Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It
Mar 2011 28

Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It

Posted In Blog,Relationships,Society

by Brad Warner

My friend John Graves sent me a photo of a billboard that’s been appearing all over Los Angeles. The one he took a picture of was right near The Grove, in one of the highest rent districts in one of the highest rent cities in the whole world. The billboard says: “The Bible Guarantees Judgment Day May 21, 2011, …Cry mightily unto God – Jonah 3:8, Mon-Fri 5:30 – 7PM, 1280 AM Radio FamilyRadio.” Next to these words is a photo of a guy who is either kneeling to pray or in the throes of a painful bout of constipation.


According to friends of mine these billboards have also been spotted in the San Francisco Bay area, Minneapolis, Dallas and even here in Akron, Ohio. For those who want to know exactly how they worked this date out, there is a convenient website that explains it all. Frankly, I couldn’t get past the second paragraph.

A little bit of research on the Internets reveals that the billboards are based upon the work of a Christian broadcaster by the name of Harold Camping, president of something called Family Stations, Inc. a religious broadcasting outfit based in California. Back in 1992, Camping published a book called 1994? in which he claimed that the End Times, in which the world will undergo severe tribulations in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming, would start in ’94.

He and his followers stood outside the Alameda Veteran’s Memorial Building on September 6th of that year with their Bibles open heavenward to await Jesus’ return. Jesus never showed up. Camping said he may have made a mathematical error. Now he says his new calculations are certain beyond a shadow of doubt. The folks at a website called The Thinking Atheist have produced this video explaining some more about Camping from their perspective.

All of these billboards had me wondering if the whole thing might be some kind of elaborate hoax, a promo for some big budget end-of-the-world thriller. I’m still a little skeptical. But unless whoever is behind the hoax is able to manipulate Wikipedia and Amazon with an impressive degree of skill, as well as post a whole lot of other stuff on the web that corroborates the existence of Camping and his church, this would appear to be for real.

Christianity is in part an apocalyptic religion. Some scholars have argued that Jesus himself was a preacher whose main stock in trade was predicting the coming end of the world. This seems to be borne out by the New Testament as it has come down to us.

One of the biggest problems the early church had was how to deal with Christ’s prediction recorded in Luke 9:27 that “there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” The “some standing here” would appear to refer to his original 12 apostles. When those apostles started dying off, guys who came along slightly later like St. Paul had a hard time explaining themselves since the kingdom of God had yet to appear.

And yet, somehow, they persevered and made their case quite successfully. Christianity has lasted for over 2000 years predicting that the end of the world is coming soon. This they have done mainly by making the definition of “soon” more and more vague. And although many mainstream Christians have switched over to viewing Christ’s apocalyptic statements as some kind of metaphor, there are still some who take it literally and try to work out the exact day it’s all supposed to happen.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses famously predicted the end of time to begin in 1917, which they then revised to 1918, then to 1925, and finally to 1975. Yet although the Rapture did not come on any of those dates, the Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to thrive and ring doorbells all over the world.

One would assume that if somebody prophesized the end of the world on a given date and that given date came and went without major incident, everyone who had once believed in the prophecy would lose interest and whoever made the prophesy wouldn’t be listened to anymore. But this has not been the case. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be true. Prophecies of the end of the world do not have to work out for them to have power.

Camping has obviously got some money behind him. That billboard near The Grove in Los Angeles alone must have set him back a load of cash. This would indicate that he has a healthy following. I would not expect that following to decrease markedly after May 22nd. I’m sure they’ll be just fine. I predict that Camping will come up with a justification for his seeming failure and the troops will rally behind him to await the next prophesy. Maybe he’s working on that even now. It’s a time-honored pattern and I see no reason why this one will be any different.

I’ll assume most of you reading this probably share the belief of most people who have studied the New Testament. The consensus of contemporary scholars is that the New Testament is cobbled together from various sources. Many of its writers were not even who they claimed to be according to Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman in his new book Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Most of us here, then, don’t even give a second thought to the notion that Camping or any of the others who prophesize the destruction of the world based on Biblical calculations are correct. Yet obviously quite a few people believe it and maybe quite a few more, though not believers, still wonder if it just might be true.

Like you, I am at a loss to understand why anyone at all believes this stuff or even gives it a second thought. It’s been pointed out by those who study organizations like this that their members are often people who would otherwise be regarded as having a high degree of intelligence. Although I know of no studies of Camping’s group, I’ve seen studies of other religious organizations that believe similarly bat-shit crazy things and who have many members that are highly educated and seemingly sane. So one can’t simply write off those who believe this stuff as merely stupid. Well, I would say that they’re stupid to believe such things, but many of them are not stupid according to our usual methods of judging people’s intelligence or lack thereof. They may well be college educated, socially adept and so forth.

Here’s my theory, for what it’s worth. Matters of belief, whatever those beliefs may be, are things by which we define our sense of self. Most of us hold our sense of self as the most precious thing we possess. We’ll go to any lengths to defend it. We’ll lie, we’ll steal, we’ll sometimes even kill to protect this sense of self.

Holding on to a set of beliefs is a great way to reinforce the sense of self. If that set of beliefs is an unpopular one, this can work even better. It really sets us off against everybody else. It’s a tremendous way to establish your unique ego.

Plus, organizations like this often offer a tremendous sense of community to their membership. This is one of the things our contemporary society really has trouble with. I know I often feel alone and alienated. It’s hard to find a community in the world we live in these days. But we so desperately want that sense of belonging that if it means believing in bat-shit crazy ideas, the trade-off doesn’t seem so bad.

I just wonder what these guys are going to do on May 22nd.

***

Brad is on tour right now and may be in your area. To see where Brad will be speaking next visit his blog.

Brad Warner is the author of Sex, Sin and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between as well as Hardcore Zen, Sit Down and Shut Up! and Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate. He maintains a blog about Buddhist stuff that you can click here to see.

You can also buy T-shirts and hoodies based on his books, and the new CD by his band Zero Defex now!

6 comments
anthony
anthony

There are two billboards of his here in Conencticut on i-95. I have it on good authority one of the two billboards is $10K a month in a high volume rea

samya
samya

You won't believe this but I live in Kolkata, Eastern India and that billboard appeared in Bengali near the end of Shealdah fly-over! I've been wondering what it's about every time my bus crosses that point and I sit on the right-hand-side, but I've been forgetting all along to try and tune in to the station. (Also I don't care) 

happyzen
happyzen

Nietsche said that it was certainty which drives people insane and it seems like this is simply another among the countless examples of people's need for some which doesn't really exist, i.e. certainty.  Living with ambiguity and chaos, which is how so many people experience life, is more challenging that some folks bargain for. Another perspective is that this is an excellent example of cognitive dissonanace.  Rather than change one's behavior when encountering evidence to the contrary what most people do is search for evidence (regardless of how flimsy it might be) that will allow them to continue thier behavior!  Crazy? Yes.  Understandable? We all do it from time to time. 

spekter killah
spekter killah

soy de guadalajara jalisco mexico y he visto uno igual en español cuando regreso de trabajar

Dim
Dim

Hey don't forget about that weird desperate desire some people have to actually see the end of the world happen.  Back in High School I used to fantasize about that from time to time.  I came pretty close to being like one of those kids involved in the Columbine shooting.  At least I can imagine pretty well how they ended up that way. Er... uhm...  of course, I'm not like that anymore. I have a much healthier cynical sense of humor about the world now.

beshkno
beshkno

Bat-shit crazy...I love it!  Another good read, thanks Brad.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Posts: Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Meditation, Depression and the Sense of Self Brad Warner’s Hardcore [...]

  2. [...] Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Meditation, Depression and the Sense of Self Brad Warner’s Hardcore [...]

  3. [...] Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Meditation, Depression and the Sense of Self Brad Warner’s Hardcore [...]

  4. [...] Zen: Uninvited To The Buddhist Party Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Meditation, Depression and the Sense of Self Brad Warner’s Hardcore [...]

  5. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  6. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  7. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  8. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  9. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  10. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  11. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  12. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]

  13. [...] Human Potential Movement Can Suck My Ass Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: How To Make A Zen Monster Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: The End of the World As We Know It Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: Win A Date With Brad Warner!!! Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen: [...]