Apocalypse, Nu? (Guest Voice)
by Hart Williams
“I waited all Tuesday and dear Jesus did not come …”
~Henry Emmons, a Millerite, 1844
For those who don’t know what’s “nu,” it’s happened once again. The American Zeitgeist Sweepstakes, also known as “Look at me!” has a new winner named something or other, who put up a bunch of billboards and advertising stating that the World would end and Jesus would extract the faithful before the Wild and Wacky Endtimes on May 21st, 2011 at approximately 6 PM Pacific Daylight Time.
Note that I am depending on my figures from the same press that spent several days two weeks ago deciding whether Abbotabad, Pakistan was a “suburb” of Islamabad, a half-hour drive, an hour drive, a two-hour drive, or 30, 60 or 90 miles from Islamabad, or was a city of 100,000, 190,000, or a million. So there might be some imprecision as to that time, but this was certainly the day.
Another year, another Rapture hoax. I guess, like the GOP, there are some cons that Americans will fall for again and again.
But, since I touched on it earlier this month, it might be nice to revisit the first Great American Rapture Hoax, the so-called “Great Disappointment” of October 22, 1844. In this case, Wikipedia is NOT controversial, and we borrow extensively hereafter. To wit:
The Great Disappointment was a major event in the history of the Millerite movement, a 19th century American Christian sect that formed out of the Second Great Awakening. William Miller, a Baptist preacher, proposed based on his interpretations of the prophecies in the book of Daniel (Chapters 8 and 9, especially Dan. 8:14 “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed”), that Jesus Christ would return to the earth during the year 1844. A more specific date, that of October 22, 1844, was preached by Samuel S. Snow. Thousands of followers, some of whom had given away all of their possessions, waited expectantly. When Jesus did not appear, October 22, 1844 became known as the Great Disappointment.
We read on:
In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, Samuel S. Snow presented his own interpretation, what became known as the “seventh-month message” or the “true midnight cry”. In a complex discussion based on scriptural typology, Snow presented his conclusion (still based on the 2300 day prophecy in Daniel 8:14), that Christ would return on, “the tenth day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844”. Again using the calendar of the Karaite Jews, this date was determined to be October 22, 1844. This “seventh-month message” “spread with a rapidity unparalleled in the Millerites experience” amongst the general population.
October 22, 1844
October 22 passed without incident, resulting in feelings of disappointment among many Millerites. Henry Emmons, a Millerite, later wrote,
I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.
William Miller continued to wait for the second coming of Jesus Christ until his death in 1849.
Well, William Miller was wrong, and he not only wasted his own life, but the lives of many people foolish enough to believe his twaddle.
That is the plain judgment based on the simple facts.
The case was unique, but has been repeated countless times in American culture since. This last persiflage is but a leaf of Miller’s apocalypse tree. He had taken the Bible itself as Ultimate Reality and gotten so lost in its words that he failed to notice that world for which it was supposed to be a handbook and guide to navigation.
This is neither new, nor confined to Fundamentalism, nor to Christianity. Notariqon and Gematria, Astrologers, Soothsayers, Necromancers and Newspaper columnists: all have fallen prey to the temptation to raise words — i.e. language — above experience as Reality.
And, as the words have diverged from the reality, they have stuck with the words to disastrous consequence. One need only look back to the Bush Administration’s Galaxy of Blather and the recent attempts to resurrect their Faith of Torture.
But the upshot echoes to this very night. Listen:
Not only were the Millerites dealing with their own shattered expectations, they also faced considerable criticism and even violence from the general public. On November 18, 1844, Miller wrote to Himes about his experiences:
“Some are tauntingly enquiring, ‘Have you not gone up?’ Even little children in the streets are shouting continually to passersby, ‘Have you a ticket to go up?’ The public prints, of the most fashionable and popular kind…are caricaturing in the most shameful manner of the ‘white robes of the saints,’ Revelation 6:11, the ‘going up,’ and the great day of ‘burning.’ Even the pulpits are desecrated by the repetition of scandalous and false reports concerning the ‘ascension robes’, and priests are using their powers and pens to fill the catalogue of scoffing in the most scandalous periodicals of the day.”*
There were also the instances of violence—a Millerite church burned in Ithaca and two vandalized in Dansville and Scottsville. In Loraine, a mob attacked the Millerite congregation with clubs and knives, while a group in Toronto was tarred and feathered. Shots were fired at another Canadian group meeting in a private house.
Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied …
[* Does this sound familiar?]
Which is what we are hearing now. As predictable and less interesting as the tides and the phases of the moon. For a species with free will, we sure are predictable betimes.
And, don’t doubt that being slapped in the face by Reality was any more effective then than it was for true Ayn Rand believers who remain convinced that “Atlas Shugs, Part I” is actually a big theatrical hit and that the “liberal media” critics are only hiding the true state of affairs from them, because the “truth” would be devastating to that vast media conspiracy which does not agree with their True Beliefs. The Millerites did pretty much the same thing, and remain with us to this very day:
The third major post-disappointment Millerite group also claimed, like the Hale and Turner led group, that the October 22 date was correct. Rather than Christ returning invisibly, however, they came to view the event that took place on October 22, 1844 having been quite different. The theology of this third group appears to have had its beginnings as early as October 23, 1844—the day after the Great Disappointment. On that day, during a prayer session with a group of Advent believers, Hiram Edson became convinced that “light would be given” and their “disappointment explained.”
Some things never change. It continues:
Edson’s experience led him into an extended study on the topic with O. R. L. Crosier and F. B. Hahn. They came to the conclusion that Miller’s assumption that the sanctuary represented the Earth was in error. “The sanctuary to be cleansed in Daniel 8:14 was not the earth or the church, but the sanctuary in heaven.” Therefore, the October 22 date marked not the Second Coming of Christ, but rather a heavenly event. Out of this third group arose the Seventh-day Adventist Church and this interpretation of the Great Disappointment forms the basis for the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the pre-Advent Divine Investigative Judgement.
Or, perhaps the “Rapture” really did happen and there weren’t near as many actual Elect as anyone suspected.
Say, is there any good prescription drug I should tell my doctor about for treating my Post-Rapture Depression? (And what color is it? I already know there’s a “Z” in it somewhere.)
A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross posted from his blog.