The May 21 Non-Apocalypse: Countdown to Rationalization

By Chris Mooney | May 19, 2011 9:23 am

While I was away, Jamie did a great post on the End Times Christian group who says the world will be over in two days. (Details here.)

They’re waiting for the “Rapture,” but like Jamie, I’m waiting for the rationalization.

Recall that these people are heavily invested, emotionally and also financially, in the world ending. Here’s NPR:

Camping’s predictions have inspired other groups to rally behind the May 21 date. People have quit their jobs and left their families to get the message out.

“Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans,” says 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez.

She thought she’d go to medical school, until she began tuning in to Family Radio. She and her husband, Joel, lived and worked in New York City. But a year ago, they decided they wanted to spend their remaining time on Earth with their infant daughter.

“My mentality was, why are we going to work for more money? It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary,” she says.

And so, her husband adds, “God just made it possible — he opened doors. He allowed us to quit our jobs, and we just moved, and here we are.”

Now they are in Orlando, in a rented house, passing out tracts and reading the Bible. Their daughter is 2 years old, and their second child is due in June. Joel says they’re spending the last of their savings. They don’t see a need for one more dollar.

“You know, you think about retirement and stuff like that,” he says. “What’s the point of having some money just sitting there?”

“We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left,” Adrienne adds.

Sad, but we have seen this pattern before. And because these believers have sunk so much in, “cognitive dissonance” theory (or, motivated reasoning) predicts they will “double down” and come up with some new reason for why they weren’t wrong, and may grow more intense in their beliefs.

What will they say at that point? Hard to say exactly, but let’s consult NPR again:

“If I’m here on May 22, and I wake up, I’m going to be in hell,” says Brown. “And that’s where I don’t want to be. So there is going to be a May 22, and we don’t want to be here.”

Well, these believers surely will not decide on May 22 that they’re actually in hell. That would contradict their identities–and their emotions. They’ve told us as much themselves.

So whatever they come up with, it won’t be the conclusion that would seem to logically follow from what they believe now. This should be interesting.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Motivated Reasoning

Comments (22)

  1. Tron

    Yet another cherry-picked, straw man article published by Discover with the sole purpose of painting all Christians as total nut cases. One has to wonder why they almost never come up with similarly nutty stories abot Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Confucians…..take your pick.

  2. Dan I.

    Um Tron, this isn’t an “article” it’s a blog post. So your argument fails right there. Discover may host the blog but they don’t exercise editorial control over the blogger.

    Secondly, what the hell are you talking about? I’m a Christian (Roman Catholic) and I don’t find anything remotely wrong with this. He’s CLEARLY talking about a specific subset of Christians (i.e. the “End Times Christian Group”) he refers to. If he wanted to insinuate there was all Christians he would have said “Christians.”

  3. Carol

    Tron, it may be because those other groups don’t have ministries and radio shows and aren’t posting big old billboards all over the countryside. Plus, it is just one obviously fringe “Christian” group. Are you a member? Do you really believe most of us think these people represent all Christians? Why is that?

  4. Doug

    If you don’t consider the obsessive worrying since they were convinced of May 21, the Martinez’s have probably had the most fulfilling year of their lives with each other and their daughter. It senses like Raymond K. Hessel was held at gunpoint in the back of the convenience store in Fight Club. The Martinez’s took an opportunity to get perspective on what was important to them and got to appreciate it more than ever before. Too bad about the all of the bad stuff that went along with it.

  5. G B Walker

    I want to thank Discover for continuing to publish reality and logic. People believe what they want to believe and the truth is whatever they believe it to be. Keep the sanity.

  6. Dust of the stars

    Second baby due in June? Do they expect to give birth in the afterlife?

  7. Dan I.


    While I understand what you’re saying the fact remains that come Sunday the Martinez’s will be jobless, pennyless and possibly soon to be homeless. If they’ve truly budgeted so that on May 21 they have “nothing left” there is real danger to them and their daughter.

    What will happen then? Will they decide they are going to hell and commit suicide out of despair? What happens to that child who’s entire world-view is now totally upside down etc.

  8. Pablo

    I can’t help but laugh, yet I almost feel bad for them. I certainly feel bad for the kids in these types of situations. Just a few years ago some religious wacks refused to treat their diabetic daughter (believing God would save her), who later went into a sugar coma and died. A simple shot of insulin would have saved her. Thankfully they were convicted in court, not sure of the charges. The overwhelming majority of religious folks don’t think like this thankfully, but it’s still an issue that should be.

  9. Pablo

    Sorry, meant to say “shouldn’t be” in that last sentence.

  10. dirk

    I predict they’ll copy many environmentalists who made specific predictions on population or water levels that turned out to be wrong.

    Something along these lines;

    “We miscalculated a little, but my next calculations will be correct.”

    “Our actions changed the outcome. You should thank me.”

  11. Chris Mooney

    @6 yes i was wondering that too. raises all kinds of theological issues, doesn’t it?

  12. “Second baby due in June? Do they expect to give birth in the afterlife?”

    They may expect to give birth in the New Creation, prophecied at the end of Revelation, composed of both a new Heaven and a new Earth. That is, they are not expecting to be _dead_ after they are raptured. It’s more the theological equivalent of “another dimension” as beloved of fantasy and science fiction.

    I’d bet on “Our actions changed the outcome,” specifically in the form “God heard our prayers for mercy.”

  13. Jeremy

    It’s kind of ironic… Come May 22nd, if they are still here, Adrienne and her husband think they’ll be in biblical hell, right? I would say living in Orlando, FL in the middle of summer with no money for food, air conditioning, rent, water, and an expected baby in less than a month would be a hellish situation to be in. Maybe they won’t be literally in a biblical hell, but I would definitely say they set themselves up to be in a figurative hell. It’s funny how people can create their own outcome without even knowing what they’re actually planning for.

  14. Cheryl


  15. Doug

    @Dan I:
    Beats me. I don’t know them personally. Do you think that if you banked on something that ended up not happening, you’d kill yourself? I can hope that they’ll learn from it and be in a situation to lift themselves back up in a way that suits them better. How many people are chained to lives they don’t like just to fit in? And not in the high school popularity way, I mean fit in to a society/government/tax structure that they don’t agree with. This is a clean break from a life they might not have been passionate about. I recognize it’s extremely optimistic and maybe unrealistic, but their situation isn’t without hope. They get a clean slate on the other side. Unfortunately, you are correct that the Martinez’s might now not be able to buy plasmas or put their children through colleges that will without fail guarantee them good jobs and successful futures.

  16. Brian Too

    I predict that they will claim to have gotten it about 2/7 correct, since both Rapture and Rationalization start with “Ra”. The rest they will attribute to the inscrutability and greatness of God (praise God!).

    And then there will be some mumbling about the world did end (for them, in their old lifestyle), or how they never really meant “the world” but instead “my career”, or perhaps God was going to end the world but changed His mind due to their prayers. Or something.

  17. Dave

    Religion is a mental disease.

  18. larose

    i feel bad that if this family truly will be broke financially that the “Real Christians”will be moved to help them with money and they will become rich, write a book and be better off then most.

  19. its may21 and im still alive!!!!!

  20. hmmm, it’s May 22nd, now what?

  21. calculus

    I did a party in hell, because I am an atheist who grow up as a Jew, I would go to hell because I “don’t belive.” So, because I was suposedly going to hell, I threw a satanic party! I played 9 inch nails on max volume, the ouija board, Played my most gory video games (I play them all the time, but today it was especially fun) I even reanacted that scene from the end of “Indaina Jones and the temple of doom”, fake blood and every thing. I invited all my freinds and we had a sleepover with sleeping bags. I dont have freinds who buy this crap. Then, the next day we woke up to see if we were in hell! Instead, we had a great morning eating at IHOP. The place was practically empty! It was more like heaven then hell! I hope some day these nuts will stop trying to convert the world and start to enjoy life!
    All of my Jewish relitives participated to!
    Ps. Darwin loves you! LOL!


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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