Religion

Reveling in our superiority

Are you among the many people mocking the sad band of people who believed the Rapture would take place today? (It didn’t.)

I suppose there’s a part of me inclined to join in the amusement. But I agree with Tiffany Stanley at The New Republic that there’s something unpleasant about it.

Do the end-timers seem ignorant? Yes. Are they insane? Possibly. But should our reaction to them be chuckling glee or something more like sadness? Pay attention to their individual stories—their willingness to sacrifice everything in anticipation that their earthly lives are over—and I dare you not to feel the latter. Ashley Parker of The New York Times writes about a mom who stopped working, and stopped saving for college for her three teenaged children. One of the kids admitted, “I don’t really have motivation to try to figure out what I want to do anymore because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.” At NPR, Barbara Brown Haggerty reports on a young couple, with a toddler and a baby on the way, who are spending the last of the savings. The wife says, “We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.”

Laughing at religious fanatics is nothing new. And, at some level, there’s nothing wrong with it. But this story didn’t just take off in popularity because people wanted a quick laugh or some insight into a quirky subset of our country. There’s a cruelty underlying our desire to laugh at this story—a desire to see people humiliated and to revel in our own superiority and rationality—even though the people in question are pretty tragic characters, who either have serious problems themselves or perhaps are being taken advantage of, or both.

Sure, it’s an interesting story when a fringe group decides the world is ending tomorrow. But it’s also a small story. Come Sunday morning, as news articles flood in about the disillusioned end-timers, and those articles instantly become some of the most popular on the web—as they surely will—we might want to ask ourselves not what is wrong with this sad group of apocalyptic believers, but rather what is wrong with a society that takes such pleasure in their dysfunction.

Alec Macph adds:

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