Michael Wolraich's picture

    After the Rapture, Cognitive Dissonance Will Strike

    Saturday, May 21, 2011: Judgment Day

    At least that's what Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping has predicted. According to Camping, the Rapture will occur at 9pm ET / 6pm PT. For those who are rusty on their Biblical prophesies, that means that all the good Christians will rise directly to Heaven, body and all. The rest of us schmucks will stick around on Earth for a few months to suffer the horrible tribulations that precede the Apocalypse--earthquakes, plagues, war, and the finale of The Glenn Beck Show.

    Sadly, Camping's nonsense seems to have seduced at least a few believers, some of whom have quit their jobs, squandered their life savings, fought with their loved ones, and even arranged to euthanize their pets.

    You might wonder what these people will do once they fail to ascend directly to Heaven on Saturday night. Conventional wisdom has it that they will react with rage and despair, resulting in suicide, loss of faith, and anger at the charlatan who deceived them.

    But conventional wisdom is wrong.

    In 1954, a team of undercover psychologists infiltrated a UFO cult led by a Dorothy Martin, a Michigan housewife who claimed to be able to communicate with aliens from the planet Clarion. The aliens warned her that a massive flood would submerge much of the continental United States on December 21, 1954.

    One of the psychologists, Leon Festinger, had a theory about what would happen to that cult if the prophesied flood failed to materialize. Festinger had observed that when doomsday predictions of historical religious cults proved mistaken, the fervor of the members actually increased, and they began proselytizing aggressively, leading to rapid growth of the movement.

    "The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before," Festinger wrote. "Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view."

    There was no apocalyptic flood in 1954, of course, and the UFO cult behaved exactly as Festinger had predicted. While Dorothy Martin had previously shunned journalists and welcomed new members with caution, she suddenly went on a public relations blitz, inviting anyone who inquired into her home to be proselytized. While a few cult members dropped out, most became more fervent than ever and joined Martin in proselytizing.

    Festinger called the psychological condition that led to the escalated passion cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two inconsistent opinions or beliefs at the same time. For example, a smoker's knowledge that smoking is unhealthy conflicts with his awareness that he keeps on smoking anyway. Similarly, the UFO cultists' belief that their leader communicated with an advanced alien race from Clarion conflicted with the undeniable fact that the United States did not suffer from the massive flood that the aliens had predicted.

    According to Festinger, the condition of cognitive dissonance produces significant psychological discomfort, and the mind generally feels pressure to reduce or eliminate the contradiction. One obvious way to do that is to reject one element of the dissonance. A smoker, for example, could quit smoking. But as millions of smokers can attest, that's not always easy to do. Likewise, most of the UFO cultists had profoundly committed themselves to the alien prophecy. They had quit their jobs, exhausted their savings, and repeatedly warned their skeptical families and friends of the impending disaster.

    Shrugging their shoulders and admitting their error would not have been easy. One cultist disconsolately whimpered in the despairing hours after midnight on the day of the prophecy, "I've given up just about everything. I've cut every tie: I've burned every bridge. I've turned my back on the world. I can't afford to doubt. I have to believe."

    An alternative mechanism for relieving the psychological pressure is to rationalize some resolution to the dissonance. Millions of smokers, for example, say they plan to quit in the near future. Many also underestimate the number of cigarettes they smoke, and some even find reasons to doubt the well-established health risks.

    Similarly, at 4:45 a.m. on December 22, 1954, Dorothy Martin received a message from God that in light of the righteousness of her little Michigan crew, He had decided to spare the earth from the massive flood. Martin's jubilant followers enthusiastically embraced the explanation, and the next day, they alerted the press that the country had been saved.

    Festinger theorized that rationalization can somewhat reduce cognitive dissonance but that for it to be fully effective, people need others to ratify the rationalization. Thus, members of the UFO cult relied on each other to bolster their confidence in the new explanation for the nation's miraculous salvation. But in the case of severe dissonance, even the affirmation of a few peers may not be sufficient to relieve the psychological pressure. To truly assure themselves of the validity of their rationalization, people may feel the need to persuade a wider audience.

    As Festinger explained:

    If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct. Consider the extreme case: if everyone in the whole world believed something there would be no question at all as to the validity of this belief. It is for this reason that we observe the increase in proselyting following disconfirmation. If the proselyting proves successful, then by gathering more adherents and effectively surrounding himself with supporters, the believer reduces dissonance to the point where he can live with it.

    So when the Rapture fizzles on Saturday night, don't expect the believers to cry bitter tears and denounce their prophet. Harold Camping will come up with a rationalization for the error, just as he did the last time his predictions of Judgment Day didn't pan out. Those who have sacrificed so much because of his prophesies will eagerly swallow his explanation, for believing is far easier than admitting they were wrong. And to assure themselves of their convictions, they will likely seek to persuade as many people as possible of the righteousness and the wisdom of one Harold Camping.

    The article includes excerpts from my book Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (by permission of the author).



    And to assure themselves of their convictions, they will likely seek to persuade as many people as possible of the righteousness and the wisdom of one Harold Camping.

    Just like Hitler and Stalin and every other bozo nut job. One wonders though, how meaningless and empty their lives and self worth must be to hold onto such beliefs with such a...ahumm..deaths grip.

    I think the point Festinger's theory is that this reaction to failed prophesies is very human. The folks are not "nut jobs" in any clinical sense, and we all practice cognitive dissonance to an extent. If these people have gone further than most of us, it was in giving themselves fully to the prophesy in the first place. But even ordinary people join cults.

    Incidentally think that real analogy here, which Festinger leaves unspoken, is the "cult" of Jesus Christ. After all, his devoted followers believed that he was the Messiah, so when he died on the cross, it undoubtedly created some pretty severe cognitive dissonance. In response, they came up with a rationalization--that Jesus had died for their sins and would return again--and they went on a proselytizing spree to assure themselves that they were right. The folks who fell for Camping's prophesy are just their spiritual descendants.

    Kind of reminds of a SciFi story I read many years ago in my youth. Where this man whose life was going absolutely nowhere got a message that if he would show up at this old barn miles out of town, he would be transported to a different planet.  He was to wait there and all would be reveled.

    He went to the barn there were already a few people there waiting. All had received the same message. But they had to wait and they all had just this one chance.   they all sat there on some old benches. A middle aged lady who had never married, stuck in a dead end job. A older gentleman who was retired but had no family left. A could of others in a similar situation. They waited and waited.

    This fellow then began to think it was all just another ruse. After a couple of hours he decided to leave and then got up and walked out of the barn.  Almost ot his car, he stopped and turned around and went back into the barn. All the others were gone and he was alone.


    So in other words and attempt to educate a complete fool only results in making them even bigger fools.

    Which leaves two distinct choices. Either give them all frontal lobotomies and put them to work as menial laborers or pack them all off in a B Ark that is programmed to crash into some planet.

    I really did not pay much attention to the stories that the rapture was imminent because, well, there always seems to be one.  Not so sure now.   There is just so much mockery.   I am becoming wary because of the universe's penchant for cosmic jokes.  I even googled to see what known near-earth objects are hovering around.  :D


    Almost forgot, the vogons approach so "So long and thanks for all the fish."

    ARG !!!!!!!

    Thanks for this, Genghis.  My first, natural reaction is to laugh at the adherents of this cult, but as your article makes clear, the impulse to find justifications for one's own rightness, and to find excuses to continue behavior that we've chosen and thus must, on some level, find pleasurable, is immense.  I'm humbled when I think to how often I've irrationally chosen to believe contrarian things told to me by people...  Humans deal with the reality and finality of our own freedom by trying to seek affirmation our choices.  That's a very powerful drive.

    Okay, so you are promising I do not have to listen to beckerhead ever again?

    Well then I am all for it!

    I think Beck will be left behind to speak in tongues. Which he pretty much does right now anyway.

    By the way... one thing I respect about tomorrow's apocalypse is the perfect financial scamminess of it all.  The Church behind it has, according to their tax filings, spent a great deal of the $70 million its raised on media buys related to its stated mission of informing people about tomorrow's end of the world.

    So, all the money it's collected was collected legally, even by the stricter standard of law that governs non-profits.

    Very annoying that this, of all things, is legal, while having a non-profit that endorses political candidates or even makes overt political statements, is not.

    The "church" is an infowars program.  You're being as gullible as the people you're describing if you think otherwise.

    Anyone still there?

    Guess I'd been holding out hope that I was one of the chosen ones, being as my best chance to get to space now that the shuttles are being phased out.

    Interesting stuff, indeed.  As pointed out, we all experience cognitive dissonance and deal with it a variety of ways.  Probably the one we all definitely share is the cognitive dissonance that arise with our knowledge of our own mortality and the knowledge of how we sometimes choose to spend that limited time here on earth.  There is also the cognitive dissonance that arise from knowing about these folks and knowing that they are humans just like us.  This is a similiar dissonance that arose when people tried to understand how the German people could have supported the Nazis - and by extension how one's own nation could have done the same thing. 

    It also makes me think of Obey's blog about Henry Markram, Through the Looking Glass, and the efforts to produce a functioning man-made human mind by 2023.  It is the mental backflips we do to reduce anxiety caused by the dissonance (and Piget's disequilibrium) that is one of the most fascinating things about the human mind.  Just what is happening here when the neurons fire in an effort to relieve its felts turmoil.

    And I also thinking about Keat's notion of negative capability - "when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason".  The ability to write and appreciate some poetry is made possible because the mind does not have to resolve the dissonance, so to say. 

    Need to ponder this a little more.

    Not sure what idea conflicts with the knowledge of our mortality to create cognitive dissonance.  Certainly that knowledge or rather awareness spurs humans to great efforts, both mental and physical, to transcend mortality.  Is that really conflict?

    Some transcending notions (e.g. immortal souls) are difficult for many to accept and may indeed induce dissonance but they do not really conflect with the basic knowledge of our mortality.  

    The way I look at physical mortality:  I was not.  I am.  I will not be. 

    Still working on whether or not my consciousness is limited to my physical being.  I lean toward not a posteriori but that was a long time ago.


    I am speaking of the dissonance that arises from my knowledge of my limited time on earth and the fact that I spend a considerable amount of that time surfing the web, for instance, looking at funny photos and videos.  Is that how I should be spending my time?  There is an anxiety that comes from the thought that we are not living our life to the fullest (that consistent source of the mid-life crisis), that we are not maximizing our potential, loving others as we should, and helping it be a better place when there is so much suffering.  Shouldn't I dedicate myself to becoming as close to a Bodhisattva that I can be? 

    Yes, the meaning of life stuff.  Where I have got to in that search is that from a strictly physical perspective the prime directive seems fairly clear.   Like all life we are programmed to survive and reproduce.  To what ultimate end is one of those known unknowns and will likely remain so through my physical existence.  I am curious about it but not overly concerned.   I do hope we humans do not plateau like many other species have such as many (most?) insects but like wildebeasts and other herd animals whose continued survival is based mostly on sheer numbers.  The ability to adapt seems to me one of the things life is all about.


    Wrong. The Talos 4 theory from Star Trek (tv) is the only thing remotely close to the truth about the universe. Minds want guaranteed pleasure of goodness and not the struggling turmoil of chemical survival.  Agree to be eternally content and you are on the right path to Heaven.   

    Talos 4 or Paradise Lost

    The mind is its own place, and in it self

    Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n

    Question is whether the mind aka consciousness is the same thing as the brain.

    If you haven't seen the movie Mindwalk, I would recommend it.  It was directed by Brent Amadeus Capra (cool name), based on his own short story, based in turn on the book The Turning Point  by his brother Fritjof Capra, the author of the book The Tao of Physics. 

    One notion is that are next stage in evolution will not be of the physical nature, but one of consciousness.  Which is why in some ways the work to create artificial intelligence is so interesting.  I believe there is something to the notion of the collective consciousness - not just of humans but all living beings.  What would happen if humans were suddenly able to perceive that collective consciousness more acutely?  How would we adapt to suddenly being to experience the cries of the field mouse as well as our neighbor?

    The movie ends with Enigmas by Pablo Neruda and so will I:

    You've asked me what the lobster is weaving there with

    his golden feet?

    I reply, the ocean knows this.

    You say, what is the ascidia waiting for in its transparent

    bell? What is it waiting for?

    I tell you it is waiting for time, like you.

    You ask me whom the Macrocystis alga hugs in its arms?

    Study, study it, at a certain hour, in a certain sea I know.

    You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,

    and I reply by describing

    how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies.

    You enquire about the kingfisher's feathers,

    which tremble in the pure springs of the southern tides?

    Or you've found in the cards a new question touching on

    the crystal architecture

    of the sea anemone, and you'll deal that to me now?

    You want to understand the electric nature of the ocean


    The armored stalactite that breaks as it walks?

    The hook of the angler fish, the music stretched out

    in the deep places like a thread in the water?


    I want to tell you the ocean knows this, that life in its

    jewel boxes

    is endless as the sand, impossible to count, pure,

    and among the blood-colored grapes time has made the


    hard and shiny, made the jellyfish full of light

    and untied its knot, letting its musical threads fall

    from a horn of plenty made of infinite mother-of-pearl.


    I am nothing but the empty net which has gone on ahead

    of human eyes, dead in those darknesses,

    of fingers accustomed to the triangle, longitudes

    on the timid globe of an orange.


    I walked around as you do, investigating

    the endless star,

    and in my net, during the night, I woke up naked,

    the only thing caught, a fish trapped inside the wind.



    Translated by Robert Bly

    Lovely imagery.

    Along similar lines I recall my high school English literature teacher's fondness for Wordsworth's Ode on the Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.  She had us memorize various stanzas as well as other fairly bleak verses.  Bleak for teenagers anyway.  They are much more understandable and sometimes oddly comforting now that I have some years on me.  To every thing its season, eh?


    There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,

    The earth, and every common sight,

          To me did seem

          Apparelled in celestial light,

    The glory and the freshness of a dream.

    It is not now as it hath been of yore;—

         Turn wheresoe'er I may,

         By night or day,

    The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

    More here. It is very long by contemporary standards.


    Mindwalk was not at Netflix but found it at Google videos.  Not sure how long it will be there.  I read that Google was discontinuing its video service.  It is rather redundant now that it has YouTube. 

    Here is link.  Could not get embed to work for me.  Put it below in case it works for others.




    I guess that Jesus™ had other things to take car of. Like watching Spider Man 3 or something.

    This theory does explain why the Tea Party exists: after Reaganomics failed, the true believers became more fanatical than before - hence the Tea Party.

    So, it's really easy to identify cognitive dissonance in others (the comments here are case in point).  But we all do it.  Some are unfortunate to do it more publicly and overtly where it affects their life savings and their relationships, but it's just another degree of the same behavior we all do. 

    I did my fair share of mocking them, but then started thinking how I may unconsciously do the same thing.

    So here goes: I challenge anyone who reads this to reply with a way you engage in cognitive dissonance resolution, no matter how big or small.  I'll start.  I tell myself I'm open minded and accepting while openly criticizing those I don't agree with.  I excercize twice a week then complain I'm not losing weight.


    Awesome exercise, hendmik.

    - I imagine myself to be irreverent but usually endorse mainstream views and worry about offending people.

    - I think of myself as a relatively hip guy and like to ridicule hipsters who try too hard but on some level realize that I myself try too hard and am not really that hip at all. (It's a double-dissonance.)

    - I'm a strict vegan, but I mutilate puppies and bunny-rabbits for kicks. (TMI?)

    Your post explains why the reich-wingers became all the more looney post GWBush.

    When conservatism failed and ruined the economy the nuts embraced it all the more.


    My post doesn't, but my book does.

       Many are still unaware of the eccentric, 181-year-old British theory underlying the politics of American evangelicals and Christian Zionists - the same craze behind Harold Camping's May 21, 2011 "rapture" fizzle.
       Journalist and historian Dave MacPherson has spent more than 40 years focusing on the origin and spread of what is known as the apocalyptic "pretribulation rapture" - the inspiration behind Hal Lindsey's bestsellers of the 1970s and Tim LaHaye's today. (No one else has had the same historical focus for 40 months or even 40 weeks.)
       Although promoters of this endtime evacuation from earth constantly repeat their slogan that "it's imminent and always has been" (which critics view more as a sales pitch than a scriptural statement), it was unknown in all official Christian theology and organized religion before 1830.
       And MacPherson's research also reveals how hostile the pretrib rapture view has been to other faiths:
       It is anti-Islam. TV preacher John Hagee has been advocating "a pre-emptive military strike against Iran." (Yahoo or Google "Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism.")
       It is anti-Jewish. MacPherson's bestselling nonfiction book "The Rapture Plot" (see Armageddon Books etc.) exposes hypocritical anti-Jewishness in even the theory's foundation.
       It is anti-Catholic. Lindsey and C. I. Scofield are two of many leaders who claim that the final Antichrist will be a Roman Catholic. (Yahoo or Google "Pretrib Hypocrisy.")
       It is anti-Protestant. For this reason no major Protestant denomination has ever adopted this escapist view.
       It even has some anti-evangelical aspects. The first publication promoting this novel endtime view spoke degradingly of "the name by which the mixed multitude of modern Moabites love to be distinguished, - the Evangelical World." (MacPherson's "Rapture Plot," p. 85)
       Despite the above, MacPherson proves that the "glue" that holds constantly in-fighting evangelicals together long enough to be victorious voting blocs in elections is the same "fly away" view. He notes that Jerry Falwell, when giving political speeches just before an election, would unfailingly state: "We believe in the pretribulational rapture!"
       In addition to his "Rapture Plot" book, MacPherson's many internet articles include "Famous Rapture Watchers," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "X-Raying Margaret," "Edward Irving is Unnerving," "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts," "Deceiving and Being Deceived" and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" (massive plagiarism, phony doctorates, changing of early "rapture" documents in order to falsely credit John Darby with this view, etc.!).
       Because of his devastating discoveries, MacPherson is now No. 1 on the "hate" list of pretrib rapture leaders!
       There's no question that the leading promoters of this bizarre 19th century end-of-the-world doctrine are solidly pro-Israel and necessarily anti-Palestinian. In light of recently uncovered facts about this fringe-British-invented belief which has always been riddled with dishonesty, many are wondering why it should ever have any influence on Middle East affairs.
       This Johnny-come-lately view raises millions of dollars for political agendas. Only when scholars of all faiths begin to look deeply at it and widely air its "dirty linen" will it cease to be a power. It is the one theological view no one needs!
       With apologies to Winston Churchill - never has so much deception been foisted on so many by so few!

    (I found your interesting Dag Blog while cruising. Also ran into this web goodie!)


        How can the “rapture” be “imminent”? Acts 3:21 says that Jesus “must” stay in heaven (He's now there with the Father) “until the times of restitution of all things” which includes, says Scofield, “the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son” which obviously can’t begin before or during Antichrist’s reign. ("The Rapture Question," by the long time No. 1 pretrib authority John Walvoord, didn't dare to even list, in its scripture index, the too-hot-to-handle Acts 3:21!) Since Jesus can’t even leave heaven before the tribulation ends (Acts 2:34,35 echo this), the rapture therefore can't take place before the end of the trib!       
        Paul explains the “times and the seasons” (I Thess. 5:1) of the catching up (I Thess. 4:17) as the “day of the Lord” (5:2) which FOLLOWS the posttrib sun/moon darkening (Matt. 24:29; Acts 2:20) WHEN “sudden destruction” (5:3) of the wicked occurs! The "rest" for "all them that believe" is tied to such destruction in II Thess. 1:6-10! (If the wicked are destroyed before or during the trib, who'd be left alive to serve the Antichrist?) Paul also ties the change-into-immortality “rapture” (I Cor. 15:52) to the posttrib end of “death” (15:54). (Will death be ended before or during the trib? Of course not! And vs. 54 is also tied to Isa. 25:8 which is Israel's posttrib resurrection!)
       Many are unaware that before 1830 all Christians had always viewed I Thess. 4’s “catching up” as an integral part of the final second coming to earth. In 1830 this "rapture" was stretched forward and turned into a separate coming of Christ. To further strengthen their novel view, which the mass of evangelical scholars rejected throughout the 1800s, pretrib teachers in the early 1900s began to stretch forward the “day of the Lord” (what Darby and Scofield never dared to do) and hook it up with their already-stretched-forward “rapture.” Many leading evangelical scholars still weren’t convinced of pretrib, so pretrib teachers then began teaching that the “falling away” of II Thess. 2:3 is really a pretrib rapture (the same as saying that the “rapture” in 2:3 must happen before the “rapture” ["gathering"] in 2:1 can happen – the height of desperation!).
       Other Google articles on the 181-year-old pretrib rapture view include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," “X-Raying Margaret,” "Edward Irving is Unnerving," “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” "Walvoord Melts Ice," “Wily Jeffrey,” “The Rapture Index (Mad Theology),” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism,” “Scholars Weigh My Research,” “Pretrib Hypocrisy,” "Pretrib Rapture Secrecy," “Deceiving and Being Deceived,” and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" – all by the author of the bestselling book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books).

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