .020, β = .228), despite the fact that there were no such computer simulations at all.

    How can this pattern of results be explained?

    continued below

  17. Gestalt and Feature Intensive Processes

    Previously (Sharps 2003; Sharps 2010; Sharps et al. 2013; Sharps and Nunes 2002), we presented a continuum in human information processing, in what is called Gestalt/Feature-Intensive (G/FI) Processing theory. This continuum ranges fromfeature-intensive processing, in which the specific details of a concept are given specific consideration, to gestalt processing, in which a concept is considered without detailed analysis, with relatively uncritical acceptance of the given idea as a whole.

    We suggest here a relationship between dissociative tendencies and gestalt, relatively uncritical, processing. In 2012, enormous attention was given to the Maya prophecies. This, according to the availability heuristic of Tversky and Kahneman (1973), made these prophecies relatively salient to the entire population.

    However, for most people, there would have been some feature-intensive consideration of these prophecies; ancient societies lacked modern scientific understanding, and so their prophecies might not be right. However, those exhibiting subclinical levels of dissociation, with consequent gestalt processing tendencies, would not engage in such feature-intensive thinking, and thereby would credulously entertain the Mayan “prophecies.”

    Now, modern people in the West, in general, have more knowledge of Christian ideas than they do of ancient Mayan beliefs. Therefore, a relatively feature-intensive analysis of the Christian intellectual realm is culturally forced upon us, even upon those with dissociative tendencies. So, the dissociated did not endorse the return of Jesus Christ as associated with the 2012 apocalypse. However, most of us know little of Mayan arcana. Mayan concepts are therefore necessarily less feature-intensive, and consequently more gestalt, for the vast majority of us; but, for most of us, this absence of detail does not result in credulity. For those with SDTs, however, this gestalt processing of an ancient culture’s supposed precognition was sufficient to generate belief.

    This hypothesis was further supported by the association of SDTs with belief in “computer predictions” of the end. Most of us, although we use computers extensively, are unfamiliar with their inner workings. Computer operations are ubiquitous (hence cognitively available as gestalts; Tversky and Kahneman 1973), and they seem terribly scientific; thus, in the SDT-related absence of feature-intensive consideration in favor of less-specific gestalt thinking, they might be assumed to be prophetic, accurate in their predictions. The fact that there were no such computer simulations may not have mattered to the subclinically dissociated; after all, to understand this would require the very type of feature-intensive thinking that is reduced in the presence of SDTs.

    More specific, feature-intensive concepts such as climate change were not endorsed. This was consistent with the tendency of subclinical dissociation to reduce feature-intensive analysis (e.g., Sharps et al. 2006; Sharps 2010).

    In Summary

    So, four psychological factors contributed to continued belief in the 2012 apocalypse: cognitive dissonance; dissociative tendencies; gestalt processing; and conceptual availability, as suggested by Tversky and Kahneman (1973).

    In the case of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse, an appreciable fraction of the population, about 10 percent, believed that the failed apocalypse was still to occur.
    The most parsimonious explanation of this rather incredible result lies in cognitive dissonance, the influence of psychological investment.

    continued below

  18. Who held most strongly to that investment? Those with subclinical dissociative tendencies, which enhanced credulity through the reduction of feature-intensive analysis in favor of gestalt consideration. This, in turn, reduced consideration of the details that might attenuate beliefs in the supernatural. These beliefs were further guided by the availability heuristic of Tversky and Kahneman, by the relative availability of such concepts as Mayan prophecies and computer simulations in media.

    This four-point model is our best explanation of the belief in such bizarre concepts as the Mayan end of the world, and probably in other paranormal conceptions (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al., 2006; Sharps et al. 2010). These results provide a scientifically coherent explanation of current beliefs, even after the fact, in the 2012 apocalypse.

    How do we counter these influences? The answer is obvious. We need better education in science, in feature-intensive consideration of facts, and in the ability to analyze paranormal claims in terms of their specific details. For human beings, the world consists of a blend of objective reality and of our subjective interpretations of that reality; it is that subjective interpretation that is most subject to the salutary influence of education.

    Of course, this is hardly a novel concept. Plato called for essentially the same precision well over two thousand years ago (e.g., Cornford 1957). Socrates was killed by fellow Athenians in large part for insisting on this level of feature-intensive analysis. It is to be hoped that our modern world will be less draconian in the defense of its irrational paranormal beliefs.


    Ackroyd, P. 2011. Foundation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Bower, B. 2012. Apocalypse not written in stone. Science News 182(3): 15.

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  19. Cardena E 1997 Dissociative disorders Phantoms of the self. In S.M. Turner and Michel Hersen (Eds.) Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis, third edition, 400. New York: Wiley.

    Carlson, E.B., and F.W. Putnam. 1986. Development, reliability, and validity of a dissociation scale. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders 174: 727–735.

    Connell, E.S. 2001. The Aztec Treasure House. Washington, DC: Counterpoint.

    Cornford, F.M. 1957. Plato’s Theory of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    DePrince, A.P., and J.F. Freyd. 1999. Dissociative tendencies, attention, and memory.Psychological Science 10(5): 449–452.

    Festinger, L., H.W. Riecken, and S. Schachter. 1956, reprinted 2011. When Prophecy Fails. Wilder: Blacksburg, VA.

    Krupp, E.C. 2009. The great 2012 doomsday scare. NASA.gov. Online at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-guest.html.

    Nolte, C. 2009. False alarm of millennium: Y2K cost counties millions. San Francisco Chronicle, p. A2.

    Rudski, J.M., and A. Edwards. 2007. Malinowski goes to college: Factors influencing students’ use of ritual and superstition. Journal of General Psychology 134: 389–403.

    Sharps, M.J. 2003. Aging, Representation, and Thought: Gestalt and Feature-Intensive Processing. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction.

    ———. 2010. Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory, and Decision-Making in Law Enforcement. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law.

    ———. 2012. Eyewitness to the paranormal: The experimental psychology of the “unexplained.” Skeptical Inquirer 36(4): 39–45.

    ———. 2014. UFOs and cognitive science: A case study. Skeptical Inquirer. 38(3): 52–55.

    Sharps, M.J., J. Janigian, A.B. Hess, et al. 2009. Eyewitness memory in context: Toward a taxonomy of eyewitness error. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology24: 36–44.

    Sharps, M.J., S.W. Liao, and M.R. Herrera. 2013. It’s the end of the world, and they don’t feel so fine: The psychology of December 21, 2012. Skeptical Inquirer 37(1): 34–39.

    Sharps, M.J., J. Matthews, and J. Asten. 2006. Cognition, affect, and beliefs in paranormal phenomena: Gestalt/feature intensive processing theory and tendencies toward ADHD, depression, and dissociation. Journal of Psychology 140(6): 579–590.

    Sharps, M.J., E. Newborg, S. Van Arsdall, et al. 2010. Paranormal encounters as eyewitness phenomena: Psychological determinants of atypical perceptual interpretations. Current Psychology 29(4): 320–327.

    Sharps, M.J., and M.A. Nunes. 2002. Gestalt and feature-intensive processing: Toward a unified theory of human information processing. Current Psychology 21(1): 68–84.

    Tversky, A., and D. Kahneman. 1973. Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology 5(2): 207–232.
    Vick, K. 1997. The purgatory behind Heaven’s Gate: Ex-member breaks his silence on cult. The Washington Post (May 2): p. C1.

    Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera

    Matthew J. Sharps is professor of psychology at California State University, Fresno, and serves on the adjunct faculty of Alliant International University in forensic clinical psychology. He specializes in eyewitness phenomena and related areas in forensic cognitive science. He is a Diplomate and Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners and is the author of over 160 publications and professional papers, including the 2010 book Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory, and Decision-Making in Law Enforcement (www.LooseleafLaw.com). He has consulted on eyewitness issues in numerous criminal cases.

    Schuyler W. Liao and Megan R. Herrera are doctoral candidates in forensic clinical psychology at Alliant International University, Fresno. Their research deals with information processing in relation to eyewitness cognition, especially in clinical and courtroom settings.


  20. Rise of ISIS and earthquakes are WARNINGS before ARMAGEDDON destroys Earth

    AN 'ARMY of angelic creatures' will SOON be sent to Earth to destroy the world as we know it, according to a global religious group followed by nearly 20million people.

    By Jon Austin, Express June 1, 2015

    The "End" of mankind, which has been long predicted by Jehovah's Witnesses, could happen as soon as THIS YEAR - according to latest announcement from the Christian religion.

    In the latest edition of Jehovah's Witnesses monthly publication Watchtower, an article – translated into 700 languages - urges people to join the religion or face certain death when God sends his forces from the heavens to "remove all world leaders," "exterminate his enemies" and "rid the world of Satan".

    Critics have lambasted the warning of a coming Armageddon as yet another "failed prediction" by the religion, which has previously delivered similar alerts such as a foretold apocalypse in 1975.

    Indeed, Jehovah's Witnesses have been warning people of the need to recognise Jehovah or face certain death when the "End" comes for more than 100 years.

    The Christian-based religion was founded in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, US, as an offshoot from the Bible Studies movement.

    Today, there are 8.2million Jehovah's Witness evangelists, while 19.9 million celebrated their annual Memorial festival – marking Christ's death - worldwide in 2014.

    Followers do not believe in military service and will not accept blood transfusions.

    In a new eight-page article, Watchtower said Jehovah's Witness leaders are now "convinced" humans are in their "final days" before the Armageddon.

    They cite an increase in global armed conflict, such as the rise of the Islamic State terror group, as well as natural disasters such as volcanoes and earthquakes.

    The lengthy article, written by an unnamed author, said: "Will God let humans continue to dominate one another and threaten the future of mankind? No, as we have seen, he will step in and bring an end to centuries of misery and oppression. "The Creator of humans and the Earth wants you to know that his time to take action is approaching.

    "God has given us his Word, which describes striking global trends. As we see those landmark events unfolding, we become convinced that we are in the time period leading up to the end.

    "The publishers of this magazine and many of its readers have no doubt that this unique period really is the last days and that the end is near.

    It adds: "We can readily discern this much: God will send an army of angelic creatures to exterminate his enemies."

    The article also claims that, although the "End" will be horrific and involve "destruction not seen since the world was formed", there is a way for humans to survive.

    continued below

  21. But it is not through stockpiling resources such as tinned food.

    The article states: "Clearly, if we were to stockpile material goods, that would not save us from such a destruction. Really, our survival involves being devoted to Jehovah God and learning about the kind of conduct and deeds that please him.

    "Rather than following the majority today and ignoring the clear signals that we are living in such important times, we need to 'keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah.'

    "Jehovah’s Witnesses can show you from the Bible how you can be a survivor of this upcoming day."

    However, according to a group that publishes research about Jehovah's Witnesses, which is a religion practiced in 240 countries, the creed has a history of prematurely warning of the "End" - before trying to erase such pronouncements from its history.

    Monitors point to several previous predictions, such as a forewarning of Armageddon in 1914 – although Jehovah's Witnesses later claimed they had foreseen the outbreak of the First World War, which began in the same year.

    A spokesman for website jwfacts.com said: "One of the most misleading statements in Watchtower publications is that they accurately foretold 1914 to be the 'start' of the conclusion of this system of things.

    "Rather, 1914 was predicted to be the 'End' of the system of things, the conclusion of Armageddon and the start of the Earthly paradise."

    "From 1966 to 1975, the Watchtower regularly implied that Armageddon would arrive in 1975. However, ask one of Jehovah's Witnesses about this date and they will invariably deny there ever being such statements."

    How the Watchtower article explains the Armageddon occurring:

    •Earth as we know it will be destroyed, but the planet will survive forever with a select few beings.

    •A scheduled event set by God will occur, who already knows the date of it.

    •Armageddon will not be triggered by nuclear war or by an Earth-destroying meteorite, but by God sending in his angelic warriors to slay rivals and non believers.

    •It will herald the end of "failing world governments" and the setting up of a permanent government ruled by God forever.

    •The apocalypse will bring an end to all war, violence and injustice and all other religions.

    •Anyone who supports or takes part in the current global leadership system will perish.

    •The Armageddon precedes a 1,000-year 'judgement day' when all dead people will rise to see if they should due let into a new kingdom.


  22. Wishing for the Apocalypse
    Ushering in the end times with fringe religions

    By Wolfe Vitamin | Myanmar Times August 14, 2015

    It’s easy to see why religious cults are so popular among certain segments of the global population. For starters, they offer a fast-track to spiritual salvation without all the pesky, millennia-old morality and other baggage that comes with more established religions.

    As charismatic, narcissistic wannabe-gurus like Charles Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite have assured us, all you need to do to achieve personal awakening is abandon your family, turn over all your money, submit to brainwashing, and perhaps commit murder and/or suicide.

    While it sometimes seems that the United States holds the patent on messianic madness, other regions around the world have spawned their fair share of offbeat religious leaders. Here are three particularly strange cultists who have popped up in Asia in recent decades.

    Yoo Byung-eun (South Korea)

    It’s easy to see why religious cults are so popular among certain segments of the global population: for starters, they offer a fast-track to spiritual salvation without all the pesky, millennia-old morality of older religions. While it sometimes seems that the United States holds the patent on messianic madness, here are three particularly strange cultists who have popped up in Asia in recent decades.

    South Korea has no shortage of oddballs who propagate their own special brands of Christianity. The most famous was Unification Church founder, divinely appointed saviour, mass-blessing organiser and tax fraudster Sun Myung Moon.

    Last year another Korean sect leader was thrust into the public eye as the result of the Sewol ferry sinking on April 16, 2014, which resulted in the deaths of 304 passengers and crew. The ferry was operated by Chonghaejin Marine Company, partly owned and run by a reclusive billionaire named Yoo Byung-eun.

    In 1962 Yoo had founded the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea – commonly known in South Korea as Guwonpa (Salvation Sect) – and he later established the website God.com. Critics have called the church a cult, a characterisation based partly on the doctrine that followers are not required to repent for sins committed after they have been saved. In other words: Sin all you want, and you’ll still have a place in heaven.

    Yoo made the news in 1987 when 32 members of a group that had splintered from his church were found dead in a factory in Seoul, in what was assumed by police to be a mass suicide. Charges were never filed against Yoo, but in 1991 he was convicted on charges of defrauding his church’s members by diverting donation money to his 70 business ventures – the source of his billions. He spent four years in prison.

    The law came knocking again last year when investigations into the Sewolsinking determined that Yoo had personally ordered the addition of extra cabins and a marble-laden art gallery above the ferry’s main deck in 2012, making the vessel dangerously top-heavy and contributing significantly to the disaster.

    Yoo was nowhere to be found, so 6000 police officers raided the Evangelical Baptist Church compound. The cult leader escaped and evaded capture with help from church members, several of whom were arrested for their trouble. A spokesperson for the church announced that “even if the entire congregation of 100,000 believers is arrested, we won’t hand him over”.

    continued below

  23. A massive manhunt was called off in late July when a heavily decomposed body that had been discovered on June 12 in an apricot orchard 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of Seoul was determined, through DNA evidence, to be that of Yoo.

    AP reported a strange scene: Yoo was found face up and dressed in expensive Italian clothing. Strewn about him on the ground were a bottle of squalene, a shark-liver oil derivative used as skin moisturiser; two bottles of soju rice wine; a bottle of “peasant” wine; a magnifying glass; and an extra shirt.

    Korea’s National Forensic Service said the body was too decomposed to determine the cause of death, but they were somehow able to rule out poisoning and suffocation. Yoo’s lonely demise in an orchard far from home remains a mystery.

    Zhao Weishan (China)

    On May 28, 2014, six people entered a McDonald’s restaurant in Zhaoyuan, Shandong, China, and began walking from table to table asking for phone numbers. When one woman refused, the group beat her to death while shouting at other diners to stand back or face the same fate.

    The attack was captured on closed-circuit TV and mobile phones. During a prison interview, one of murderers, Zhang Lidong, showed no remorse when he described how he had stomped the victim’s head on the ground for three minutes, during which he “felt great”. He added, “I beat her with all my might … She was a demon. We had to destroy her.” Zhang Lidong and his daughter Zhang Fan were executed in February 2015, while another attacker was sentenced to life imprisonment, and two others to seven and 10 years respectively.

    The attackers belonged to a group called the Church of the Almighty God, also known as Eastern Lightning from the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew: “For as the lightning comes out of the east, and shines even unto the west, so shall also be the coming of the Son of man.”

    The group was founded in Henan, China, in 1990 by physics teacher Zhao Weishan, along with his lover Yang Xiangbin. Facing persecution by the Chinese government, around 2001 they fled to the United States on false passports and claimed political asylum. No one knows where they are now, but they continue to run the group through a bilingual website.

    Yang Xiangbin plays a key role in the religion. Zhao Weishan claims that God has guided humanity twice before – as Yahweh in the Old Testament and as Jesus in the New Testament. Yang Xiangbin, he says, is the second Christ, returned to earth in female form to guide mankind for the third and final time. While the first coming of Christ was aimed at redeeming humanity, the second is to judge and purify mankind, and defeat Satan. Those who do not accept Yang Xiangbin as saviour will be punished when the judgement ends.

    The group claims millions of followers, the vast majority of whom are women. Recruiters are known to use tactics ranging from seduction to kidnapping to attain converts. Some new recruits are persuaded to hand over money to achieve salvation, and others are urged to leave their families to join.

    Even more extreme methods are used to keep church members in line. In 2010 members killed an elementary school student – leaving a lightning-like mark on one of his feet – because one of his relatives, a member of the church, had talked about quitting. In August 2013 members in Shanxi plucked out the eyes of a boy whose family tried to leave the religion.

    continued below

  24. The group has predicted the destruction by God of the Communist Party, which it calls the Great Red Dragon of the biblical Book of Revelation. This – along with the murders, as well as riots fomented by the group members spreading doomsday rumours in 2012 – has not failed to catch the attention of the Chinese government. As a result, the group has been officially designated as a cult and a terrorist organisation, forcing many members to go underground and stay with “host families” in the Chinese countryside while eagerly awaiting the end of the world.

    Hon-Ming Chen (Taiwan)

    When Yu-Hsia Chen founded the Soul Light Research Association in Taiwan in the early 1950s, she focused on the use of machines to help white-collar professionals detect and quantify their spiritual energy, which could then be enhanced through meditation and exercise.

    Hon-Ming Chen, an associate professor of social science, joined the association in the early 1990s. Through its methods, he learned why he had experienced visions of golden balls of light from an early age: They were messages from God. Now able to interpret these communiques, Chen became the leader of the group, changed its name to Chen Tao and, under direction from heaven, moved its headquarters to San Dimas, California, in 1995.

    While Chen maintained some of the group’s original beliefs in Buddhism, Taoism and gadget-oriented techno-spirituality, he also started mixing in Apocalyptic Christianity and UFOs. He believed that each person possessed a tripartite soul, each of which could attain Buddha status by following the “Right Way” as taught by Chen. More logically, he believed Earth had undergone five Apocalyptic tribulations dating back to the age of the dinosaurs, each survived by a small number of beings who had been rescued by a flying saucer piloted by God.

    Chen Tao, numbering about 160 adherents, moved to Garland, Texas, in 1997. They bought 20 houses in an upper-middle-class suburb, where they took to wearing white suits and cowboy hats, and driving luxury cars.

    Chen began issuing strange edicts, claiming that two young boys in their group were the reincarnations of Jesus and Buddha. He foresaw the emergence of a “Jesus of the West” who would bear a physical resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. Most famously, he made the highly publicised prediction that on March 31, 1998, God would appear on a single TV channel all across North America, and would then take human form at Chen’s house.

    God failed to appear for his television debut, and Chen announced that he had misunderstood the divine message. He offered to be stoned or crucified for the mistake, but rather than take him up on the offer, most followers quit the group and returned to Taiwan. Those remaining followed Chen to Lockport, New York, in late 1998. The great guru then predicted that China and Taiwan would set off a global nuclear holocaust in 1999, but that his followers would be saved by God’s flying saucer. He later announced that God had postponed the Apocalypse to give humans time to increase the divine material in their bodies from the measly norm of 3 percent to the full 100pc.

    In the meantime, Chen strove to fashion the US into a “Holy Medical Land of God’s super-high science and technology” where technological and spiritual methods would be used to repair the ecosystem and help humans achieve the perfect balance of body, mind and spirit.

    Unfortunately for all of us, this goal was never realised. In 2002 a rift occurred between Chen and other high-ranking members of the group. Chen was kicked out, and the group renamed itself the Grand True Way. The focus on technology and UFOs was replaced by a combination of conventional Buddhist philosophy and Christian salvation.


  25. Blood moon has some expecting end of the world

    By Todd Leopold, CNN September 2, 2015

    There will be blood in September -- literally, according to the Internet postings of end-times believers.

    The night of September 27-28 will bring a "blood moon." To skywatchers, it simply refers to the copper color the moon takes on during an eclipse, but to some Christian ministers, the fourth and final eclipse in a tetrad -- four consecutive total lunar eclipses, each separated by six lunar months -- fulfills biblical prophecy of the apocalypse. (The first three in the series took place April 15, 2014; October 8, 2014; and April 4, 2015.)

    In promotion for his 2013 book "Four Blood Moons," Christian minister John Hagee claimed that the tetrad was a signal being sent by God.

    "The coming four blood moons points to a world-shaking event that will happen between April 2014 and October 2015," he said.

    The reference to the impact is most direct in Joel 2:30-31, which reads, "And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord."

    There's also a reference to a blood moon in Revelation 6:12 -- part of the passage about the Seven Seals -- which reads, "I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood."

    Hagee's assertion was quickly debunked by scientists and skeptics.

    Stargazers enjoy shortest lunar eclipse of century

    After walking through some of Hagee's theories -- including the blood moons coinciding with Jewish holidays (which is logical, since Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar) and significant events in Jewish history -- Patheos' Bob Seidensticker noted that the minister was vague at some points and credulous at others.

    "I predict that John Hagee's prediction will fail in 2015 and the end will not come," he wrote in late 2013.

    The astronomical site EarthSky.org added that tetrads, of which there have been 62 since the first century, follow natural cycles and are easily calculated. Moreover, three of the four most recent eclipses were not visible in Israel itself. ("What good is a blood moon if God's chosen can't see it?" wrote Seidensticker.)

    Nevertheless, the coming of the September "blood moon" was making folks on Twitter jittery. Some had watched a documentary based on Hagee's book.

    Tuesday morning's bumpy financial markets fed into the story, one poster said.

    On the other hand, some Twitterers weren't impressed.

    So, will September 27 bring on the end? If nothing else, it'll be the end of predictions based on tetrads for a while. After the eclipse is over, the next tetrad isn't due until 2032.

    see links and tweets at:


  26. Some Mormons stocking up amid fears that doomsday could come this month

    By PEGGY FLETCHER STACK | The Salt Lake Tribune September 10 2015

    ‘Preppers’ » Citing prophecies, politics and economy, many expect a catastrophe by the end of September.

    Mixing a brew of biblical prophecies, the Hebrew calendar, a volatile economy, world politics, a reported near-death experience and astronomical occurrences, hordes of Utahns have become convinced that calamitous events are imminent — maybe by month's end — and are taking every precaution.

    They are called "preppers" and are buying up food-storage kits, flashlights, blankets and tents. Some are even bracing to leave their homes — if need be.

    At American Fork's Thrive Life, which sells mostly freeze-dried food, sales have shot up by "500 percent or more in the past couple of months," says customer- service representative Ricardo Aranda. "There is a sense of urgency, like something is up. A lot of people are mentioning things about September, like a financial collapse."

    Jordan Jensen, a salesman at Emergency Essentials, said his Bountiful store has been "crazy busy, sales up by definitely a large amount."

    Those 72-hour emergency kits are "almost impossible to keep on the shelves," Jensen says, "and we get a shipment every day."

    A lot of customers, he says, believe "this is the month it will all happen — with a 'blood moon' and a currency collapse and everything."

    Here's how the doomsday scenario plays out: History, some preppers believe, is divided into seven-year periods — like the Hebrew notion of "shemitah" or Sabbath. In 2008, seven years after 9/11, the stock market crashed, a harbinger of a devastating recession. It's been seven years since then, and Wall Street has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks in the wake of China devaluing its currency.

    Thus, they believe, starting Sept. 13, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, there will be another, even larger financial crisis, based on the United States' "wickedness." That would launch the "days of tribulation" — as described in the Bible.

    They say Sept. 28 will see a full, red or "blood moon" and a major earthquake in or near Utah. Some anticipate an invasion by U.N. troops, technological disruptions and decline, chaos and hysteria.

    Some of these speculations stem from Julie Rowe's books, "A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil" and "The Time Is Now."

    Rowe, a Mormon mother of three, published the books in 2014 to detail a "near-death experience" in 2004, when the author says she visited the afterlife and was shown visions of the past and future.

    Though Rowe rarely gives specific dates for predicted events, she did describe in a Fox News Radio interview "cities of light," including scores of white tents where people will live in the mountains and sometimes be fed heavenly "manna." She saw a "bomb from Libya landing in Israel, but Iran will take credit."

    And "Gadianton robbers" of Book of Mormon infamy, meaning secret and corrupt leaders, are "already here."

    Her purpose in speaking out, Rowe told interviewer Kate Dalley, was "to wake more of us up. ... We need each other as we unify in righteousness and continue to build a righteous army. When we need to defend the [U.S.] Constitution, we will be ready."

    For the past year, the popular writer has been sharing her experience and visions at Mormon venues nationwide, drawing crowds of eager — and worried — listeners. Her two books have sold more than 20,000 copies apiece.

    continued below

  27. In a rare move officials with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a memo to administrators and teachers in the Church Educational System, saying, "Although Sister Rowe is an active member of the [LDS Church], her book is not endorsed by the church and should not be recommended to students or used as a resource in teaching them. The experiences ... do not necessarily reflect church doctrine, or they may distort doctrine."

    The late Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer said in the October 2011 LDS General Conference that the "end" was not near and urged young Latter-day Saints to plan to live long, productive lives.

    "You can look forward to doing it right: getting married, having a family, seeing your children and grandchildren, maybe even great-grandchildren," Packer said.

    Rowe and her Rexburg, Idaho, publisher, Spring Creek Book Co., declined to be interviewed for this story.

    However, Rowe later issued a statement, saying she agrees the curriculum for church classes "should only come from the sources recognized by the LDS Church as being authoritative."

    "My story is not intended to be authoritative nor to create any church doctrine," she said. "It is simply part of my personal journey that I have chosen to share in hopes that it can help people to prepare for the times we live in by increasing their faith in Christ and by looking to our prophet and church leaders for guidance."

    Apocalyptic views and fretting about the end times, of course, are nothing new.

    In 1991, dozens of chapters of the conservative, mostly Mormon American Study Group sprouted across the Intermountain West, preaching a cataclysmic scenario, which included a global economic collapse, primarily in the banking industry, followed by rioting and natural disasters.

    The group, which was based in part on teachings of the late, ultraconservative LDS prophet Ezra Taft Benson, had more than 5,000 participants in 35 to 40 chapters.

    Next week, the Ezra Taft Benson Society will host a banquet for members in Orem, under the title "Exposing and Stopping Modern Gadianton Robbers."

    Apocalyptic beliefs are hardly unique to Mormons.

    "Any messianic religion has built-in expectations that the Messiah will return," says Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, "and that God will make right everything that's wrong."

    That belief, Mason says, is "deep in the DNA of religious people who look at the world and sense that they're not winning and that their side isn't in power."

    It was shared by early Christians who were being thrown to lions, by medieval Christians being wiped out by the plague, says Mason, and by 19th-century Mormons being driven from state to state.

    Today's Christian conservatives might worry about financial uncertainty, he says, about President Barack Obama, or about feeling their rights are being obliterated.

    As for the blood moon, Mason says, "people have been looking to the sky for signs ever since Jesus said to."

    Believers are warned to be on the lookout always, he says. "But if the end times come with the kinds of disasters and calamities scripture describes, food storage ain't gonna save you."


  28. Christian group predicts the world will be annihilated on Wednesday

    Over a week after blood moon doomsday forecasts were proven wrong, eBible Fellowship leader Chris McCann says ‘the world will pass away’ on 7 October

    by Adam Gabbatt, THE GUARDIAN October 6, 2015

    While our planet may have survived September’s “blood moon”, it will be permanently destroyed on Wednesday, 7 October, a Christian organization has warned.

    The eBible Fellowship, an online affiliation headquartered near Philadelphia, has based its prediction of an October obliteration on a previous claim that the world would end on 21 May 2011. While that claim proved to be false, the organization is confident it has the correct date this time.

    “According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away,” said Chris McCann, the leader and founder of the fellowship, an online gathering of Christians headquartered in Philadelphia.

    “It’ll be gone forever. Annihilated.”

    McCann said that, according to his interpretation of the Bible, the world will be obliterated “with fire”.

    The blood moon – a lunar eclipse combined with a “super moon” – occurred without event on 27 September. This was despite some predictions that it would herald the beginning of the apocalypse. Certain religious leaders had said the blood moon would trigger a chain of events that could see our planet destroyed in as little as seven years time.

    According to this new prediction, however, there will be no stay of execution. On the day of 7 October, the world will end.

    “God destroyed the first earth with water, by a flood, in the days of Noah. And he says he’ll not do that again, not by water. But he does say in 2nd Peter 3 that he’ll destroy it by fire,” McCann said.

    The expectation of the world ending this fall stems from an earlier prediction by Harold Camping, a Christian radio host who was based in California. In 2011 Camping used his radio station, Family Radio, to notify people that the world would end on 21 May of that year. When that turned out to be incorrect, Camping revised his prediction to October 2011. That also turned out to be incorrect, and Camping retired from public life soon after. He died in 2013, at age 93.

    McCann believes that Camping’s 21 May 2011 prediction did have some truth, however. That day was declared to be “judgment day” because it was actually the day God stopped the process of selecting which churchgoers will survive Wednesday’s massacre, McCann said.

    Following 21 May 2011, God turned his attention to deciding which non-churchgoers to save, according to McCann. The eBible Fellowship believes that God said he would devote 1,600 days to this task – bringing us to 7 October 2015.

    “There’s a strong likelihood that this will happen,” McCann said, although he did leave some room for error: “Which means there’s an unlikely possibility that it will not.”

    The eBible Fellowship, which McCann was at pains to point out is not a church, is a predominantly online organization. The group does hold meetings once a month, however.

    Scientists have several theories about when earth will be destroyed, although none of the data points to this Wednesday. The most widely accepted theory is that the sun, which is already gradually increasing in temperature, will expand and swallow up the planet. Some scientists believe this could happen as soon as 7.6bn years’ time.

    Whether the planet is destroyed next week or several thousand million years in the future, McCann’s plans for the coming week will remain the same. He and his wife, a fellow believer in Wednesday’s end date, had three birthdays in the family before then, which they planned to celebrate.


  29. The Christmas the Aliens Didnt Come

    What a failed doomsday prophecy taught psychologists about the nature of belief

    by JULIE BECK, THE ATLANTIC December 18, 2015

    At 6 o’clock on Christmas Eve, 1954, a small group of people gathered on the street outside Dorothy Martin’s home in Oak Park, Illinois, singing Christmas carols and waiting. But this was no symbolic vigil; they weren’t waiting for the birth of baby Jesus. They were waiting to depart the Earth, and 200 more people had come to watch them wait.

    A day earlier, Martin had received a message telling her the group was to wait at that place, at that time, for a flying saucer to land. They waited for 20 minutes for the “spacemen” to pick them up, as the message had promised. When none arrived, they went back inside.

    This wasn’t the first time they were disappointed. It was the fourth.

    It all started with a prophecy that a massive flood was coming on December 21, 1954. The message was just one of many that Martin, who was involved in Scientology and interested in flying saucers, claimed to receive from beings she called the Guardians.

    “I felt a kind of tingling or numbness in my arm, and my whole arm felt warm right up to the shoulder,” she said, describing the way she would receive the messages. “Without knowing why, I picked up a pencil and a pad that were lying on the table near my bed. My hand began to write in another handwriting. I looked at the handwriting and it was strangely familiar, but I knew it was not my own. I realized that somebody else was using my hand.” The flood warning, like all the others, had flowed through her as she wrote it out, her arm possessed by these otherworldly beings.

    With warnings of the coming tide came the promise that she and the other believers would be rescued by the Guardians before the flood came, on December 17. One of her most ardent supporters was Charles Laughead, a staff doctor at Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan, who was asked to resign his position for teaching his beliefs and upsetting students. (In a Chicago Tribune article from the time, he maintained that he was fired.)

    But a few of the other believers who would end up singing carols with Martin on Christmas Eve weren’t actually believers at all. They were scientists.

    A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota studying social movements had learned of Martin earlier that year, and considered her and her followers a perfect field study. They began spending time with Martin in October, eventually earning her confidence, and watched how she and her followers dealt with disappointment over the next several months as their predictions repeatedly failed to pan out.

    Three of the Minnesota researchers, Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, recounted the believers’ story in detail in their book When Prophecy Fails, published nearly 50 years ago on January 1, 1956. The experiences of Martin and the other believers were influential on Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance.

    According to the book, the spacemen’s arrival was originally scheduled for 4 o’clock on December 17.

    continued below

  30. The believers removed all the metal from their bodies, “an act considered essential before one might safely board a saucer,” the authors write, and went out into Martin’s backyard, scanning the skies. Ten minutes went by, and then Martin, who is given the pseudonym Marian Keech in the book, “abruptly … returned to the living room.” Others trickled away, and the last believers went back inside by 5:30.

    In the house, they discussed what went wrong, eventually landing on the explanation that it must have just been a practice session. “The saucers would indeed land when the time was ripe, but everyone had to be well trained, ‘well-drilled actors,’ so that when the real time arrived, things would go smoothly,” the book reads. “The spacemen were not testing their faithfulness, but were simply unwilling to leave any possibility that their human allies would make a mistake.”

    Sometimes in the face of evidence against their beliefs, people will lean in to those beliefs even more. Martin got caught in this cycle.
    Faced with evidence that directly contradicted their beliefs, the group experienced cognitive dissonance—two thoughts that are inconsistent. This is uncomfortable, and the natural instinct is to try to make it go away. People can do that in a few different ways: by trying to forget about the dissonant things, by changing their minds, or by looking for new information that gets rid of the contradiction.

    Sometimes this can mean, as the alien-less Christmas demonstrated, people can react to evidence against their beliefs by leaning in to those beliefs even more. At midnight, when the 17th became the 18th, Martin claimed to receive a message that the flying saucer was coming right then and everybody had to get on board or be left behind. For her followers, this new message served as confirmation that they had been were right to believe. They scrambled outside, being sure to remove any remaining metal from their persons.

    “We got back outside again and Edna took me aside and said, ‘How about your brassiere? It has metal clasps, doesn’t it?’” one of the observers reported. “I went back in the house and took my brassiere off. The only metal on me was the fillings in my teeth and I was afraid someone would mention those.”

    They waited until 2 a.m. this time. Still no spacemen.

    But the next day, the Guardians reassured Martin with a long message that repeatedly stated: “I have never been tardy; I have never kept you waiting; I have never disappointed you in anything.”

    At midnight on the 21st, the scene played out again. This time, nobody but the five observers wanted to talk afterwards about what had happened. And then came the Christmas Eve disappointment, which had so many witnesses because the believers had sent out a press release about it. By this point, the cognitive dissonance was strong, as evidenced by this (condensed) conversation between Laughead (given the pseudonym Thomas Armstrong in the book) and a news reporter after the Christmas Eve debacle:

    Newsman: Dr. Armstrong, I wanted to talk to you with reference to this business about—you know—your calling the paper to say you were going to be picked up at 6 o’clock this evening. Ahh, I just wanted to find out exactly what happened. ... Didn’t you say they sent a message that you should be packed and waiting at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve?

    continued below

  31. Armstrong: No.

    Newsman: No? No, I’m sorry, sir. Weren’t the spacemen supposed to pick you up at 6 p.m.?

    Armstrong: Well, there was a spaceman in the crowd with a helmet on and a white gown and what not.

    Newsman: There was a spaceman in the crowd?

    Armstrong: Well, it was a little hard to tell, but of course at the last when we broke up, why there was very evidently a spaceman there because he had his space helmet on and he had a big white gown on.

    Newsman: And what did he say? Did you talk to him?

    Armstrong: No, I didn’t talk to him.

    Newsman: Didn’t you say you were going to be picked up by the spacemen?

    Armstrong: No.

    Newsman: Well, what were you waiting out in the street for singing carols?

    Armstrong: Well, we went out to sing Christmas carols.

    Newsman: Oh, you just went out to sing Christmas carols?

    Armstrong: Well, and if anything happened, well, that’s all right, you know. We live from one minute to another. Some very strange things have happened to us and—

    Newsman: But didn’t you hope to be picked up by the spacemen? As I understand it—

    Armstrong: We were willing.

    Newsman: Uhuh. Well, how do you account for the fact that they didn’t pick you up?

    Armstrong: Well, as I told one of the other news boys, I didn’t think a spaceman would feel very welcome there in that crowd.

    Newsman: Oh, a spaceman wouldn’t have felt welcome there.

    Armstrong: No, I don’t think so. Of course, there may have been some spacemen there in disguise, you know. We couldn’t see. I think—I think that’s quite possible.
    Perhaps the most powerful example of trying to reaffirm beliefs after these disappointments was on Christmas Day, when a new observer affiliated with the researchers showed up on Martin’s doorstep, attempting to gain entry into the group. Suspecting that this new visitor may be a spaceman, Martin and Laughead questioned him intensely, asking him to tell stories and seating him at a place of honor at the dinner table. But the next day, Martin got fed up, asking him, “Are you sure that you have no message for me? Now that we are alone, we can talk.”

    “The experiences of this observer well characterize the state of affairs following the Christmas caroling episode—a persistent, frustrating search for orders,” Festinger and his co-authors write. After this, the believers began to disperse, leaving Martin’s home for their own, though not all of them lost their faith. Martin did not—in fact, she went on to found the Order of Sananda and Sanat Kumara (the names of two of the Guardians), calling herself “Sister Thedra.”

    The lesson the researchers learned from all this, as they wrote in the introduction to When Prophecy Fails: “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.” And when that conviction is as important as the promise salvation coming from the sky, “it may even be less painful to tolerate the dissonance than to discard the belief and admit one had been wrong.”

    Julie Beck is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where she covers health.


  32. Schools of millenarianism

    How end-of-days beliefs clash with one another, and with art

    BY ERASMUS, The Economist April 24, 2016

    THERE are two religious movements, both much concerned with eschatology or the end times for humanity and the earth, which have attracted a spike of interest in recent days: the Seventh-day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is because Prince, the rock star who died this week, was brought up in the first faith and then converted to the second.

    So what’s the difference between the two faiths? Both have much to say about a battle between God and Satan which is already in progress and will come to a head soon. Both have their ultimate origins in the teachings of William Miller, an American preacher who after an intensive study of the Hebrew prophet Daniel concluded that Jesus Christ would make a second coming or “advent” on earth between 1843 and 1844. When this failed to materialise, some followers fell away but others (the forefathers of today's Adventists) insisted that something cosmologically important did happen around that time: the second and final part of Christ’s mission on earth, and a period of judgement for humanity, began, albeit in a way invisible to most people.

    It was a man influenced by this ongoing movement, Charles Taze Russell who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses and moved their base to Brooklyn, New York in 1909. Millions of tracts in all the world's main languages have been issued from that headquarters. Witnesses believe that Armageddon, a final cosmic battle, will occur in the near future, allowing those faithful to God to travel to heaven and rule along with Christ.
    Generally, the Witnesses, who proselytise relentlessly, are further from the political, social and theological mainstream than are the Adventists. They avoid voting and refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of any governmental authority, believing that all earthly power is of Satan.

    Unlike the Witnesses, the Adventists accept the traditional Christian teaching of a God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But the two faiths do have some common features; they reject the idea, espoused by some traditionalist Christians, of “eternal torment” for those not saved by God, arguing instead that such people will simply be destroyed.

    America’s best-known Adventist is probably the black presidential runner Ben Carson, who pulled out of the Republican race last month. He has said he isn’t sure whether (as many fundamentalists believe) the earth is 6,000 years old, but he is absolutely convinced that the world was created in six days and that the scientific narrative of life’s evolution over hundreds of millions of years is simply wrong. Like Jews but unlike most Christians, Adventists observe Saturday as a holy day with no secular work.

    Both Adventists and Witnesses attach huge importance to winkling out the meaning of God’s written word, and hence they have not been much concerned with pursuing meaning or inspiration in music, art or in literature other than the Bible. That's what makes Prince an outlier; he dedicated a song to the Jehovah's Witness belief that Jesus died not on a cross (ie a wooden pole with a crossbeam) but on a single wooden stake. (In ancient Greek, the word stauros was first used in the latter sense but was later applied to the Roman method of crucifixion.)

    Although some Adventists have done fine humanitarian work, it is generally true that people focused on the end-times are less concerned with beautifying the world than with escaping it with a handful of fellow believers. All that makes it rather surprising that such beliefs were espoused by a rock singer for whom sensuality itself seemed (in a very broad sense) to be a form of spiritual expression.


  33. Why Are So Many Christians Obsessed With Predicting the Rapture

    Christians have historically been fixated on the end of the world. The reasons are more complex than they appear.

    By Laura Ortberg Turner, PACIFIC STANDARD

    The world did not come to an end on September 6, 1994. Nor on May 21, 2011, or October 21 of that same year, though Harold Camping had said in each case that it would. As I sit typing in the year 2016, the world is still rotating on its axis, spinning 19 miles per second around the sun.

    Like so many Christians who came before him, Camping was possessed by the idea of predicting the end of the world, and talked ceaselessly about it on his radio show at Family Radio Network, of which he was president.
    Listeners contributed to what became a $100 million campaign to convince the world of the May 21 judgment day (known in Christian theology as the Rapture), when Jesus would take all his believers to heaven. Like many would-be prophets, Camping moved the target each time he was wrong. After the October 2011 date passed, he just let it go. Even prophets can get confused.

    Today, if you want to know how close we are to the world’s end, all you need to do is check the Rapture Index, a frequently updated scoreboard of 45 factors that point to the nearness of the Rapture. (A score of over 160 indicates it’s time to “Fasten your seat belts.” We are currently at 181.) The popularity of the Left Behind series and songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” among certain evangelical communities indicate an ongoing cultural fascination with End Times and a willingness to help usher them in by proclaiming how rotten things are in the world right now — a key tenet in Rapture theology, as in life, is that things usually get worse before they get better.

    Why are Christians so obsessed with the end of the world? Mostly for the same reasons Christians are obsessed with anything: It’s in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of terrifying, cryptic prophecies about the End Times: “The two kings, their minds bent on evil, shall sit at one table and exchange lies,” the prophet Daniel says. “But it shall not succeed, for there remains an end at the time appointed.” (Two kings exchanging lies sounds ominously like the plot to Game of Thrones.) Then, in the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples that “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.”
    The Second Coming of Christ involves its own vocabulary; words like “Postmillennialism” and “Pre-Tribulation” get tossed around in End Times crowds like confetti at a parade.

    Some Christian denominations are more likely than others to be interested in eschatology. Southern Baptists will talk with you about the End Times over coffee and donuts after a Sunday service; Episcopalians will talk about politics, sex, or money with you before they’ll wander into end-of-the-world territory. It’s inherently creepy stuff, the idea that the world will end not because the sun has burnt out or a comet has destroyed the Earth but because an omnipotent being wills its destruction. But it’s on our collective minds:
    As of 2010, Pew reported that 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will “probably” or “definitely” return to Earth by 2050.

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  34. Judgmental Christians are easy targets for ridicule and disdain, and, to be sure, Christians have perpetuated some of the worst (and silliest) ideas about the end of the world. At the same time, most religions have at least some rather outré ideas about the way the world will end. For many Christians, spreading the word about the Rapture is an act born of genuine concern.

    “The urgency was that the Rapture could happen at any time,” says Melisa Blankenship, a San Francisco-based church information manager who attended Calvary Baptist Church in San Mateo, California, in her youth. One night, Blankenship’s church held a special service to screen the film A Thief in the Night, the first in a series of films about the Rapture. In the film, young Patty Jo Myers wakes up one day to find her family gone along with millions of other people, and has to live through the Tribulation, a time period referred to in Daniel 7, during which war, famine, and other plagues ravage the Earth and kill most of those who remain.
    Blankenship remembers being “terrified” watching the movie as a seven year old. As an adult, though, she can see what motivated the pastors at her church: “In a weird way, I think it was compassion on their end.” If you were convinced the world was going to end in a fiery war zone and you could take your loved ones with you to heaven, wouldn’t you want to do the same?

    Talking about the End Times is also an urgent way of sharing the gospel of Jesus, “promot[ing] a strong emphasis upon evangelism of the lost,”according to the Pre-Tribulation Research Center. Run by Thomas Ice and Tim LaHaye (the latter of Left Behind fame), the Pre-Trib Research Center acts as a clearinghouse for Biblical prophecy scholars to share their work on the Rapture and their interpretation that the church will be raptured before the Tribulation. “The most unloving thing you can do is not [share] the gospel,” says Ice, who also disputes the wisdom of predicting a specific date and time for the Rapture. “There is a lot less date-setting now than there has been in the past,” he says.

    Math and religion, on the face of it, don’t seem to mix well. Hundreds of Christian groups have tried to use the Bible to predict when the world will end, using a (hardly clear-cut) combination of events mentioned in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. The early church believed that Jesus would return very soon, even during their lifetimes, and Christians have been revising that prediction ever since. Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister who was influential in the construction of the Salem Witch Trials, announced that the world would end in 1697. Heavily influenced by Revelation, Mather was convinced that the presence of witchcraft in America combined with the appearance in 1682 of what we now know is Halley’s Comet (celestial events and motifs are significant in Revelation) spelled the end of the world. When that year came and went without event, Mather revised his prediction: 1736, according to the Bible, would be the year of the world’s end.
    Just kidding! Unhappy with 1736, he soon moved the date up to 1716; when that year came and went, Mather suggested the world would end in 1727. While a large earthquake did shake Boston that year, the only thing that quickly came to an end was Mather, who died in February 1728.

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  35. Mather is part of a centuries long tradition of Christians who have made these bold predictions. There’s an entire Wikipedia page full of entries about people who thought the Earth was near its final day; the reasons varied from an event where British hens laid eggs with “Christ is Coming” etched into them (sadly, a hoax) to numerology based on Revelation, Daniel, and other books of the Bible. Disciples of William Miller, a Baptist pastor who claimed the world would end on October 22, 1844, had to put up with those who“tauntingly inquir[ed], ‘Have you not gone up?’” This failed prophecy led Millerites to suffer through The Great Disappointment, a confusing period of time in which some of their churches were attacked. Having been played for fools by someone with sincerely held beliefs, many Millerites returned to the denominations they came from or started new ones altogether — the Seventh-Day Adventist Church formed as a reaction to Miller’s failed prophecy.

    Thomas Ice of the Pre-Trib Research Center distinguishes between the Rapture (believers being carried up to heaven) and the Second Coming of Christ (Christ coming down to Earth, which will happen seven years after the Rapture). Being accompanied by other believers on your way to heaven can beget some unique fears, as Lyz Lenz wrote for this magazine in January: “I worried about being raptured on the toilet and having all the ungodly see my butt. So I held it until I thought I would burst, racing to the bathroom and praying to Jesus he’d hold off on any magnificent return until I could just pull my pants up.” I asked Ice whether he felt any tension between the mundanity of daily life and the weight of constantly thinking about the end of the world as we knew it. Ice mentioned 2 Peter 3, which warns that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief….
    While you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish.” The point, Ice told me, is to wait in patience while “constantly cultivating a relationship with Christ.” At the grocery store, picking up the kids from school, going to the bathroom — wherever you are, awareness of the Rapture and its possible imminence can lead a person to a sense of constant vigilance.

    “There was no sense of peace, even with the people that were saved,” Blankenship says. “You always had to be vigilant to make sure your salvation was real.”

    There is another, final reason Christians may be so obsessed with the Rapture, and it isn’t high-minded or Biblical: It’s the simple truth that none of us know with absolute certainty what will happen to us when we die. We all want to be sure that something good will happen to us, or, at the very least, that nothing particularly bad will befall us once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. Maybe heaven is a story we tell ourselves in order to live.

    Harold Camping died in 2013 after suffering complications from a fall at his home. Embarrassed, he had retired from his work at Family Radio and apologized for misleading his followers. Family Radio Network posted an update saying Camping had “passed on to glory and is now rejoicing with his beloved Savior!” The prophet had foretold the end of the world but not his own death, and Family Radio memorialized Camping with a verse from Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”


  36. Apocalyptic upbringing - how I recovered from my terrifying evangelical childhood

    by Josiah Hesse, The Guardian April 5, 2016

    One stormy night in the summer of 1992, I walked down the basement steps of my parents’ house to await the apocalypse. The Iowa air was thick with humidity, the ominous green sky prophesying a tornado. My 10-year-old hands trembled as I laid out my inventory: animal crackers, juice boxes, a Bible, and every sharp knife in the kitchen.

    My parents were home late and my first thought was that they’d been raptured up to heaven. I was a sinner who had been left behind to face the Earth’s destruction.

    Thunder boomed as I opened my Bible to the Book of Revelation, a passage I knew well after years spent on my dad’s knee as he read it aloud to his kids. This would be my roadmap to doom: the stars falling from the sky. The cracked earth spitting locusts with the heads of lions. The beast with seven heads, the body of a leopard, and the feet of a bear will rise from the sea and be worshiped by all those left behind on Earth.

    I would have to hide from the antichrist, who would force all those left on Earth to renounce Christ and receive the mark of the beast on their right hand or forehead. Anyone found with the beast’s mark after death would be thrown into the lake of fire. If I successfully avoided this and died of old age, I would be reunited with my family in heaven. (Note: There are countless interpretations of how this would all go down, but this is the one I heard most consistently as a child.)

    Eventually my parents did come home. I packed up my gear, put the knives away, and never mentioned a thing to either of them. I was safe – for now.
    Halloween with the Hell House

    For any child raised under the dark bubble of religious fundamentalism, moments like this are not uncommon. In the evangelical Christian world of midwest America, it was normal for adults to tell children they would probably never grow old. The end could and would come any minute now.

    My dad and Bob Dylan were both “born again” in 1978. They didn’t know each other, but each were caught up in the explosive trend of converted hippies known as the Jesus Movement (or “Jesus Freaks” to Hunter S Thompson). Following the cultural and political destruction of the 60s flower power crusade, thousands of dropouts were now renouncing drugs and getting turned on to the great hippie in the sky known as Jesus.

    Millions were also buying a book called The Late Great Planet Earth, which interpreted biblical text through modern political events, concluding that Christ would return and the Earth would burn around 1988. The book was made into a movie starring (a very portly and probably drunk) Orson Welles and was immediately followed by several other pulp rapture films and Christian rock albums that warned of an imminent doomsday.

    Born in 1982, my childhood was filled with more biblical prophecy than Sesame Street good times. The urgency of avoiding hell surpassed any trivial education the world had to offer. After all, if you’re staring down the barrel of eternal torment, who has the time for algebra?

    Salvation was attached to belief, and in order to protect my belief I had to censor my thoughts. The book of Mark says that “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. So I was careful to never even think a thought that could be considered blasphemous. This was profoundly exhausting; and while I was mostly successful at repressing my intellectual curiosity during the day, once sleep came I lost all security clearance to my own mind.

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  37. My dreams were terrorized by a wide eyed witch who worked for the devil. She would chase me through dark corridors, cackling and insisting I’d already damned myself to hell. Soon I began sleepwalking, often waking in the darkness of our back yard. Soon I began avoiding sleep, staying awake, watching TV to stay awake as long as I could.

    Teachers at school became frustrated with my falling asleep in class and daily trips to the nurse’s office. Knowing nothing of panic attacks, the constant bursts of adrenaline and nausea I experienced could only be described as “I feel sick”. Throughout my middle and high school years, I flunked more classes than I passed.
    Release came only when my evangelical friends and I put on theatrical productions that frightened audiences into conversion. Those plays would happen on Easter, but the most fun came at Halloween with the Hell House. Presented as just another haunted house, crowds would be led through a series of vignettes featuring abuse, overdoses, abortions, drunk-driving crashes, gang shootings and suicides (this was how we assumed all nonbelievers spent their time), followed by the big-budget climax of hell.

    Our sinners would walk through a slim, dark hallway, where unseen hands grabbed at their ankles. They’d scream, then blindly step into a cavernous, smoke-filled room where the blackness was chaotically punctuated by bursts of flames.

    Once completely disoriented and emotionally exhausted, patrons were then ushered into a comfortably lit, domestically furnished room with tissue boxes and smiling counselors ready to share the good news of Jesus with them.

    Looking back, I now realize that the tactics (guilt, disorientation of senses, casting doubts of their moral identity) would probably qualify as brainwashing. Perhaps I knew that at the time but rationalized it because so much was at stake. After all, the year 2000 was nearly upon us.

    It may seem silly now, but you can’t overestimate the power that the Y2K scare had on the apocalypse fever of evangelicals. By this time my parents had seen more than a few end-of-the-world prophecies come and go and weren’t as easily worked up about the doomsday many thought Y2K would be. In my home, conversations about the antichrist and the mark of the beast had stopped years ago, but by my teenage years I’d become far more of a fundamentalist than my parents had ever been.

    Despite living in a small town, I was a member of three different evangelical Christian churches at this time. Needing far more than just a Sunday fix, I was attending about nine different religious classes a week. And then there were two different church camps each summer, four conventions each school year, and countless youth rallies, concerts, and theatrical productions. I even enrolled myself in a rural Christian school my junior year of high school. I never engaged in sports, and never listened to any music or watched movies that weren’t affiliated with Christianity. I was perfectly isolated from any outside influence.

    My dad, however, had renounced church altogether, and my mom only went on Sundays, so for the most part my zealotry was self-imposed. I judged their lack of commitment and often stopped speaking to them for stretches of time. Unlike drug use or listening to gangsta rap, no parent worries about their kids spending too much time at church. But looking back, my overdosing on religion was becoming a serious problem.

    The Y2K scare was a huge focus because it was both imminently close and so mysterious even the nonreligious believed it was a legitimate threat.

    At church camps and youth conventions, we cried, wailed and beat our chests in shame, begging God to forgive us our sins and never leave us behind. In the years of my adolescence, I shed enough tears to fill an Olympic swimming pool.

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  38. As 2000 approached my panic attacks grew more severe. I pondered the nature of eternity nearly every minute of the day. Whether torture or paradise, the concept itself filled me with existential dread. Eternity. As in, forever. And ever. And then more. And more. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

    Spoiler alert: nothing happened on the first day of January in 2000.

    Like the Jesus Movement’s disappointment at the world not ending in 1988, our faith was silently cracked when the world kept on turning into the new millennium.

    I finished school and began a life on the road, traveling aimlessly around the country, working an endless series of construction, restaurant, retail, factory and day-labor jobs. I stayed in hostels, on couches and in short-term rentals, making new friends and slowly becoming the thing I’d always been taught to avoid: worldly.

    Yet despite the drugs, sex and foul language that now consumed my daily existence (a not-uncommon lifestyle for young Christians away from home for the first time), my faith in God remained on life support. There was too much at stake to flippantly reject it, no matter how many unanswered questions rattled in my brain. If salvation is tied to belief – as I believed it was – then I couldn’t allow any seeds of doubt to take purchase in the soil of my mind. I clung to the idea that the rapture was still imminent, but my conviction was weak and I was desperate for something to keep my beliefs afloat. I adored intellectual Christians such as CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer, and secular musicians who identified as Christians such as Moby, Bono and Johnny Cash. If they could live in The World and retain their faith, why couldn’t I?

    My early 20s were spent desperately reading as much as I could get my hands on about the Bible and why it was intellectually viable. Believing I needed to be able to refute all arguments to the contrary – even my own – I read secular works by those who despised Christianity, such as Tom Robbins, the Marquis de Sade and Christopher Hitchens.

    Then one evening in San Francisco in 2006, while watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, I quietly said to myself: “I don’t think God exists.”

    My breath stopped. Cold sweat raced down my back. I winced, half expecting to have a heart attack. Or a giant beast to rise from the water.

    But nothing happened. The world kept turning. Just as it did in 1992 when my parents eventually came home and proved the rapture hadn’t occurred. Just as it did in 2000 when society did not collapse from Y2K. My entire life I’d been holding my breath, anticipating a scene of mind-shattering horror that simply never arrived.

    I am now 33 years old and am often asked if I’m bitter about how I was raised. First, I’d say little of the blame belongs on my parents’ shoulders. They were young, idealistic Christians when they had me, and like so many religious parents, only had the best of intentions of rearing me in their faith.

    “When you’re young, things seem a little more black and white,” my mom recently told me during a phone conversation. It was Easter Sunday and I asked whether she regretted exposing me to the terrifying prophecies of the Bible at a young age. “Regret might be a bit harsh. Would I couch things differently today, and not have them be so hellfire and brimstone? Maybe.”

    I asked my dad if he’d known about the intense anxiety I’d suffered throughout my childhood. “I knew you were afraid. You were such a scared little boy. I didn’t know what to do.”

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  39. I would say that some of the most emotionally rapturous moments of my life were had in Pentecostal church services, where the loud and hypnotic music, speaking in tongues, primal dancing, shaking and collapsing to the ground, caused explosions of sensory transcendence in my little body. I’ve since had glimmers of these moments on a dance floor, a rock concert, or moments of exceptional sexual climax, but nothing has come close to the indescribable high of a frenetic religious service laced with an uncut dose of pure belief.

    At the same time, I’ve never been able to shake the deeply rooted conviction that it’s hopeless to plan for the future. Home ownership, marriage, kids and retirement savings all require a faith that tomorrow will be here in the morning. While my head can rationalize that one year will probably follow the next, my heart cannot handle anything more than one day at a time.

    I am still plagued with chronic nightmares, which my therapist says are a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Before entering therapy, I’d never heard of the term “religious abuse”. The idea that an extreme religious upbringing could be a form of psychological torture was new to me. When reading the horror stories of other evangelicals who grew up under the constant fear of rapture (some of whom had the same experiences I had of believing they’d been left behind), it felt right. After all, I could think of several ex-Christians I’ve known who have had extreme drug addiction and emotional disorders that fit the bill of someone with PTSD.

    In some respects, I feel like I got off easy. I’m in a loving relationship, enjoy a strong circle of friends, and have built a reasonably successful career as a writer.

    Yet any time I come across a news story about global warming being worse than expected, or that the economy is on the verge of collapse, or that some demagogue running for president is leading us toward a nuclear showdown with religious fundamentalists in the Middle East, a familiar voice whispers through my mind, reminding me that this is it, what we’ve been waiting for all these years, the end has come, you were right to never start a family, because the world is about to be plunged into a thousand-year darkness of torment and chaos, so grab whatever supplies you can get your hands on and head out into the wilderness, because a fate worse than death awaits those caught unprepared.

    Then I take a deep breath, reminding the frightened child inside me that he is safe, that the world may be full of uncertainty and pain and confusion, but we are here, now, and there are no locusts with the heads of lions likely to come out of the Earth any time soon.