A Doom Is A Wish Your Heart Makes
Charismatic doomsayers and their sheep
from the Reformation through the 19th century
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Eric Hoffer Quote I



 
 

1829 CE - Edward Irving, Henry Drummond and John Nelson Darby put their heads together to dream up the shiny, new concept of the Pre-Trib Rapture and Bang! - modern-day Fundamentalist cosmology was off and running!

1830 CE - Robert Owen was a legend in his own time; philanthropist, social reformer, Utopian visionary, labor leader, union organizer, liberal - and Antichrist - Well, according to Christian prophetess, Margaret McDonald, anyway. Which just goes to show that, in the arena of ideological propaganda, some things never, ever change.

1836 CE - Fasting aficionado John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, came to the conclusion (methodically, of course) that the words, "the time, times and half a time" from Revelation 12:14 meant that Jesus would be returning in 1836. (Don't ask, I just record this stuff) His prediction turned out to be every bit as solid as his reasoning.

Anywhere between March 21, 1843 - March 21, 1844 CE - An economic slump, a spectacular comet and probably one of the finest meteor showers ever to be wasted on the superstitious unwashed masses, all helped contribute to the climate of melodramatic millennialism that gripped the US in the early nineteenth century. The extra push over the edge, however, was delivered by an earnest, if deeply delusional ex-farmboy, ex-sheriff, ex-Justice-of-the-Peace, ex-army captain named William Miller.

  Also an ex-Deist, Miller converted to intellect-asphyxiating Evangelical Christianity after his victorious survival of the War of 1812. A feat he credited to a miracle from God... Though, the vanquished casualties on the British side might have viewed the situation a tad differently. Though lacking any formal education in - well, anything - for the next eight years, William buried himself hairline-deep in Scripture. He finally became convinced, through his own form of creative mathematics, that the End was nigh-ish and that Jesus would be calling the faithful home somewhere between the dates of March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844 "according to the Jewish mode of computation of time". Never mind that according to actual Jewish time reckoning, the years in question were from Tishri 1 (Sept. 25), 5604 to Tishri 1 (Sept. 14), 5605. The dates and the reasons behind them sounded good enough to Miller's target audience - which, let's face it, didn't really include too many Orthodox Jews.

  As the dates drew near, Miller's followers grew frighteningly in both number and fervor until he had some 50,000 doomfounded sheep wagging their tails behind him. Newspapers of the day reported people selling off or giving away all their worldly possessions, farmers refusing to plant or harvest their crops and whole families abandoning their homes; all in anticipation of the imminent Rapture. The Millerites, as they now called themselves, spent the majority of their time either steeped in prayer, informing all their non-Millerite acquaintances that they were going to burn in hell or else, working themselves into convulsive, tongues-speaking, limb-flailing ecstatic trances. It was all kind of like an incredibly long Republican Primary Convention.

  They also developed the rather nasty habit of climbing up onto assorted trees and rooftops and suddenly jumping off in an attempt to time their leaps with Christ's descent. A hobby that ended in numerous broken limbs, internal hemorrhages and more than a few deaths. Since Miller had given his flock an entire year to play with, unhealthy activities such as these stretched on and on and only became more frantic as the cut-off date of March 21, 1844 crept closer. When the appointed date finally came and went without a Savior to be seen, the public-at-large showered the Millerites with all the heartfelt sympathy they believed they deserved. This was exemplified by one Boston newspaper whose headline delicately read, "WHAT! - NOT GONE UP YET? - WE THOUGHT YOU'D GONE UP! - AREN'T YOU GOING UP SOON? - WIFE DIDN'T GO UP AND LEAVE YOU BEHIND TO BURN, DID SHE?"

  This did not exactly help to make Miller a happy man. At least the not-quite-yet-ex-prophet had the decency to be a bit embarrassed about his mistake and even publicly owned up to it. Still, it wasn't long before he and one of his closest disciples, Samuel S. Snow, put on their thinking caps and cooked up...

October 22, 1844 CE - ...as the really-and-for-true date for Christ's encore performance. The explanation for this date wasn't any better than the explanation for the first one. Something to do with the vagaries of math and all them funny Jew dates, don'cha know. The Millerites didn't; but by now, they were willing to accept just about anything. The few, the proud, the marooned were starting to get seriously worried. They weren't alone, either. Miller, himself, began to take on an almost childlike desperation in his letters and his sermons, all but threatening to cry if God didn't come through this time.

  Over-compensation being what it is, the pray-ers and the leapers and do-it-yourself-paupers just re-doubled their lunatic efforts. The histrionics escalated as the countdown counted down and by the morning of October the 22nd, tens of thousands of Rapture-ready Millerites were clustered together, arms outstretched and waiting to be cleared for take-off... As they were by lunchtime... and through the afternoon... and evening... and on into the night.

  When dawn on the 23rd arrived without a single airborne believer to be found, the results were not pretty. The ensuing mass nervous breakdown came to be demurely referred to as, "The Great Disappointment". And one can hardly blame them. I mean, it must be an awful letdown; to spend years thinking you had prime balcony seats for the damnation of all your infidel friends and neighbors, only to find out at the last minute that the show's been canceled on account of reality. Now, that's gotta hurt. While it didn't spell doom for the planet, it most assuredly printed it out in big, block letters for Miller and his "ism". Both of which faded into tearful obscurity and died... Or, at least, Miller did.

1844 CE - Off in Hawaii, a fellow named Hapu got a hold of some seriously over-fermented poi and decided that he was one-third of the Holy Trinity, right alongside Jesus and Jehovah. He immediately started squawking about the end of the world and all the terrible, awful, icky, poo-poo, nasty punishments he would be visiting soon upon the heads of the unbelievers. He was having some trouble getting converts until he hit on the inspired notion of telling his fellow islanders that they needn't work anymore, what with the End so close and all. "Party hardy" being a time-honored message of revelation, his sect became immensely popular for a short while... at least, until that poi ran out.

1845 CE - After the "Great Disappointment" most of the Millerites wandered off to go their separate ways. Some just went back to their old mainstream churches, some to new ones, some were disillusioned enough to give up on religion entirely. But a surprising number found that breaking up is hard to do and made a beeline from cult to cult without a pause. Most of them called themselves Second Adventists and they no sooner pitched their Chautauqua tents, then they were giving in to their obsessive compulsion for Doomsday date-setting. The nightmare embarrassment of 1844 had barely slipped by when they were already hopping up and down, tilting at 1845. In a pre-Thorazine America, this proved to be an intractable problem.

1846 CE - ...As you can see by the Second Adventist's third disappointment.

1849 CE - ...And their fourth.

1851 CE - ...And mercifully, their last.

1862 CE - A big fan of Bishop Ussher and the Biblical Week theory, John Cumming of the Scottish National Church feverishly penned a two-volume tome boldly titled, "The End: Or the Proximate Signs of the Close of This Dispensation" in 1855. He would soon be suffering from the typical Parousia prognosticator's syndrome, the "seven year twitch".

1863 CE - This was the year the Millerite offshoot group known as The Seventh Day Adventists finally got their doctrine in working order. To the 7DA, 1844 brought no disappointment, great or small. In the newly worked-out scheme of things, 1844 was a roaring success as the date that Jesus went - not to his sanctuary on Earth - but to his invisible sanctuary up in heaven. Sure, he did! Prove he didn't! William Miller, so they said, was right on the money about the date, he just got the details a little off... And you know where the devil is supposed to be in.

  Well, Jesus, it seems, needs to stay up there a while longer to spruce up the place and get everybody's soul file in order. But, as soon as he's sure that everyone's been given the all the right tickets and transfer coupons, he'll pop right down and Rapture and damn us all accordingly. Isn't that nice? Anyway, these days, the 7DA are just way too quick to get snookered into divulging any exact dates, anymore. But, ohhh, you just bet your bottom dollar... it's gonna be "real soon now".

1863 CE - Taking up the Southcottian reigns from the dull, drab and discredited John Turner, was John Wroe. Unlike his predecessor, no one ever accused Wroe of being dull and drab. His career as Southcottian boss-man was punctuated by such sparkling highlights as his two highly touted attempts to walk on water (both of which were about as successful as trying to get an elephant to pole vault) and having himself publicly circumcised. (and no, I don't know what the collectable souvenirs were for that event) By comparison, his prophetic announcement of an 1863 End Time seems almost normal... It was even accurate, albeit on a strictly personal level, as he dropped dead that very year.

1864 CE - The Rev. Edward Irving of Glasgow, founder of a movement called "Irvingism" (at least, until his followers realized just how goofy that sounded and changed it to the much ritzier, "Catholic Apostolic Church") didn't really start out his career as a very popular guy. His insistence on writing works that took a dim view of Jesus' soft, sensitive, mortal side and his increasingly shrill prognostications that the world would be a'takin' the low road no later than 1864 eventually led to his being booted right out of the Church of Scotland. Undaunted, he took his show on the road, tossed in a speaking-in-tongues routine for a little extra zip and became a wildly popular preacher throughout England. He also showed the good judgment to avoid seeing his prophecy go ppffftt by dying in 1834 at the age of 42.

1868 CE - The Reverend M. Baxter of the Church of England had more than a few screws rolling about wild and free. In brief, he was a paranoid, French-detesting, anti-papist, anti-Semitic, apocalyptic, devil-phobic, sin-hysteric, hypergraphic, ranting wad of wankery. That today's American militia wives don't sew little commemorative cross-stitch samplers of him to hang by their gun racks is more an oversight of history, than any devaluation of his entrenched dementia. No more perfect example can be found of the Rev's psychosis, than a sample of his own words. In fact, just the title of his book on the coming Armageddon alone will suffice: (breathe deep)

"Louis Napoleon, the Infidel Antichrist Predicted in Prophecy to Confirm A Seven Years Covenant With the Jews, About the Year 1861, and Nearly to Succeed in Gaining A Universal Empire; and Then to be Deified, and Idolatrously Worshipped, and Also to Institute A 3 1/2 Years Sanguinary Persecution Against the Christian Church, From 1864-1865 to 1868, During Which Time Wars, Famine, Pestilences & Earthquakes, If Not Religious Persecution, Will Prevail in England and America Until the Slaughter of the Witnesses, Elias and Another Prophet; After Which Napoleon, Their Destroyer, Together with the Pope Are Foreshown to Be Cast Alive Into the Lake of Fire At the Descent of Christ At Armageddon About the Year 1868"

  ...And I don't even want to go into what the "Foreword" looks like.

  By 1889 it became patently obvious, even to Baxter, that his prophecy was off some. Unperturbed, he merely dashed off another light read on the subject of God's Final Judgment and declared authoritatively that in 1896 144,000 good Christian souls would be Raptured off into the blue yonder. The remaining population would be left to enjoy the extra space for only another five years, though, before the Earth was transformed into a jumbo size Dura-flame log.

1874 CE - As we've already seen demonstrated by the creation of the Second and Seventh Day Adventists, the Millerite movement never did get to rest in peace. Though Millerism, itself, ended up a stillborn, its memes were quickly harvested to create a whole new generation of Doomsday-doting ideological clones. Although most of these cults would eventually try a more mainstream approach to living, placing Armageddon on a warm, yet indeterminate back-burner, one Millerite offshoot went on to become the most persistent harbinger of faux apocalypse that the world has ever seen.

  The Jehovah's Witnesses, brainchild of the charismatic, iconoclastic and feverishly fanatical Mr. Charles Taze Russell, began their now-signature hysteria-mongering career by announcing that 1874 would be the year the nasty, sinful world ended. When the year came and went without the desired special effects, Russell went and swiped an excuse from the 7DA and put his own special little spin on it. Jesus most certainly did come in for a landing in 1874, he asserted. The reason it wasn't immediately obvious to everyone was that he was invisible! Of course, anyone who was truly devout would be able to see him through the eyes of faith... if their faith was strong enough, that is.

  This being kind of an Emperor's New Messiah situation, naturally nobody wanted to own up to falling short of the requisite faith levels. So, the Russellites (as they referred to themselves at the time) were easily persuaded to agree that their fearless leader's explanation simply had to be the right one. This did leave open another question though: At exactly what point was the Lord planning to, as it were, de-cloak?

USA, 1881 CE - Charles T. Russell was in a quandary. When was his invisible Savior going to get all nice and visible, again? And where does one go to find a suitable answer? For Charlie, the solution to both questions came from a unique source... the pyramids. Much as it would nearly a century later in the hippy-dippy 1960's, a very pseudo pseudo-science called "pyramidology" became all the rage amongst the mystic set. Simply put, pyramidology is kind of a mythos-in-a-blender affair. With a little creative (and I mean, to the point of free-association) arithmetic, some selective Bible reading and a dollop of any other mythological or historical data one cared to throw in, the Great Pyramid of Giza could be shown to prophesy every world event from the birth of Christ to the popularity of Ugg boots.

  Jumping on this fad with mad abandon, Charlie did a bit of creative calculation of his own. (Not that he actually went to Egypt to get any of his measurements, mind you) He used a crazy-quilt combo of inches and "pyramid inches" (a whole-cloth invention of early "pyramidologist" Charles Piazzi Smyth) and somehow produced an End-Times date of 1881. Of course, he and all his followers were quite proud of this momentous mathematical revelation... until 1882 had the poor taste to bounce in as though nothing at all had happened.

England, 1881 CE - At some point mid-way through the seventeenth century, little collections of rhyming prophecies started showing up around England under the name, "Mother Shipton". Whether this person actually existed or not is a matter of debate. The important thing is that ever since, people have been ascribing all sorts of bizarre prognostications to this mystery woman; and new ones (always in catchy, sing-song nursery-rhyme style, suitable for tiny minds to cling to) are forever being "discovered". Of course, the most popular of these prophetic poesies have always been the ones dealing with the sex lives of the royal family... um, er... But, the second most popular were those pointing to the world's Grand Finalé. Most of these tend to be vague couplets, shying away from giving any specifics like "how" and "when". But in 1862, one particular jingle that showed up in a creatively revised edition of "The Life And Death Of Mother Shipton", went something like this:

"The world to an end will come
In eighteen hundred and eighty-one."

  Well, you can bet that one caught on in a hurry. Always eager for something to panic about, the public immediately went into collective palpitations over their very nearly imminent (well, nineteen years, and everything's relative) doom. The fact that it was a total forgery, even owned up to by the forger, (its Editor) didn't calm things down any. The public knew what they wanted. And when they wanted a first-rate apocalypse, well, damn it, no mealy-mouthed appeals to logic and reason were going to get in the way of their good time! By the morning of January 1, 1882, however, even the most determined hangers-on had to learn to let go. From here on out, if folks wanted to live in abject terror over repeated imaginary Armageddons, they were just going to have to pick up and move to America like everybody else.

1890 CE - The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith (kind of the L. Ron Hubbard of his day, really) declared back in 1832 that Jesus' return engagement was scheduled for the year he (Joe) turned eighty-five years old. Bad luck for Joseph, not only did Jesus turn out to be no-show, but he, himself ended up tossed in jail on somewhat dubious treason charges and was murdered by a mob at the age of thirty-nine.

1890 CE - Wovoka was a member of the Paiute tribe, whose father had been instrumental in the Ghost Dance movement of the 1860's-1870's. At fourteen he was adopted by a Christian family, became interested in their faith and spent some years studying with Mormon missionaries and the Indian Shaker Church. Driven by a vision he had during a solar eclipse in 1889 (as well as the endless shafting his people were getting from the whites in any given year) Wovoka made the unfortunate mistake of welding his Ghost Dance spiritualism together with Christian millenarianism to create a kind of pacifist protest theology. He believed that Jesus told him he would return in a year's time with all the ancient ancestors in tow to restore the land to its former pristine beauty. (A home improvement plan that included cleaning out all that nasty white trash that had been piling up in recent centuries.) And so, Wovoka traveled far and wide to preach his new doctrine.

  The promised millennial miracle hinged, it seemed, on the Indians separating themselves from the whites as much as possible and engaging in the Ghost Dance ritual with abandon. It caught on with the various tribes in a big way and Ghost Dancing, sometimes for days on end, became all the rage. The whites, on the other hand, were less than thrilled. Blowing the situation completely out of proportion and running with every "bloodthirsty savage redskin" stereotype they knew, the government soon outlawed the dance and sent troops in to put an end to the native jam sessions.

  The Indians, meanwhile, had come to believe that they were invulnerable to bullets because they were wearing magic medicine shirts and any soldier stupid enough to fire on them would be struck dead instantly by God's hand. Both these irrational trains of thought finally came to a monstrous head-on collision at a place called Wounded Knee. And when the smoke finally cleared, 30 soldiers, 84 Indian men and 62 Indian women and children lay either dead or dying. Much to Wovoka's and all other native tribespeople's dismay, Jesus never did show up, the medicine shirts didn't stop blood, much less bullets and the white people continued to plow their way across every inch of decent real estate in sight.

1896 CE - According to the aforementioned Reverend Baxter, this was supposed to have been the year for Christ's Gala Aerial Faithful Roundup. Instead, Jesus was once again a no-show. So much for Baxter's Rapture. (I love that title, by the way; it sounds like an X-rated World War II movie)

1900 CE - Over in gay Pa-ree, Catholic priest and End Times obsessive Pierre Lachèze flexed his raving muscles to produce, "The Return of the Jews and the Apocalypse", a little Fin de Siècle sparkler that helped keep anti-Semitism humming with its theme of Jews-as-Antichrist-incubators. Pierre was just dead-set on 1896 for a complete Jerusalem Temple remodel job and a 1900 Doomsdate. By 1901 both predictions were just dead in the water.

1900 CE - Meanwhile, in the Brazilian hinterland, a group of some 20,000 out-of-work peasants led by an elderly ascetic head-case known as Antonio Conselheiro ("Counsellor Tony"), founded a religious shanty town dubbed Canudos. From this sacred slum, they planned to happily practice their combo-faith of Catholicism, Indian folk ritual, witchcraft and tax dodging. They fully believed they could hold out until the end of the world, which, according to the prophecy-plying Tony was due to arrive pronto in 1900. Instead, 10,000 Brazilian troops arrived in 1897 and wiped the town and its inhabitants right off the map. Sad, true. But, where Doomsday prophecies are concerned, there's always mañana.

November 13, 1900 CE - Following in the red-hot footsteps of the "Old Believers", a Russian cult calling themselves "The Brothers And Sisters Of The Red Death" decided to celebrate the imminent end of the world by doing their collective impression of a Molotov cocktail. By the time the authorities arrived, 100 of the 862 suicidal siblings had already reduced themselves to their basic carbon elements. Apparently, for these pre-Revolution Ruskies, it was better to be red and dead.

 
 






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