How many times has the world ended so far, exactly?

Cross-posted from my blog.

When I first read about this a few weeks ago it made me chuckle. Agape Ministries, an Old Testament cult in Indiana, convinced several of their followers to donate large sums of money to the church based on the idea that Doomsday was coming. When the world didn't end as predicted, a few of those followers decided they had been had and wanted their money back.

I feel kind of bad for the people that were ripped off, but I also have to laugh at the whole thing. Bringing civil charges against a Doomsday cult for lying? It's lovely. Now that the possibility is out there, maybe it'll even discourage other groups from employing such shady and fear-oriented tactics.

Or maybe not. I'm totally planning a barbecue for May 21st, 2011. It's even a Saturday. Mark your calendars, I'll make kebabs.

But wait, why are these groups even setting a date in the first place? Why would they open themselves up to being proven wrong in such a definitive way? As con-artists, wouldn't it be easier to say Doomsday was coming "soon" rather than setting an expiration date on everything? What if they actually believe the world is going to end? Are they still con-artists?

I did some reading about the Rapture from Christian mythology (and I call it mythology because we're talking
about the end of the world here, come on now), since it seems to be what these groups are anticipating. It's difficult stuff to stomach, and I didn't look too deeply into it for the sake of my own sanity. What it seems to come down to is a few passages in the Bible that speak vaguely about the second coming of Jesus, a time of tribulations, and the Rapture itself where God whisks all of his believers away. Using questionable techniques, such as numerology and the Bible Code, various groups have attempted to set a date for when these predicted
events will occur. Once this date has been determined, as many supporting passages from the Bible as can be found are tacked together, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, and voila! Your very own End Times Prophecy.

So what happens when they're wrong? Doesn't that kind of put a damper on things? Not at all, as these guys demonstrate. Someone must have misinterpreted something somewhere. The goal post just gets moved, and the cycle just starts over. At least Agape Ministries is getting called on it. Maybe it'll inspire more people to do the same.

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