It is now about a year ago since Harold Camping had his 15 minutes of fame with his end-of-the-world insanity. Like all of his predecessors, he proved to be wrong and he and his followers were left with egg on their face. Religion Dispatches posted an article recently in which followers of Camping were interviewed about their life in the past year since they got “egged.” A few now totally denounce their former “apocalypse now” style of faith but most of merely reformulated it, offering revised interpretations of the “end of the world.” In other words, they now adopt the pose, “No, it didn’t happen as we anticipated. But, in a way it did happen and here is what I mean….”
In other words, they cling to their lunacy. And that is how we humans tend to behave—we get something in our heads and then hold on to it for dear life. Tearing someone away from a lunatic idea is like trying to take a piece of red meat away from a hungry mongrel. But, I think it goes further than that. We cling to all ideas as if they were ultimate reality and fail to look at what the ideas have reference to; we fail to “wrestle with words and meanings” (T. S. Eliot) as such an enterprise would be too scary. W. H. Auden noted, “And Truth met him and held out Her hand. And he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.” Decades ago I read someone who noted, “Our thoughts are the belated rationalization of conclusions to which we have already been led by our desires.” In other words, we think and believe only what we want to.
Now let me clarify and be honest. The temptation of being an ideologue is not the exclusive domain of conservative religious zealots. It is a temptation for all of us. Yes, even for the “literarylew” ilk! I have seen egregious examples of this obnoxiousness with liberal, educated, “enlightened” people. It is all the same.
And I close with the oft quoted Buddhist observation about words: the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.