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Jennifer Ketcham

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Can "True Believers" Sue Harold Camping?

Posted: 05/23/11 02:09 PM ET

May 21st was Judgment Day and for most human beings, excluding Harold Camping, the 24- to 36-hour period came and went without a hitch. There were no destructive earthquakes, as predicted by the ever-extrapolating, Twitter/Internet/media-savvy Camping. Euro-American Evangelical pastor John S. Torell said Camping already had an "Oops, I'm wrong" speech ready, claiming, "he has already prepared a defense to explain to the radio listeners that he was not wrong, but that God has heard all the prayers and seen the repentance of people, and in His mercy has postponed the judgment."

Claiming Camping knew he was "wrong" -- a.k.a. lying -- is a big deal because Harold Camping made some fairly serious claims when he started talking about Judgment Day, suggesting that "True Believers" donate or prepare for the End of Days. Some dipped into their retirement funds, like Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent $140,000 to post billboards advertising for the Day across the nation. Some, like Keith Bauer, drove their families across country in pursuit of devout faith. And now, as a result of Camping's claim, suicide hotlines have been set up to help those True Believers who've had their faith pummeled by Camping's faulty predictions. The likelihood of someone in dire need calling these hotlines strikes me as slim because the majority of those willing to take the steps required to follow through with Camping's predictions are most likely suffering from cognitive dissonance, which requires a step-by-step justification of actions they would have previously not been able to justify. I have two perfect examples.

As defined by Wikipedia (and my community college's Psych 1 textbook), cognitive dissonance is a theory that hypothesizes on the uncomfortable feeling we get when we hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously. It's proposed that we have a drive to reduce this "dissonance" and as a result are more willing to change our beliefs, attitudes, boundaries, etc.

Example 1: Porn

When I first got in the business, I said, "I'll never do guys." But then I enjoyed the money coming in and became more okay with doing solo pictures, so I justified doing scenes with girls because girls weren't guys. Then, the "girls aren't guys" belief changed to, "Well, I'm not doing gang-bangs!" Slowly, over the eight years I spent in the adult business, I made justification after justification to take my "performance" to the next level because of small excuses that made the entire picture excusable, all the while remembering that I originally said, "I'll never do guys."

Example 2: James Warren Jones

When James Warren Jones, better known as "Jim Jones," started doing his thing, he took special care to welcome all those interested in participating in his People's Temple slash "Rainbow Family." He preached about integration, adopted racially diverse children, and as a forward-thinking person, it would be easy to join a church that practiced these principles. However, with each step a member took with Jones, they invested a small part of their self (and finances), and with each step it became more and more difficult to leave. I will personally guarantee that no person involved in the mass suicide would have guessed that they'd sell their homes and move to Jonestown, Guyana, let alone take his/her own life. They made small justifications along the way, and each justification dug a deeper hole than before. Soon, the only way to prove they were true believers in what Jones preached, whether or not it was about God, was to do exactly as he said. Nobody joins a cult in just one day, it takes a ton of tiny steps. If Jones had lived, however, wouldn't we -- sue-happy Americans -- charge him with something?

Shouldn't we be asking the same thing about Harold Camping? I mean, I understand that his "predictions" were protected under the First Amendment, which is like, super duper important, but what about a civil suit? What about those people that gave their life savings because they were willing to put their faith in Camping, whom they saw as a direct line from God? What about that guy that uprooted his family and brought them across the country? Is there no justice for these faith-oriented people who wanted nothing more than to be vindicated in their beliefs? This man has preyed on the beliefs of faithful men, and while I am neither Christian nor Catholic, I am down with Carl Rogers and a humanistic approach to life. I believe these people have been wronged by an old man who should know better than to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. And I believe Harold Camping, a quintessential false prophet, knew perfectly well there would be no fire.

 

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