May 21st, 2011 has now come and gone, leaving everyone predictably un-raptured. The response from the Harold Camping was almost exactly what Richard Dawkins predicted in the Washington Post.
I don’t know where he gets the money, but it would be no surprise to discover that it is contributed by gullible followers – gullible enough, we may guess, to go along with him when he will inevitably explain, on May 22nd, that there must have been some error in the calculation, the rapture is postponed too . . . and please send more money to pay for updated billboards.
That’s close enough to Camping’s response after his none event. However, what intrigued me most about Dawkins’ comments was this.
In our case, as the distinguished astronomer and former president of the Royal Society Martin Rees has conjectured, extinction is likely to be self-inflicted. Destructive technology becomes more powerful by the decade, and there is an ever-increasing danger that it will fall into the hands of some holy fool (Ian McEwan’s memorable phrase) whose ‘tradition’ glorifies death and longs for the hereafter: a ‘tradition’ which, not content with forecasting the end of the world, actively seeks to bring it about.
There’s a term for that – it’s called self-fulfilling prophecy. There’s nothing mystical about self-fulfilling prophecy, because it requires 100% human intervention. If a person or group of people talk about and believe in a prophecy long enough, they will build a false reality around it. For example, if the existence of Israel is key to the continued validity of scriptures and prophecy, the powers that be will do whatever they can to fulfill its pre-ordained destiny.
Self-fulfilling prophecy is intriguing, because it perpetuates irrational and illogical world views. It also, ever so subtlety, preserves sacred beliefs and enables global events and decisions that otherwise wouldn’t occur. And in the worst case scenario, as Dawkins’ expressed, it may be the thing that instigates our own extinction event.