21 Reasons the World Will Not End on May 21

Remember Edgar C. Whisenant? No? Take yourself back to 1988 … a leap year, perestroika, Gorbachev, Iran-Contra, “The Last Emperor,” Mayor Sonny Bono, Windows 2.1 … and the explosion of Whisenant’s mega-bestselling pamphlet, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.”

Whisenant was a NASA engineer and thus good with numbers. Maybe too good: he saw patterns where they did not exist. He argued meticulously and with great conviction that “The Rapture” would occur September 11 or 12, 1988 — and his pamphlet gave, well, 88 good reasons why.

Self-published at first, he mailed it free to 300,000 evangelical ministers. They started a fire that roared, and ultimately Whisenant sold almost 5 million copies of this bad boy, hijacked the airwaves of the Trinity Broadcast Network and turned millions of innumerate fundies into quivering hillocks of Jell-O.

And “The Rapture” is scary, even for believers. It generally requires a military invasion (Whisenant predicted the Soviet Union marching into Israel) and seven years of absolute disaster, during which a Satanic leader emerges. Then it gets really bad. Nuclear holocaust, -150-degree days, no food. Frowny face.

So why was Whisenant so stuck on 1988?

Well, here we fall into the mind trap of illusory precision. Like all intelligent doom-sayers, he starts with ambiguous Biblical quotations, interprets them extremely literally or vaguely figuratively (whichever works best), layers unrelated logical steps not indicated by the text, and ultimately weaves a sophistic tapestry of overwhelming superficiality.

Of course! you say. Stop all the clocks!

Most of Whisenant’s 88 shreds of “evidence” are unbelievably convoluted, the product of a madman adding and multiplying until he hits the magic 88.

Typical example:

Leviticus 26:28 talks about “sevenfold” punishment. This means seven years. One lunar year is 360 days. God thinks of one day as a year. Therefore, the punishment term = 360 x 7 years = 2,520 years. And of course, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began in 602 B.C.

Incredibly, -602 + 2,520 = 1988!

And so on. (Thanks to the great Bart Ehrman for this example.) With enough time, I guarantee you I could come up with “proof” that the End of Days was, say, 2013 or 2015 … giving you just enough time to … oh, my God! No! I’m being snatched up to the seventh Heaven …

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