22 May 2011

Sympathy for the True Believers

Religious 38 Comments

On Facebook I just made my profile: “Robert Murphy wants to point out that technically, the rapture people haven’t been proven wrong. There could have been a guy in Malaysia who disappeared yesterday but nobody’s noticed yet.”

After doing so, I felt a twinge of regret because I saw a lot of other people were piling on as well.

I don’t have anything too profound to say in the present post except that I don’t feel smug with respect to these folks, I feel sympathy. I had an experience back in September last year where I was really really sure something was going to happen after a lot of prayer. Then it didn’t happen, and it really shook me.

As readers of this blog know, I still believe in God, but I am a lot more humble since that episode. (I don’t want to describe it because it would make little sense out of context. If and when I write my autobiography it will get a just treatment. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t that I heard a voice say something false, but I definitely had my faith shaken.)

On the one hand, I am more humble in my own confidence in the nature of God and His plan for the world. I thought I understood certain things back then, and no I did not.

On the other hand, I am not at all judgmental when I see other people go way out on a limb and then it blows up in their faces. I can sympathize with them thinking they have access to secret knowledge and in a sense it’s admirable that some of them (I’m talking about the rank and file, not the head honchos) made personal sacrifices and braved the insults because of what they believed. It’s just too bad that they fell for something that to the rest of us seemed patently absurd.

Last point: I am fully aware that the regular atheist/agnostic readers can have a field day now in the comments. Merry Christmas.

38 Responses to “Sympathy for the True Believers”

  1. Tel says:

    I have huge amounts of respect for crazy people who don’t want to take me with them.

    • yahya says:

      i think those guys are crazy too, but they did want to take the rest of us with them. thats why they were handing out flyers and trying to advertise everywhere

      • Tel says:

        OK, I’ll rephrase that.

        I have huge respect for crazy people who refrain from the use of threats, violence and skulduggery in their attempts to take me with them. I dream of a world where all crazy people would show such politeness. Hey, might as well think big huh?

  2. Sam says:

    Technically, unicorns could be roaming the earth even if you have never seen one.

  3. Michael J. Green says:

    I made the same comment to my roommate a few hours ago. Perhaps the Rapture did happen, but it turns out no one was worth Rapturing. And, so long as there continues to be natural disasters, war, genocide in the next few years, folks can maintain that May 21 was the day; it’s just that Armageddon is not as crazy bad as the Bible made it sound.

    It’s too bad. I was looking forward to the world in American Dad’s “Rapture’s Delight” episode.

  4. Joseph Fetz says:

    Don’t worry Bob, I am quite accepting of other people’s beliefs even if I personally don’t agree with them. While I did find the whole “rapture” thing this past weekend did seem a bit kooky (even crazy), I still declined to take the easy jab at them. As long as people respect my beliefs, I respect theirs.

    • Roger Ritthaler says:

      Shouldn’t one only “respect” rational beliefs? Pointing out the errors in beliefs could always be said to be “disrespecting” them.

  5. Daniel Kuehn says:

    One group that should be having a field day is Christians. If you felt you had some discernment in September and realized you wrong in that instance that’s a legitimate cause for disappointment, introspection, etc.

    The rapture I think is a different case. “You won’t know the day or the hour” isn’t very ambiguous. You presumably weren’t blatantly flaunting Scripture last September. These guys were. I’m comfortable piling on but don’t really feel the motivation to – I just think it’s all a little funny. Christians, however, have every reason to pile on and say “this is what happens when you blatantly disregard Scripture and then have the audacity to call it special knowledge of God”.

  6. R says:

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for you Mr. Murphy. When it comes to economics and politics you do some really great work and I commend you for that. However, this religious shit is annoying as shit, bro.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Bob, R is disturbed by your attempts to alert him to reality. Please stop!

  7. Sealander says:

    I’m impressed both that you had your faith shaken and with your openness about it. My question is, do you really think their faith has been shaken? I don’t. I will be much more surprised if these people do NOT pick a new date for the rapture than if they acquire a humbleness in either their conviction that there IS a supernatural creator or that THEY are the ones who know its will.

    Incidentally, I had the same thought about the rapture actually having occurred and no one noticing, but in my version it’s because absolutely no one was taken.

  8. Austro-Liberatarian says:

    Here is the post Bob made at the time:
    How Is God Like Obi Wan Kenobi?

  9. mobsrule says:

    For end of the world predictions that also didn’t come true there’s always Obama’s “science” advisor. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holdren under “early publications”

    Sniggering atheists should consider why 95% of the world is deeply religious and what less-satisfying body of belief they’ve kludged together instead.

    • RG says:

      What divided the deeply religious from the well I gotta go to church today religious? Was the amount of their deepyness measured in hectares or liters?

      • Joseph Fetz says:

        It was measured in Utils. 😉

    • Roger Ritthaler says:

      To what “kludged” – i.e., “clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem” (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kludge ) – “body of belief” are you referring?

      • Gene Callahan says:


    • TokyoTom says:

      Not just ‘sniggering atheists’, but sniggering Christians/Catholics/Jews/Muslims/Hindus/Buddhists/Mormons/Scientologists/you-name-it and other more or less ‘kludged religions as well:


  10. Hans Palmstierna says:

    It’s funny, I used to think that Christian faith was all nonsense. But after diving deeper into economics, philosophy and cultural history, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is actually a case to be made for being a Christian, and working for a return to a Christian society.

    With that said though, I cannot for the love of me believe the “religious” part. I find it utterly confusing how people can find importance in rites and rituals in any real way, above the possible symbolic value. I also find it intriguing that when people of certain religions read their holy texts “by the word”, they are considered extremists, by the same people who happily does the exact same thing with the Bible. I don’t believe for one second that everything written in the Bible is true, correctly interpreted, correctly translated or even correctly copied. Its a 2000 year old book for the love of Pete.

    But trying to say these things to the more religious Christians is as impossible as trying to argue with atheists about the moral/social/philosophical value of a christian society. But I do enjoy reading the occasional Christian reflection every now and then, at the very least to get a deeper understanding of how Christianity affects people.

    Another thing that is impossible for me to understand is the belief in God as some higher “entity”, or quasi-physical appearence. I mean, the Spaghetti Monster? Now, God as a projection or explanation of all that is good in Man and a volountary society, that is a concept of God I can understand. And the Bible read for its symbolism and lessons about how relations between humans work is all good. But I seriously think that the idea of some thing in the sky, or some invisible power that we do not understand is misplaced. I suppose this makes me a heretic, and even more so because I’m intent on reading the Bible forwards and backwards until I find out what the heck it all means, thereafter proclaiming myself a Christian (unless there is some communist devil in the details I will feel forced to admit)

    It’s a funny thing, arriving at the conclusion that you believe in some Christian virtues and understand the importance this faith has had in shaping the Western world, while simultaneously refusing to be “religious” in the usual sense of the word. But if I can become a philosophical Christian, then maybe others will as well, some day …..

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “What is relevant for our purpose is the destruction that Reason works when it is put to the interpretation of Christianity as the historical religion of Western civilization, and of equal importance will be the patterns of thought that emerge from this work of destruction.” — Eric Voegelin

  11. Sam says:

    I have a lot of judgement for the leaders who mislead people (like this guy who quit his job and gave away his money to FamilyRadio network). Harold Camping collected millions in donations, and I wonder if there’s any intention of refunding it now (doubt it)…

    • bobmurphy says:

      The one guy being interviewed was pretty cool, saying, “Nobody held a gun to my head, I read the Bible too and did all the calculations myself.”

  12. Maurizio Colucci says:

    If your faith was shaken, this means your beliefs are falsifiable after all. Can you imagine an event that would make you stop believing at all (in God, afterlife, etc)?

  13. Aristos says:

    There’s nothing wrong with having your faith shaken. It can happen to anyone. We cannot know God’s will, and that sometimes jars us from comfortable positions that we have staked in the assumption that we know God’s will at all times.

  14. judah says:

    technically you are wrong bob because people disappearing into heaven wasnt the only potential result of the rapture. there was supposed to be mass earthquakes acroos the world and that we can be sure didnt occur

  15. Anon says:

    “I had an experience back in September last year where I was really really sure something was going to happen after a lot of prayer. Then it didn’t happen, and it really shook me.”

    That’s the risk in holding empirically falsifiable beliefs. It’s a lot easier to go through life with beliefs that can never be put on the empirical chopping block, so to speak. Beliefs about the afterlife are safe and won’t get you into trouble. I think what must inevitably happen to the sincerely faithful is that they either get disillusioned at some point and lose faith or gradually stop focusing on testable beliefs and focus more on untestable ones. This allows them to get their warm-and-fuzzy fix while avoiding unwelcome reality shocks.

  16. Thomas L. Knapp says:

    Rather than criticize the Christian idea of the “rapture,” I’ll just criticize that dude’s understanding of it. Which part of “no man knows the hour of my coming” did he NOT get?

  17. RG says:

    Anyone that is not religious, hasn’t been in love or felt the utter despair of love lost or just hasn’t taken the right kind or amounts of good hard drugs

    What I find really strange is that people get upset about someone else not having a dot on their forehead, or not facing some obelisk 19.2 times a day, or not supporting the extension of blue laws. We all come from some sort of social situation that took us down similar, but unique, lifepaths and religious beliefs sometimes are as simple as showing love for your friends and family. Who gives a shit how Abdullah Ramierez-Johnson-Chang decides to honor his culture? Let him do it and leave him alone about it.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      “Who gives a shit how Abdullah Ramierez-Johnson-Chang decides to honor his culture?”

      Right on! And if that way happens to be cannibalism, well, mind your own business!

  18. Drew R says:

    RPM did back into the problem with inductive reasoning — i.e. the black swan problem. If an unknown, but small, number of people experience something, there’s no practical way to determine that it did not occur. Since a single instance would prove that the experience did occur, it is quite difficult to disprove the contrapositive, e.g. if anyone experienced it, the experience occurred. Just as a single instance of a black swan disproves the notion that all swans are white. Every swan you’ve even seen (thousands and thousands) can be white, but that does not prove that there are no black swans. You simply haven’t observed any. Subtle point RPM, but logical nonetheless.

    • Roger Ritthaler says:

      Well, in that case, perhaps the universe can be better explained by postulating the existence of multiple competing Gods. Since competition is great for economic affairs, why wouldn’t it be great for cosmic affairs?

  19. acjitsu says:

    @ Hans Palmstierna: You are spot on…. I too after reading many Austrian Economic books have come to some sort of……let’s call it a compromise on returning to a Christian based society. However, like yourself I find that a strict belief in the parables of the Bible or any other holy text is just plain delusional. My opinion is that people who know without a doubt that there is a God are just as arrogant as the atheists who believe there is no God. We won’t know, until we know….

  20. Roger Ritthaler says:

    > “I don’t want to describe it because it would make little sense out of context. If and when I write my autobiography it will get a just treatment.”

    Wait until you can spin it just right, huh? With that “out of context”, you’re sounding more like a politician. Give us that “context” and we’ll decide… and perhaps even comment on it.

    • Gene Callahan says:

      Yes, Bob. You don’t get to decide when to write up your deeply personal life experiences. Roger does.

  21. K Sralla says:

    Dear Bob,

    We don’t know each other, and I have no idea what is going on in your personal life. What I do want to do is encourage you. As our faith grows and matures, it will be rocked from time to time, and life will sometimes kick us in the teeth, and we wil be stunned and shocked at how silent God seems. All of us who have believed longer than a little while have been there. You already know all of this, but sometimes it’s good to hear it again for good measure.

    It happened to me when I was around 30 years old. My wife and I divorced, and i was left with two babies at home (and I had no idea how to take care of them), I was broke, did not know if i would be able to stay in my house, and about the same time my mother told me that my father was gay that that they were divorcing after nearly 40 years of marriage. I became hard and bitter, and doubted my faith.

    So here I was, 30 years old, all my dreams down the tubes, having lost everything that i worked for, with everything I thought I believed having been rocked to the core. A bad time in my life, and my childlike faith had suffered 1000 deaths.

    It just got worse and worse after that for sometime. But in the middle of this, one thing that happened was that through deep suffering, I was humbled and broken. Then something amazing then began to happen. A little at first, then more later. At night, i began going into the bedroom next to my children and praying a simple prayer out of sheer desparation. “God, protect these kids and help me be a good dad” Would you send a special angel to watch over and protect us.” That sounds ignorant for an educated person to pray something like this. But in the midst of the prayers, little by little, the hardness and bitterness began to melt away, and I sensed love and compassion for others flood into my soul like never before. People began to notice that I was different. Through this, God began to become real for me again, and after some time, his love seemed tanglible and closer than ever. Somewhere deep in my mind, there was truth that I learned, but it was much greater than any words could express, or that anyone else might understand. I could not write it down if i wanted to since the understanding was beyond words.

    That truth involved an understanding of God’s HOLINESS, SOVEREIGNTY, and GRACE. I have never forgotten this, and I don’t think I ever will. I was changed.

    God does have plan for the world and you individually, but it is his plan and not ours. A good friend told me this saying that I think expresses something true. “The Lord’s will is not so much something we seek after, but something that we must submit to.” At first, that sounded awful. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense experientially.

    I say all of this in the hope that maybe you can take encouragement that God promises never to leave nor foresake his adopted children. If you love Jesus even a little bit somewhere deep down, that is all it takes to show that you are one of his, purchased by his blood, and adopted as a Son and heir of the Kingdom of God.

    Hang in there my friend! You are doing great work, and your standing up for the faith in a world where it is not popular to do this is inspiring. My prayers are with you.

  22. TokyoTom says:

    “And there is no doubt that we are all here for a reason. You can either embrace it or fight it, but you can’t get off the rollercoaster. You might as well throw up your hands and yell with joy.”

    Bob, you are a joy. Thanks for doing your best to share the rollercoaster, rather than pushing people off, as some are wont to do.