Thursday’s News & Reviews: Armageddon Preppers

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From infancy I was taught faithfulness above all else. As a dedicated member of the Watchtower Society, I was trained to accept counsel and direction without question. To question implied a weak faith and vulnerability to the Satanic trait of rebellion.

I remember the first time I chose to disagree with something published by Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s). It was 1999. A was laying in bed in a cute little house I rented on the west end of Bend, Oregon. The spring breezes were wafting in the window and stirring the drapes around me. I was reading an article in the latest Watchtower magazine, which discouraged permanent forms of birth control (i.e. vasectomies, tubal ligation, etc.). As a person who never wanted children I found this a veritable death sentence. I didn’t just not want kids. I hated the little buggers! To feel like I was being forced into motherhood was more than I could swallow. The foundation of my faith cracked that day–a profound, irrevocable fissure that would lead to more and more weakening of my faith until the structure finally crumbled.

Fast forward 10 years to 2009. I was attending a meeting at my local Kingdom Hall when I heard a talk on “Go-Bags.” These were handy little receptacles a “faithful” JW would keep packed with essentials in the likelihood of “natural disaster.” They should be kept handy in the trunk of the car in case of instant and life-threatening need. Water, flashlights, batteries, change of clothes, food, compass–whatever one might need in a natural disaster. This talk fell right on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, so it may sound logical to some. It wasn’t logical in Central Oregon. The only natural disaster that threatened that part of the country was volcanic, and it’s not like the Cascade mountains are known for blowing up without warning. (This article in no way discourages disaster preparedness. If you live in an area known for natural disasters, power outages, or extreme weather please make the necessary preparations to protect yourself and your family.)

My bullshit detector went off. I knew the JW “brothers” were intentionally avoiding the mention of Armageddon or the Great Tribulation by couching their warnings in terms like “natural disaster.” For the first time in history, JW’s were being encouraged to prepare for “the end of this system of things” by putting bottles of water and granola bars in backpacks. The brother on the stage even insinuated this was a matter of faith, and the faithful would obey without question.

My bullshit detector was screaming. I’m surprised no one else heard it. One brother did hear about it after the meeting.  I approached him and asked him why he thought we were in danger of hurricane in landlocked central Oregon. He told me any number of other disasters could happen: earthquake, flooding (in the desert?!), spontaneous volcanic explosion, etc.

Up until this point, we had always been trained to believe that Jehovah would protect his followers when Armageddon struck. I told this “brother” that I thought go-bags were showing a lack of faith in God and his ability to take care of his people. I was given a patronizing look that indicated I was a sister and needed to stop asking questions.

So I did the next logical thing: I went to my dad. He had always been my rock. He knew the bible backwards and forwards and had read every piece of literature published by the Watchtower society since the 1940s.

He agreed with me. It was a lack of faith and he felt it was a localized attempt on the part of some area brothers to force others to succumb to doomsday prepping ideals. The fact that dad was an ex-Mormon might have also contributed to his aversion to such an approach.

Dad died a year later, but I wonder if his faith would have survived the latest attempt by the JW’s to force people into fearful scenarios.

Recently, I saw a picture that was posted in the latest copy of the Watchtower. It can be seen above. It shows people hiding in a basement, and an unmistakable look of fear on a child’s face to indicate the gravity of the situation. Undoubtedly, they are hiding from the rampant anarchy taking place over their heads. I imagine sounds of helicopters, bombing air raids, the shrieks of the dying, and the pop of gunfire. I can imagine those sounds because they haunted my dreams as a child raised with images of Armageddon and torture.

I have recently been informed that JW’s are now required to select a safe place to flee to in time of “Natural disaster.” Once a family, or group, have selected their “place of refuge,” they are to report this to the local elders who make a written record and share it with the Circuit Overseer, who then passes it on to the headquarters. This isn’t just a whimsical fantasy to make easily impressionable people excited over the prospects of global annihilation. All JW’s are required to submit a written document of their chosen place of hiding. (Is anybody else seeing images of Jonestown right about now?)

I spent 38 years deeply entrenched in that religion. They’re not about to drink any Kool-Aid, in spite of what their actions may sometimes indicate. I see this as nothing more than another ploy to keep people unstable and afraid. A lot has happened in the last 100 years of that organization, except for the one thing millions of people have lived, and died, for: Armageddon. After more than 10 decades of promising that “Armageddon is just around the corner,” if the JW leaders didn’t find a new tactic for threat and rescue they would start losing credibility.

I have to say, it’s a pretty good scheme. Twenty years ago, I would have been eating this stuff up. It would be so exciting to imagine my flight to some wilderness as the world fell apart and billions died at the hand of God. But I know that religion, and I know those people. I would be willing to bet you money that many of them have already initiated their flight. Just as in 1975 when many of them quit school and sold their assets in hopes of the imminent arrival of Armageddon, I am sure many are repeating those same horrible mistakes. The Ebola outbreak; the riots; the extreme weather–some serious bridges are being burned right about now, all in the name of faith.

Keep your eyes open. You might see some houses go on the market in hopes of a quick sale. If you are in the janitorial field, you might be able to pick up some new accounts as JW’s flee the western world to live in caves and bomb shelters. The most positive aspect of all this? If they are in hiding, at least they’re not knocking on our doors.

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“Combatting Cult Mind Control”

As the anniversary of my father’s death approaches (Nov. 24th) I am reminded that it has been one year since the death of my childhood faith. The last time I set foot inside a Kingdom Hall was for my father’s funeral–and I knew at the time it would be my last visit. As I greeted familiar faces I had known my whole life I felt sadness at the divergent path I was about to embark on. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye to everyone who had ever mattered than as they were sharing the grieving process with me.

That is not why I am writing this blog, however. I am here to do a book review. You see, in the year since I decided I no longer wanted to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I have made a concerted effort to educate myself–my own personal Exit Counseling. I worked through the anger and resentment by sharing my feelings with others who felt the same. I read ex-JW literature, attended ex-JW forums, and studied the development of religion from a sociological perspective. These are the things I needed to undo the indoctrination of a lifetime.

After about six months or so I started to get on with my life–or at least I tried to. A few months is not enough time to deprogram a mind injected with 37 years of programming. In recent months I have been ricocheting from feelings of severe depression to claustrophobia. I feel like my life is floating in limbo and I need to do something diametrically different from what I have been doing. I have lost my zeal for college and even the desire to maintain relationships. I want to cut them all loose and I keep having dreams that I am killing my passion or walking on the edge of disaster, or even trapped inside a Kingdom Hall with no exits. Then something happened a few days ago that made me realize I still had not recovered. After posting someone’s parody of a Watchtower victim awaiting Armageddon, a disfellowshipped ‘friend’ unfriended me–but not before telling me that my “blatant apostasy was pissing [him] off.” My heart started to pound so hard I could hear it reverberating in my ears. I started to shake and felt overwhelming fear. This had happened after awaking that same day from nightmares of being forced to go out in the door-to-door ministry–and only days after having two JW friends try to “talk some sense into me.” My life came crumbling down around me. What was I doing? Had I just made a huge mistake? Was I going to get disfellowshipped? What if I ever wanted to go back?

I panicked. I actually changed my name on Facebook and made my account as impermeable to curious outsiders as I could. Some new ex-JW friends on Facebook were able to calm me down, but I realized something: It didn’t take much for the old programming to begin playing its familiar tune. So today I decided to take the time to finish a book I started months ago–“Combatting Cult Mind Control” by Steve Hassan. This book recounts Steve’s own experience being indoctrinated by the Moonies and his eventual escape. He goes on to become an exit counselor for others in need of escape from cult control. The book contains his observations of why some cults are so successful as well as how to overcome their programming. On page 41 and 42 he says:

“They indoctrinate members to show only the best sides of the organization. Members are taught to suppress any negative feelings they have about the group and always show a continually smiling, ‘happy’ face…(pg 42)It was always amazing to me to realize how many people in this category told us they had just been praying to God to show them what He wanted them to do with their lives. Many believed they were ‘spiritually’ led to meet one of our members…members regard themselves as ‘fishers of men’…They reinvest a great part of their capital back into recruiting new members…The average person doesn’t stand much of a chance. ”

Was he talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses here? Nope. He was relating his experiences with the Moonies, but he could have been talking about the JW’s. I don’t remember Mr. Hassan mentioning Jehovah’s Witnesses at all in the book. He didn’t have to. Every description matched their techniques precisely.

Mr. Hassan goes on to relate successful and failed attempts at exit counseling from a plethora of different cults. On page 167 he sums up his own feelings as a recovered cult victim:

“I left when I realized that deception and mind control can never be part of any legitimate spiritual movement: that through their use, the group had created a virtual ‘Hell on Earth,’ a kingdom of slaves. Once I was able to realize that even though I wanted to believe it was true [paradise earth/resurrection] my belief didn’t make it true. I saw that even if I remained in the group for another fifty years, the fantasy I was sacrificing myself for would never come true.” (italics my application)

He goes on to relate how people actually change personality while under the influence of cults. A study was conducted in 1982 in which a respected psychologist used the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator to test cult members. He had them answer questions based upon who they were before the cult influence and again after. A marked difference was noted between their pre-cult personalities and their peri-cult personalities. Whatever they had been before, most shifted to sensor-judger dominant (Hassan, 191). I found this interesting since I had done my own informal poll regarding types of personalities that left the JW’s and when. I had found that intuitive judgers usually left in their late teens-early twenties. Whereas, intuitive perceivers held on longer and didn’t leave until well into adulthood. This isn’t to say that sensors don’t leave cults, but it may be harder for them and might stem from emotional trauma. (These are my observations based upon a limited pool of participants.)

Steve Hassan summarized his book with the observation that:

“If people come to believe that someone else knows better than they what is best to do, they can be in real danger…We have free will and should never abandon our personal responsibility for making good choices.” (Hassan, 195)

I found Hassan’s book to perfectly address my emotional issues. He described my feeling of “floating” as the mind trying to reevaluate the world without the lenses of mind control I had been wearing. In a carefully controlled environment, information and thought are carefully mastered to always be in line with the group-think. Imagine a lifetime of controlling every word,  and every thought, that didn’t agree with the prime directive. Once one leaves that tight control, they must learn to think again. I still ask myself when things go wrong if I have displeased God. My emotional issues of late could be attributed to separation from the “truth”–at least that is how believers would interpret it. Thankfully I have done enough personal research that I can dismiss such thoughts immediately, but many don’t do the research. They are either too lazy, or too afraid, or cannot think clearly due to years of reading the same literature. Some of these may actually go back because they never stopped believing.

I realize now that, just as one has good days and bad days while grieving, I will have bad days as I grieve the loss of my faith. The most important thing is that I recognize these unconscious messages and replace them with conscious discernment. As the poet William Blake wrote: “I must Create a system, or be enslav’d by another Man’s.” (Hassan, 196)

Hassan, Steve. “Combatting Cult Mind Control.” Park Street Press, Vermont, 1988.

Re-Dedication

It is mid-way through summer term and I should be studying for a midterm in poetry class for tomorrow. Instead, I am wasting an exorbitant amount of time surfing the internet and meeting new people on Facebook. I have recently joined an ex-Jehovah Witness FB page where conversations are constant and engaging. I have friended quite a few people on there. I am always hoping to find someone I know or at least someone who lives nearby, but, alas, no luck so far. It is interesting to meet people whose upbringing was remarkably similar to mine, or possibly even more restricted. Like one family who would never by anything from Proctor & Gamble because of an assumed satanic symbol on all their products.  Another would buy Lucky Charms but dump out all the cereal and throw away the box because she couldn’t keep around something that was “magically delicious”. Others couldn’t eat hotdogs, or watch Disney movies, or have Smurf dolls or trolls. If anyone ever tells you JW’s are not superstitious, don’t believe them! As we all know, superstitions come from ignorance and we really shouldn’t expect anything different from a group of people who aren’t permitted to educate themselves beyond what is printed by the Watchtower society. I am glad, however, that my father wasn’t of the superstitious breed. We never went beyond the things written–it’s not our fault that the religious leaders did. Other than the usual prohibitions for all JW”s (i.e. holidays, birthdays, dances, pledge of allegiance, etc.) my father was very strict about holiday cartoons, spiritistic movies/books, and language–Crap, poo, fart, gosh were all no-no’s. The reaction would have been the same if I had used the other four-letter versions. Music was also something that my father couldn’t tolerate. I’m talking pretty much any kind of music. I went through a 50’s phase when I was about 17 and was told I couldn’t listen to Elvis because some of his songs had the word “rock” in them. I learned to keep my radio under my pillow. “You had a radio?” you might ask. Yeah, believe it or not. My parents bought it for me when I was six years old and it still worked well into my 20’s. I got more use out of that gift than anything else I ever received during childhood. I doubt my dad spent more than $12 for it. Since JW’s don’t have Christmas or birthdays, some have “family days” (oftentimes on parents anniversaries) where gifts are exchanged. I only remember our family doing this once, but the memory has always been golden to me. It was when I got the radio. My mother was still in relatively good health and she prepared a nice dinner for us, and dad bought the board game Sorry! which we spent the evening playing–and everyone let me win. My mother became bed-ridden soon after that and life became less joyous and more to be endured. We never had another day like that, which makes that one all the more poignant.

I am rambling, sorry. The real reason I started writing this blog was to inform you of my recent initiation to a local coven. Last Friday, on the full moon, I was initiated and am now considered a first degree witch. It was an interesting event and not as easy as it may sound. My hands were bound behind my back for 45 minutes which became extremely uncomfortable. I had to repeat certain vows while my hands and feet were bound and I wore a blindfold. I also had to answer in the affirmative to a series of questions which reminded me of the questions asked when I was baptized as one of JW’s when I was fifteen. So I am rededicated to another faith–a faith very different from the first. I have been doing a lot of reading in The Witches Bible by Stewart and Janet Farrar and finding it very interesting. I am in a small coven and am looking forward to attending some larger festivals. I have a lot of learning to do, though, and find the prospects exciting! Any other New Age, or Wiccan believers out there?

Questionable Wager

On the last day of winter term I recollect the last few months and what I have learned. It was a busy term (19 credits) and I admit to a feeling of relief that it is over. I have one more final this afternoon–Philosophy. I have averaged A’s and B’s on the other ones so I am hoping for the same with philosophy.

I was really looking forward to philosophy as the final nail in the coffin of my Christian beliefs. But it didn’t do that really. I found the philosophers (Hume, Kant, Russell, Locke, etc.) rather hard to follow. Their ideas were so convoluted it really didn’t affect me very much, except to maybe annoy me as to why it matters whether we are all existing in a matrix of somebody else’s invention. If this is all a dream, how is that going to affect my day to day living? Can I change anything based upon that premise? No, so why does it matter? I think my one-on-one discussions with the professor were more fruitful than the actual class. We discussed faith, truth and God. He is an avowed atheist who thinks the people in my religion are “scary”. He told me the next time they came to his door he is going to answer it nude and see if that scares them off. I told him it has been done already, and no, it doesn’t scare them off.

The most interesting thing I take away from philosophy is Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal believed it was better to wager for the existence of God than not because if God exists and we choose to ignore him it means everlasting damnation. But if we wager to believe in him it means everlasting life. If God doesn’t exist? Nothing changes but at least we will have prepared for the worst. Belief in God requires more than just words, of course, there must be an outward manifestation–prayer, services, etc. This did not help me bury my beliefs, it made me worry I was making the wrong wager. But then, so is my philosophy professor. I am still having a hard time deciding if I will choose to believe in God or not. I am so fed up with religion in general I can’t quite separate God from Christianity. I am more inclined to believe in a God as an ancient deity that has been worshiped since time immemorial than a Christian Christ. I actually find myself tired of the name Jesus and rarely use it. So will I take Pascal’s wager? No, not yet. I still need to detect something concrete that I can believe in. I never felt anything with my old religion and I still don’t. I had a friend once tell me that he tried everything he could to summon the spirit realm (Ouija board, The Exorcist, seance, etc.)and never got anything, so he doesn’t believe anything is out there. He’s a total atheist although he was raised in the same faith as I. I am still reserving judgment, and still on the search.

My other classes were Sociology, Psychology, Math, and Writing composition. I think I enjoyed Psychology the most. I have always wanted to learn more about Freud and got a small dose in this class. I like what I learned. His definition of ID and superego were fascinating. ID being that part of our sub-conscious that is self-serving, irrational, and impulsive. Superego is the judge, the conscience. The ego is the practical conscious part of our minds that make the executive decisions and prevents our ID from taking over. I feel like my ID has actually killed my superego and is struggling for dominance with my ego. Up until now, my superego has ruled my life. I don’t want it around anymore. Jiminy Cricket is dead!

Freud also showed me that I have an oral fixation. Which means at some point in my first year of life I was overfed or frustrated. Adult oral expressions can include gum chewing, nail biting, smoking, kissing, overeating/overdrinking, gullibility, biting, and sarcasm. It was Freud’s response to the question of whether he was orally fixated–hence the always present cigar–that led him to say, “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.” He smoked up to twenty of them a day and died of throat cancer.

So the term ends and I await another. I have discovered an interesting new therapy I am trying out. More on that later…

Faith Verses Reason: A mutual necessity

Today’s post was written by my husband. I thought the subject appropriate and post it here with his permission. A complete Bibliography can be provided upon request.

Faith verses reason is the eternal struggle to find out who we are and where we came from and sadly, it seems, might be a debate that might never be fully settled. It is never a comfortable thing to doubt one’s faith. Nor is it convenient to question reason in the face of evidence. For it is distinctly human to have faith or to reason out a thing. To change one’s belief or alter one’s opinion because of truth does not exist in any living thing but the Homo-Sapiens. Perhaps we can assume that the two go hand in hand, that they complement one another. It all depends on who we ask, how we were raised and what we believe.

What is reason? In his speech “Reason and Faith: A Lenten Reflection” by Pierre Manent the Professor defines reason this way: “Reason, one might say, is what allows us to link sight to touch.” (page 84) But then, almost in contradiction he says: “We can even see what does not exist, since we can imagine it.” (Page 84) This comment begs the question: can we always believe what we see? Reason, it seems, can be relative.

The bible has its own definition of faith. At Hebrews 11:1 we read: Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”(New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Page 1438) The word “faith” once defined someone who was loyal and trustworthy, a faithful friend. But with the advent of Christianity the meaning was, over time, changed to something like the scripture quoted above. Jesus himself even encouraged the kind of faith that would in other situations be laughed at. At John 20:29 we read: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet shall believe.” Here Jesus was speaking to the Apostle Thomas after his resurrection. Except for those present in that room two-thousand years ago, how could anyone really know if this exchange really happened? Faith, it seems can also be relative.

Just before his death Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this question:”What is truth?” Pilate did not wait for an answer. Though that question was asked two millenniums ago it was hardly the first time humans have uttered those words and it certainly was not the last. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and many other great thinkers of the ages of men have struggled with the concept of truth since the dawn of time.

The scripture in Hebrews shows us that faith in itself is immobile; it is a concept based on hope. Faith tells us we must wait on God. We might think that God has left us to our own devices. Unlike the Mosaic Law of the Jewish people, Christianity requires more faith. The Mosaic Law was spelled out to the very last detail and enforced by God himself. If one was an ancient Israelite one did not have to guess at God’s existence–he knew. Therefore it was a law. The Christian faith is based on hoping things will happen even though there is no evidence it ever will.

It would seem that if we chase after truth, be it based on reason or faith we are chasing after the wind. After all, truth is itself relative. Pilate’s questionWhat is truth?” is not one that can readily be answered. How many books have been written about “reason”? How many about “faith”? How many have held the real truth?

The Concept of Reason and Faith

Reason asks us to question everything. It asks the believer to come forth with evidence about what he believes. “Where is your evidence?” reason asks, “Where is your truth?” Faith on the other hand asks reason when it will stop questioning and accept something as truth? Can one really spend eternity trying to prove every little point and ever find the truth? Does this mean that truth is unverifiable?

Faith, I believe, is very important. But one must temper it with reason. The two are not mutually exclusive. Blind faith is not reasonable–conversely, reasonable faith should not be blind. Science is ever changing. What we knew fifty years ago is often no longer the case. It is reasonable then to have faith that the science is correct, that the proof is believable…for now anyway.

A person must be careful not to confuse reason with faith or vice-versa, but the key is to learn how to make them work together. Two heads are better than one. Is it reasonable to ask whether or not one should put faith in something? At John 17:3 it is said that everlasting life is dependent on “Taking in Knowledge”. Why? Did Jesus recognize that one could not have faith in something without something to reason on? Can we come to the conclusion then that faith without reason is useless? I think so.

I believe that faith without reason cannot understand what it has faith in, and reason without faith cannot understand why it exists. The why is very important. Why do we love? Why do some give up their very lives based on the things they have faith in? Why do we form friendships? Why do we want to believe in God? And if this life is all there is, then why does any of this matter? These questions cannot be answered unless one uses the power of reason tempered with faith. Why?  Because there are two questions that need to be answered: what and why. What do I have faith in: Fill in the blank; why do I have faith: logical reason.

Why?  We use our senses to gather evidence and use reasoning to decipher it and draw a conclusion. Sometimes it is hard to define evidence that is not encountered by our senses. That is where we must reason whether or not something deserves faith. These things can be rather personal. That is why it is said that truth is relative.

In his speech Professor Manent concludes by saying “Reason, which questions, does not always listen to the answer; but the believer who believes he has the answer often has not listened to the question. The rationalist and the believer do not limp on the same foot. Thus they sustain each other, despite everything, and our limping species makes its way towards truth.(Page 86)

I think the illustration of two people limping on different feet supporting one another to a common goal is a very apt one indeed. It correctly describes how we need to moderately use both faith and reason to make decisions in life. That is how we may find truth, at least our truth.  Oscar Wilde said “that the truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Two heads are better than one.

In my own journey through life I have found that the older I get the less I understand. I heard my father say this and I am only now beginning to understand what he meant by that phrase. I have found my faith shaken, not by God, but by man. I did not use reason like I should have and now I find I am paying the price. Everything I thought I knew I am slowly debunking and throwing unceremoniously out the window. I find now that I need more than just blind faith. I need more than just “Because I said so.” I still believe in God, I just don’t believe in faith without reason anymore–my mistake.

“You never find yourself until you face the truth”, Pearl Bailey said. I am finding that out now after all this time. Reason and faith together are a formidable duo if used properly. I cannot say that I will always do so but it is reasonable to say I will try and I have faith in myself that I will overcome the habits of extreme naivety.

In his review of “Reason and the Reasons of Faith,” edited by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hutter. David Trenery points out: “The starting-point of this book is the perception of a double crisis. On the one hand, there is a crisis in theological confidence in reason as a means of disclosing the nature of the reality presupposed by a belief in Christian doctrine. This crisis of

the application of reason to faith in theology is paralleled by a crisis of faith in reason

in philosophy”(Reason and the Reasons of Faith, David Trenery page 1).

Trenery shows how people cannot seem to grasp the relevance of using both faith and reason in tandem to come to their own conclusions about life, God, relationships, etc. It seems mixing religion and philosophy is like mixing oil and water–it never works. Because all things are relative though, we can make it work on a personal level. We just have to reason out what is best for ourselves and have faith we can make it happen, not forgetting the scripture that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). You get out of something what you put into it. In his review of “Reasonable Faith,” by John Haldane. Ryan T. Anderson quotes the author: “In his 2004 book Faithful Reason, “John Haldane noted ‘without qualification’ that throughout his training in analytic philosophy he never felt any tension between faith and reason. He went on to add that ‘my faith seems reasonable and my reason faithful.’”  Maybe that’s all we can expect. Maybe that’s about as close to settling the debate as we will ever get. Faith, reason and truth are all relative and the paths we choose and the journeys we take make them personal. Being reasonable and keeping the faith can be a struggle in this world, but all we can do is try, think, and hope.

 

Armageddon Postponed

“End-Times”, “Last Days”, “Armageddon”, “Rapture” are various beliefs that fall under the study of Eschatology. Eschatology is derived from the Greek terms eschatos meaning last or final and logos meaning word or study. It is therefore the study or word of last things (Bell 1). The term was coined in 1844 and its year of birth is significant. The year 1844 was when William Miller predicted the end of the world. He was not the first nor is he the last to make such predictions, but his assertions impacted tens of thousands of lives and we still feel its effects today. Eschatological, or Apocalyptic, belief is harmful and disrupts people’s lives resulting in resentment, disappointment, and life altering choices that would not have been made without the conviction that the “end” was imminent.

The years (A.D.) 666, 1033, 1260, 1284, 1492, 1496, 1524, 1588, 1656, 1666, 1700, 1789, 1800, 1844, 1914, 1925, 1975, 2000, and 2012 all have something in common. They were and are years proclaimed to be the time when Christ would cleanse the earth of sinners and his thousand year reign would begin. (Belief in the Millennial Reign is called Millennialism and those who believe in it are knows as Millenarians.) Mark Kingwell in his book Dreams of Millennium noted that while “not all the militant prophets have been Christian…millennialism has proved more popular with Christians than with people of other religious persuasions” (Kingwell 47); for this reason I will primarily focus on Christianity in this paper.

Reasons for Faith

There have been many reasons why people have declared a certain time “The Last Days”. The years 666 and 1666 A.D. are self explanatory as having the Mark of the Beast of Revelation (Revelation 13:18). Other years were preceded by famine, plague, fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, political coups, or simply the harbinger of another century. The reason such events inspire millenarian zeal is because the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate signs Jesus gave which we could recognize on earth as the sign of his arrival. These were: “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another” (New World Translation Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:10, 11). Ever since those words were uttered, Christians have imagined themselves living in the “Last Days”, believing their specific lifetime particularly unique. Such ones find comfort in the belief that they and their time will see “the end”. To believe in rapture or some other form of deliverance enables Christians to imagine they can cheat death. They never have to watch loved ones die, or worry about their own mortality–hence, the reason every generation wants to be the one to witness Armageddon. On careful examination such reasoning appears rather self-serving. However, when faith and religious affiliation are based entirely on future rewards, worship tends to focus almost exclusively upon such things rather than the love and devotion we are told to feel. Such a single minded focus only creates disillusionment when predictions fail.

There are also other aspects of an apocalyptic fervor which will always provide plenty of adherents. According to the aforementioned author “the Jews and Christians predict the end of this benighted world, and the beginning of the next one, as a way of coping with their very real slavery. In these tales there is always, then, a chosen people who are beset by some complex of misfortunes, usually combining the political and the natural” (Kingwell 30). Judaism and Christianity have certainly had their share of persecution which makes the appeal for deliverance all the more appealing. Yet, one could wonder how much of their slavery and persecution is a direct result of their apocalyptic approach to life.

Millerites

The 1800’s seemed to have the lion’s share of failed predictions so let’s start then with William Miller. Mr. Miller was not a preacher but a military man. Yet, he did extensive research and thought he found the day when Armageddon would occur. He traveled widely and spoke extensively. His prediction, October 22, 1844, was anticipated by tens of thousands. How did they display their faith in Miller’s date? They “forsook family, friends, and beliefs to await this glorious arrival. Many gave away or sold land and possessions which they were quite convinced they wouldn’t be needing any longer” (Wimer 3). As dawn ascended on October 23rd, Miller lost his credibility and his followers. This time came to be known as The Great Disappointment:

Humiliations and hardships befell those who bought into the teachings of William Miller. In addition to shattered lives, lost homes and possessions, they were frequently scorned and ridiculed by others and in some cases even beset with violence. A Millerite church was burned in Ithaca and two vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. (Wimer 4)

These Millenarians not only received a great deal of persecution from their confounded neighbors but also brought a lot on themselves by cutting off all ties from a world they believed was passing away. Their faith was so complete they burned all bridges and lived to regret it. Creating such exclusivity offends those on the outside. To cut oneself off from society in general, in preparation for an apocalypse, indicates the rest of humanity isn’t going to make it. Only those exclusive adherents to the dictates of the current prophet can hope for deliverance. This creates anger and resentment among those on the outside, bringing persecution upon the ones arrogant enough to believe they are in sole command of the truth.

Millerites faded into obscurity, but William Miller’s conviction could not disappear. His teachings significantly influenced the foundation of the Advent Christian Church, which later splintered into such sub-groups as the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even the Branch Davidians. These groups have continued to set dates for doom and millions of their followers have been impacted—sometimes to the cost of their lives (Kingwell 49).

Costly Faith

Imagine from birth, being told we will never die. We will never grow old. Disease or unhealthy decisions need not be a primary concern, for this life is passing away. Don’t get married or have children, they will only distract from total devotion to God. Millions on earth today have heard these exact words and still believe them. Such a life-altering set of beliefs oftentimes results in wasted lives. Children are pulled out of school so they can serve God before Armageddon resulting in a lifetime of struggle and low socio-economic status when Armageddon delays. People, like the Millerites, who sell all they have to serve more fully only to reach retirement age and have nothing to live on. Young adults encouraged to avoid higher-education for the spiritual damage it may cause. Now imagine approaching death. Sickness and disease push us toward our mortal end. But we were told we would never see death! How frightening! How disheartening! How disillusioning:

This belief, called the ‘Ur Delusions’ (Masserman, 324-333) is, in essence, the denial of the eventual reality that one will, someday, die. Observers who work with a large number of chronically ill and terminally ill cases find that patients with a belief in an afterlife tend to fare much better. Conditions which reduce the Ur Delusion tend to be associated with rising suicide rate (thus suicide is quite high among the retired, those over 65, and the widowed, and those who have recently experienced the death of a loved one, shocking their sensibilities to this reality). (Montaue 137)

This leads us to the next bi-product of apocalyptic delusion: psychological damage. Millenarian groups are typically isolationists. Their beliefs have a tendency to compartmentalize them and even teach exclusive association. This creates a “high level of fear anxiety, severe neuroticism, introversion and/or social isolation tendencies” (Bergman 4).With the viewpoint that this life is only temporary, higher education is not only not encouraged it is highly discouraged. There are few university professors among millennial adherents. In fact, there are few high school graduates. This contributes to a naiveté amongst the followers that guarantee total reliance and acceptance without question (Montaue 141). However, as time goes by, these faithful adherents lose satisfaction in their menial, blue-collar jobs. With years of service behind them and a fading faith in a future deliverance, they begin to question. Worries over retirement or social security never touched them in the past—but suddenly they do. These ones, who were told they would never graduate from High School, are facing middle-age, their children are graduating from High School, and the parents they thought would never die are doing just that. Time-tables are shifting, interpretations are being reinterpreted. Faith begins to falter as explanations for the delay fall short.

But it is not as easy as that. As doubt sets in and faith falters, panic rears its ugly head. Imagine having a future that has always been a part of life being snatched away. It’s like being set adrift without a life preserver. To realize everything in life has been misdirected is not only terrifying but traumatic. Add to the internal trauma, the possibility of losing all friends and family who still adhere to the old system of beliefs and it is easy to understand why “many suppress their doubts and continue in the same routine, true feelings hidden deep” (Bergman 10).

Certain ones of these apocalyptic groups have a strong evangelizing belief and send out all or some of their adherents to preach and warn their neighbors about the coming end. These laymen, although existing in an isolationist religion, are required to take the message to frequently hostile neighbors. Psychiatrists have found widespread incidence of “paranoid schizophrenia” among such ones due to the frontal attacks they are daily required to subject themselves to (Bergman 12).

Conclusion

Eschatology was coined in 1844, immediately after the Great Disappointment when William Miller predicted the end of times. The word comes from the Greek term eschatos which literally means farthest or last. It is used to identify all forms of theology that look to the second coming, Armageddon, the last judgment, resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world as we know it. My assertion is that it is unhealthy physically and mentally for people to live for a future event that keeps fading into the distance. It is tantamount to standing on a precipice, always afraid to move for fear of slipping off and losing the only chance at happiness. People postpone life always presuming if they make certain sacrifices now they will be paid abundantly in the “near” future. When death or sickness comes into such a life; questions, doubts, and resentment arise for a life half-lived. The very worst emotion one feels, however, is fear. Fear of the prospect that a lifelong goal may not exist. A life of self-sacrifice may have been for nothing. If one is unfortunate enough to realize this fallacy, the feeling of a life squandered is the result.

End of the world predictions create a mindset that is destructive. People, whose every decision is based on how it will affect their survival at Armageddon, live their life in fear, occupied by thoughts such as:

If we would like to take up a new hobby, better not. It will take away from the time that should be spent in the ministry or reading the Bible.

If we have a hungry mind; don’t read anything unless it is printed by the church for anything else could corrupt your mind and lend place for the Devil.

Everything in the world is there to tempt us away from God.

Be on guard at all times!

As soon as doubts start to occur, Satan has found place in the heart.

Everyone who follows their heart and neglects the specific tenets of the faith will die at Armageddon—forever.
Dying is not all we must fear, though. A change in ideation could result in the total alienation of family and friends. The loss of everything we have ever known and valued.

Don’t doubt! Don’t question! Accept as the only path to the real God.

Such viewpoints insure a regular following—until the emotional damage caused by the religion encompasses the fear of eternal death. Humankind cannot sacrifice everything—forever. There must be some rewards along the way, some freedoms to contribute to a happy, contented life. Living as alien residents is exhausting and emotionally taxing. Let the end come when it will—if it will. Only let us live our lives without fear. (Complete bibliography can be supplied upon request)

Imbolc

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I had my first pagan ceremony today! It was very interesting. A neighbor had lent me a book on Wicca, and while reading it I realized a very important day of the year was coming–Imbolc. Irish imbolc derives from the Old Irish i mbolg “in the belly”. This refers to the pregnancy of ewes. A medieval glossary etymologizes the term as oimelc “ewe’s milk”.  It marks the halfway point between the winter and spring equinoxes. Catholics call it Candelmas; North Americans call it Groundhog Day. Celts call it the Festival of St. Brigid (Brid). I decided to recognize the day in the traditional Celtic fashion–being Scotch-Irish and a redhead. Water and fire seemed to be the primary focus of the festival, so I collected 50 candles of various shades of red, white and green. Red being the color of the god, green the color of the goddess, and white the color of the ewes milk–which Brigid was bathed in upon her birth. I built an altar with candles of red and white, calla lilies (white), fragrant evergreens, chalices, a wand (borrowed from my neighbor), sea salt, a corn-husk doll representing Brigid, and melting ice within a womb-shaped trifle dish to signify winter melting into spring. It looked quite beautiful!

Five participated in the ceremony: my husband and I, my nephew, and our neighbor and her daughter. We read the mythologies surrounding the day and the significance of everything. Then said various blessings as we lit the last seven candles of red and white. Then we partook in Sabbat cakes (simple little cookies with a refreshing lemony taste), beer/mineral water, cheese, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Celtic music played in the background and everyone seemed to find the whole affair very soothing.

Afterward, as my neighbor and I sat outside on the chill evening by the bonfire we had built in honor of the occasion, I asked her what she thought of the ceremony. She said she thought it was beautiful and thanked me for including her. She went on to tell me how important God was to her. I asked her, “What do you mean God?” The foregoing ceremony would be labeled positively demonic by the adherents of my childhood religion. Did she mean a Christian God? Her answer? “God is…” That was it. God is not small enough to be sheltered within the tight confines of Christianity. “There is a reason for everything,” she said. “I cannot accept that life has no reason.” So, God is above and all spiritual pursuits  honor  him. A very comforting belief. But is it true? It would be nice if it was. I, however, was raised to believe in a God that had such exacting requirements that few, if any, could fulfill them. So, if her beliefs are true, tonights ceremony was genuinely spiritual and acceptable to God. If my beliefs were true, we are all  pretty much damned–in a strictly non-hellfire sort of way. How do I feel? When I erected the altar last night, I was alone as my husband was in a welding class. I remember thinking that my old beliefs would find such an altar an open invitation to demons. I didn’t feel anything. My house felt normal. The altar felt right. So, either my previous system of beliefs is wrong, or I am so far gone my conscience  has been “marked as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2).  What do you think? Is God in all systems of beliefs or just one?

Blog Objective

Hello all! This is my personal perspective on all things faith-related. I have read the Bible numerous times and studied theology my whole life. I have recently decided to embark on my own journey for faith–apart from the faith I was raised with. I was raised in a conservative, non-fundamental, Christian faith. I want to answer such questions as: Does God exist? What kind of god is God–vengeful and judgmental or loving and approachable? What is Truth? Is there Truth? Is faith dead or dying? etc. I welcome and encourage input from others. Welcome to my blog, I hope you find it comfortable.

Published in: on February 3, 2011 at 10:11 p02  Leave a Comment  
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