Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Gays and The End of the World

My former employer Harold Camping, a UC Berkeley graduate in civil engineering who sold his construction business and retired early so he could devote his life to studying the Bible and sharing the gospel, is predicting the world will end on May 21, 2011. Unlike many religious leaders who preach a prosperity gospel or claim that Jesus would have wanted us to invade Iraq, two messages that I believe are contrary to what Jesus taught, Harold, a lay preacher who lacks any formal training in theology and is proud of that fact, lives humbly, does not take a salary, drives the same brown pickup truck he's driven for many years, and usually tries to distance his religious non-profit, Family Radio, from political questions like what candidates and issues you should support and vote for. One thing he's done recently, though, that worries me a bit, is Harold has started to claim that the gay rights movement, and social acknowledgement of homosexuality in human society, is a sign that the world is becoming the embodiment of wickedness, and since God cannot stand the sight of uncleanliness, He will soon destroy us all, much like wiping dirt off the floor. Now, I no longer work for Harold, so I no longer have a vested interest in obeying the political instinct we all have of trying to please the man who signs our paychecks, but you have to give the guy credit for being bold enough to stake his reputation on something he insists, very authoritatively, "absolutely will happen"; this new behavior of his, where Harold says that the increasing political and social acceptance of homosexuals openly serving in the military and as religious leaders somehow is a sign that the world will end soon, is troubling to me, and reeks of desperation:

It's almost as if Harold is grabbing at straws, trying to pander to an ugly theme in popular religion of bigotry, in an effort to rally the troops, who would otherwise question why none of the other foretold signs of judgment day and world destruction are literally happening, such as the sun and the moon turning dark, and the stars falling from the sky.

Harold Camping's moment of truth will come in a few days, no matter what. Either the end of the world will ruin your Saturday, May 21st, at 6pm standard time, or there will be no great earthquakes, nor bodies of true believers flying out of their graves to meet up with Jesus Christ in Heaven. If it's all business as usual, then Harold will have some explaining to do.

The matter of Armageddon Day aside, when I was last there, Family Stations Incorporated was taking in approximately $15 million in donations every year. If you ever wanted to start your own religion, here's what the Economist has to say:
FANCY founding a religion? Keen to reform a flagging faith? Here a few tips on how to attract and retain followers, thus ensuring that your gospel spreads far and wide, affording spiritual solace to as many souls as possible.

At the outset, you must realise that success is unlikely if you go wholly against the grain of human nature. Granted, religion is all about forging the perfect man, or at least ensuring that, as far as possible, he lives up to divine expectations. But preternatural power has forged man in such a way that he will swallow some of your ideas about how to achieve this more easily than others.
As in the case of states, your principal concern is to encourage co-operation among your flock. In the long run, groups that co-operate more have an advantage over those whose members are less willing to do so. This also means limiting the number of actual and potential shirkers. People, it seems, are naturally inclined to do this anyway, but you can egg them on with a few simple tricks.

First, you are better off plumping for a personal god, rather than some sort of indeterminate life force. Research shows that people who profess a belief in such a deity judge moral transgressions more harshly, which in turn tends to make them more willing to abide by the rules, and expend resources on enforcing them. This may be down to a conviction that they are being incessantly watched over by an attentive minder, who tallies their contributions (or lack thereof) and rewards (or punishments) in a cosmic ledger. Speaking of which, incorporating the idea of just deserts is a fine plan, too. Apparently, people are born with an intuition to that effect. Just remember to keep the misfortunes visited on wrongdoers commensurate with their misdeeds. Otherwise people will think it unfair and won't buy it. No fire and brimstone for littering, and suchlike.

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