Stef (firecat) wrote,


I am getting the impression that Harold Camping's "Rapture on May 21" prediction is something that people are expected to express an Opinion about.

I was amused by the "Post rapture party" event announcement on Facebook.

I was less amused by the "Post rapture looting" event announcement on Facebook.

I am fascinated by how some businesses are using this as an opportunity to advertise sales, the way they use holidays. My local indie bookstore is having a 20% off everything sale on May 22. They didn't call it a post rapture sale, but it was obvious what they were hinting at.

I didn't grow up in the type of Christian church where people took the end of the world stuff in the Bible literally, so I don't have much emotional charge around these types of predictions, except to think it's odd that some people actually believe in them.

But when I think about it some more, maybe it's not so odd.

People tend to believe or at least give some credence to things that other people around them are worrying about, because in the end people simply can't check everything out for themselves, and we have to rely on hearsay and decide what to trust at some point. I worried about Y2K enough to beef up my emergency kit. In the 50s-70s, lots of people worried that there would be all-out nuclear warfare (some still are). Lots of people now are worried about the effects of global warming. Those aren't the same things as rapture predictions, and they are supported by scientific data, but I haven't read much of the scientific work myself, never mind seeing how it was performed or what assumptions went into it, so I'm using a trust heuristic in deciding it's probably correct. And I trust scientists in part because I grew up with scientists.

I think that the US media helps create extreme polarization in this country by preferentially reporting on extreme polarization. And I think a lot of people consuming the media find it comforting somehow to believe in extreme polarization, and so they go around spreading the notion. And I think the reporting on this rapture prediction and the people making fun of the rapture prediction are spreading the extreme polarization notion.

This bothers me somewhat because I think that believing other people are essentially and deeply different from us--believing they are inherently nutty and we are inherently sane, or they are irredeemably stupid and we are irredeemably smart, or they are fundamentally ignorant and we are fundamentally knowledgeable--is pretty profoundly damaging to human community and conversation.

It's also really really tempting to believe those things. (At least if my own brain is any indication.) Some folks say humans are wired to think that way. A lot of human wiring is adjustable but some of it takes a lot of effort to adjust it.

I think that stuff a lot, but I can't think of too many times where doing so has led to a positive outcome.

On the other hand, being cautious about whom I trust with what does lead to positive outcomes. But I can be cautious about whom I trust without assuming they are essentially alien.

I'm pretty unclear where "making fun of people when we disagree with their beliefs" falls in terms of promoting the damaging kind of polarization. I guess I think it depends on the spirit in which the fun-making takes place. There is affectionate fun-making, which carries the sense that we think this person or group does/believes some nutty things but we recognize them as "one of us," and we also recognize ourselves as potential targets of affectionate fun-making too. That's probably reasonably harmless. And there's hostile fun-making, where we make ourselves out to be inherently superior to People Like That. That's what might be damaging, I think.

Then there's the kind of fun-making that happens in situations where someone has been/continues to be harmed by their interactions with certain groups or other people. That can be hostile, but it can also promote healing, because it can help reduce the feeling that the other group holds power over you, and it can help give you the feeling that you're not alone in your perceptions. I can't say that that kind of fun-making is overall harmful or overall helpful. It can continue a trend of polarization, but since it's reactive to existing polarization it doesn't seem fair to say it promotes polarization. And if it heals, then it can also work against polarization.

Anyway, all that is to say that in the end it's hard for me to have a firm opinion about the rapture fun-making because I think it's coming from so many different motives. I enjoy the silliness and the celebration of atheism, and I am vaguely worried about the hostile mockery.

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