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  • Stay Alive to 1975! September 4, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    Messianic religions have long faced a simple problem with final calamity. If you predict the end of the world you are going to get lots of new members: that’s humanity. But, God help you when the world’s end does not come. Not, of course, that this has stopped the faithful from trying. Despite said problem and despite strong Biblical imperatives against prediction (Matthew 24, 36), Christians particularly have enjoyed punting on the end days. In fact, only last year a likeable American preacher Harold Camping, effortlessly shifted his prophecy of bliss and destruction from 21 May 2011 to 21 October 2011 and then began to mumble about ‘metaphorical catastrophes’ when these events did not come to pass.

    Now there are oodles of these prophecies out there. But Beach wanted to give some publicity today to his own favourite: 1975 and Armageddon Jehovah-Witness style. Beach should start though with a very small confession. He had a liberal education. He considers himself tolerant. All faiths, washed in the blood of the lamb or otherwise are welcome at his table. Blah, blah, blah… But Beach has a problem with Jehovah’s Witnesses. To say that he couldn’t stand the sect would be untrue: there are, he knows, some nice JWs out there. It is just that when JWs appear on his doorstep, instead, of wanting to exchange a few words – Beach loves chatting when the Mormon missionaries make their rounds – he closes down contact as quickly as politely possible.  Perhaps what follows then is ‘revenge’ and unseemly. But there is something satisfying for this author in seeing a religious movement so caught up in its own certainties and so sure of its internal authorities come a painful cropper. If I’m to be disfellowshipped, then pace.

    In any case, background to begin. JWs and proto- JWs had, already in the late nineteenth-century, apocalypse form. Leaders and followers got excited about 1874, 1878, then about 1914, 1918 and 1925. 1914 – when let’s face it they came close – proved to be of lasting importance. Indeed, it is an article of faith among modern JWs that Christ began his millennial rule in heaven in October of that year and things got rapidly worse from that point onwards: all this based on calculations concerning the non Biblical (and doubtful) chronology of the Kings of Babylon and Daniel’s prophecy. The Great Pyramid – that loathsome object that has served as the tool of shysters through the ages – was also, for a time, called up as a kind of supplementary witness for its ‘pyramid inches’ were believed to hold precious clues to world chronology.

    But in modern times it was 1975 that mattered. In 1966 the JWs began to make a great deal of that year. This is Watchtower from 1966 explaining why:

    The published timetable resulting from this independent study gives the date of man’s creation as 4026 B.C.E. According to this trustworthy Bible chronology six thousand years from man’s creation will end in 1975, and the seventh period of a thousand years of human history will begin in the fall of 1975 C.E. So six thousand years of man’s existence on earth will soon be up, yes, within this generation. So in not many years within our own generation we are reaching what Jehovah God could view as the seventh day of man’s existence.

    This quotation shows some pragmatic uncertainty: note that last ‘could’, for example. And JWs pointed out that they could not know with absolute certainty because there was doubt about how much time had passed between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve! However, it would also be true to say that the tone of JWs publications was enthusiastic about 1975 and the messianic key began to be wound up at a quicker and quicker tempo.

    Many schools now have student counselors who encourage one to pursue higher education after high school, to pursue a career with a future in this system of things. Do not be influenced by them. Do not let them ‘brainwash’ you with the Devil’s propaganda to get ahead, to make something of yourself in this world. This world has very little time left! Any ‘future’ this world offers is no future! Wisely, then, let God’s Word influence you in selecting a course that will result in your protection and blessing. Make pioneer service, the full-time ministry, with the possibility of Bethel or missionary service your goal. This is a life that offers an everlasting future! (Watchtower 1969)

     Or what about this pearl?

    If you are a young person, you also need to face the fact that you will never grow old in this present system of things. Why not? Because all the evidence in fulfillment of Bible prophecy indicates that this corrupt system is due to end in a few years. Of the generation that observed the beginning of the ‘last days’ in 1914, Jesus foretold: ‘This generation will by no means pass away until all these things occur.’ Matt. 24:34. Therefore, as a young person, you will never fulfill any career that this system offers. If you are in high school and thinking about a college education, it means at least four, perhaps even six or eight more years to graduate into a specialized career. But where will this system of things be by that time? It will be well on the way toward its finish, if not actually gone! (Awake! 1969)

    Consider that if you were 15 in 1969 you will be today 58 and coming towards your pensionable years. But the footsoldiers out in the dismal provinces lapped this stuff up with the slogan ‘stay alive to 75!’ The following is an extraordinary description of a then ten-year-old female Jehovah’s Witness.

    In the fall of 1968, a special meeting was called at the Kingdom Hall in New Albany, Indiana. Everyone was expected to be there. I sat in the front row with my best friend. We always sat there. We were ten years old and as good little Jehovah’s Witnesses, we believed that all new light sent to us from the Governing body was straight from Jehovah God. There was going to be new light passed on to us tonight. You could have heard a pin drop as everyone sat in anticipation waiting for the speaker to talk. He started by telling us of new light sent to all congregations world wide, from the Governing body in Brooklyn, New York. He said that in the fall of 1975 the great Battle of Armageddon would take place. He told how the society had come up with this date, but I was too young to understand. But I knew exactly what Armageddon meant. That was something I had heard about all my young life. But tonight, it seemed so real. I was so very scared. I automatically started to figure up how old I would be in 1975. I would be 17 years old. I can still remember the long ride home. It was a quiet ride, with each his or her own thoughts. Mom and dad said nothing to each other. Everyone’s face was emotionless. It was as if even my little brother and sisters, ages 8, 6 and 4 knew that something very serious was about to happen. Of course, they were too young to understand, but when I looked at their innocent little faces, my heart was aching. They’re so young, I thought, surely Jehovah will not let anything happen to them. Then I started to think of my unborn sibling that was due in a few weeks. I couldn’t keep from crying.

    Then came 1975. Here is the same JW now in her late teens. It is a beautiful description of religious disillusion – other examples JW or otherwise: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com – and would mark the beginning of her escape from the Watchtower.

    I can still remember the first day of 1975. This was the year. I was a junior in high school. Everyone was anxious and we were all walking on eggshells. Everyone was careful not to do anything that could get them disfellowshipped, and also ones that had been disfellowshipped were doing their best to get reinstated. Every Thursday, it seemed there was someone getting reinstated. The time was getting shorter. I can also remember the date December 31, 1975. This is one of those dates that will be frozen in my mind forever. The Watchtower Society had said that they could not see beyond 1975. This had to be the day. Mom made all of us go to bed early that night. By this time, there were six children. I lay in my bed wondering what the world would look like the next morning. I never ever for even a moment doubted that the end of the world would come this night. While everyone that I went to school with were out celebrating the coming of the new year, I laid in my bed with tears in my eyes and my pillow over my head, silently praying. Please, Jehovah, keep my family safe, I prayed over and over, until finally I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, much to my surprise, everything looks the same. Nothing had happened. Armageddon did not come. I was so confused. What happened? Mom and dad, nor any of us kids talked about it. It was never mentioned. But something had happened. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a small crack had developed in the foundation of my belief of the so-called ‘truth’.

    The numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped off for two or three years following the failed prophecy and then, once more, began to climb.

    There has been no repeat performance from the hierarchy, which showed itself adept at learning from its eschatological mistakes. But what will happen in nine hundred and two years when Christ’s rule comes to an end and the world doesn’t collapses into heaven? Then surely the JWs will have to admit their several mistakes. It might just be worth hanging around to see it happen: stay alive to 2914?

    ***

    4 Sept 2012: Biblebasher (!) writes: ‘Misquoting slightly Matthew that writes ‘No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’. It is not wrong to look for the last times, simply futile.’ Thanks BB.

    5 Sept 2012: RuththeUnstoppablyCurious: As a psychologist, my husband has long been fascinated with this phenomenon among some parts of the population. One of the major studies on this was When Prophesy Fails, published in 1956, by Leon Festinger:  “When Prophecy Fails is a classic work of social psychology by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter which studied a small UFO cult that believed in an imminent Apocalypse and its coping mechanisms after the event did not occur. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance can account for the psychological consequences of disconfirmed expectations. One of the first published cases of dissonance was reported in this book.” If I recall correctly, to Festinger’s amazement, one (or was it both?) of his colleagues remained with the cult they were studying (they infiltrated to study it) after the prophesy fell flat on its face. Since that time when Festinger identified cognitive consonance and dissonance, there’s been a lot more study on the phenomenon and other cognitive biases.  These cults are but extreme examples of it – we are all subject to this tendency to one degree or another.  “Smoking is a common example of cognitive dissonance because it is widely accepted that cigarettes can cause lung cancer, and smokers must reconcile their habit with the desire to live long and healthy lives. In terms of the theory, the desire to live a long life is dissonant with the activity of doing something that will most likely shorten one’s life. The tension produced by these contradictory ideas can be reduced by any number of changes in cognitions and behaviors, including quitting smoking, denying the evidence linking smoking to lung cancer, or justifying one’s smoking.[8] For example, smokers could rationalize their behavior by concluding that only a few smokers become ill, that it only happens to very heavy smokers, or that if smoking does not kill them, something else will.” Or, in the case of the cults, the mostly subconscious “reasoning” might be something like – “I’ve put a lot of emotion and effort into this and it fell flat – I must have missed something, or I wasn’t loyal or pious enough, so I’ll redouble my efforts to correct that, and besides my friends are doing the same.” Cognitive biases:   “Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions; this is related to the concept of cognitive dissonance.” Grins!  Then there’s the belief in one’s own immunity to cognitive biases:  One should keep in mind that the cognitive biases served us humans well over hundreds of thousands of years – they aren’t there just to mess up rationality.  We do our best to keep them to their optimal functioning. This is a HUGE field of study, involving psychology, sociology, philosophy, history, cognition, anthropology – enormous amounts of fascinating stuff. KMH, something of a Christian mystic himself, writes: I am reminded of the church of Herbert W. Armstrong, influential in the 50′s and 60′s for its radio and TV broadcasts around the world. They had a belief that dates corresponding to the 19-year lunar cycle were important for them and everyone else. So, 1934 (the beginning of their church), 1953, 1972, 1991, 2010 were very important years. But the church split into various factions after Armstrong’s death in 1986 and nothing has come of this cycle since. It may be thought that errors, obvious or subtle, would weaken the appeal of the various Christian denominations, factions, or cults.  In fact, it is the opposite. Without these errors the members will not be energised to give their best in one way or another. The church may believe it is the one true church, that it is the only one with the right biblical interpretation, that they are the only ones knowing the true future, or they are the only “elect” among Christians, etc., etc.  Whatever it is, this type of advantage will appeal to certain types of individuals and assure the church’s future existence. Once the appeal has worn off, members will be ready to gravitate toward the more standard Christian beliefs of the larger denominations. For the record, I don’t know of any denomination that is not in error in some way or another. To be a Christian means you will have erroneous beliefs of some kind, often regarding other major religions such as Islam or Buddhism. Even the greatest saints have believed the earth was flat, that moldy cheese could generate rats, and black people were not entirely human. I also have happened to set a date for the messianic return of Christ, sometime in the middle 2040′s near the end of the third world war. This will be a time when our current national governments and religious organizations will be non-functioning or non-existent. No president, prime minister, pope, premier, or prince will be greeting Christ at that time. More detail is found in my book “The Heck Hypothesis: Crop Circle Insight.” Thanks Ruth and KMH!!