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Gary Horton: Buyer beware or end up looking silly

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: June 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Most observers had a little fun with that end of the world thing a couple of weeks back. Harold Camping, an old-timey preacher, runs a modestly successful radio-evangelist gig. He brings in about $18 million an year — not quite Oprah level, but not bad for an old man speaking into a tin can.

Camping ran his bible through Excel, and the calculations said non-Campers were good as dead come May 21. He spent big bucks promoting the date of our demise, and a chunk of his followers also sold all they had, buying billboards and funding their ever-popular “repent or be slaughtered” message to the world. Such is the commitment of true believers.

My wife, Carrie, was too preoccupied with new kitties to care about the end of the world. Son Jonathan had just given her two bouncy, baby cats to love and nurture.

Nurturing trumps godly mayhem, and Carrie just wasn’t into wrath of God slaughter that weekend to get too worked up. Her instincts proved right, when we made it through 6 p.m. on May 21 with nary a scratch between us — just little kitten scratches.

But come May 22, Camping true believers had hard facts to face. All us Doubting Thomases were still around — and worse, they were still here, too. Not taken to heaven, but disappointedly stuck on earth, proven wrong and gullible.

One might think Camping should apologize and quit, allowing his followers to move on in their lives — but no go. Camping is rerunning the numbers, and true believers are saying the mix up was just another test of faith from God.

True believers, be they in religion, politics or intense personal opinion, when faced with contrary facts, find faith patches or new angles to keep them running strong. True believers are like that. Self-regenerating, self-healing — like a lizard’s tail that grows back when broken. True believers don’t like to change, and fanatical believers apparently can’t.

True belief is too comfortable, too secure and, in the end, challenging one’s personal world views can be daunting, scary for life implications, and very hard, emotional work.

I went to a Democratic club meeting the other day. It was a fine and informative meeting. Overall, the meeting had some good stuff. But toward the end, a guest speaker let it slip that she knows with absolute certainty the United States military has an earthquake-generating machine, and we caused the giant 9.0 Japan earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

We did it, you see, because we’re at odds with the Bank of Japan. True believers are everywhere. Next time, I’ll leave earlier.

I’m certain, should I attend the local Republican club, I’d encounter similar dynamics. Mostly normal, good stuff until some true-believing birther jumps up about President Barack Obama’s mom giving birth to little Barack in Kenya, and in her abject poverty, still had the foresight to see her son as president of the U.S., requiring naturalized citizenship. So from Kenya, she called over to Hawaii and talked two newspapers into announcing Barack’s birth at a Honolulu hospital. Good job, mom.

Yet, as crazy as all that sounds, we still have some 20 percent of our U.S. population believing in this stuff — even without any positive proof of a foreign birth, yet with tons of proof of a domestic birth. Nothing will shake these true-believing birthers.

Two Sundays back, our pastor had some fun with the May 21 end-of-the-world thing. Our whole church had been left behind — not even one of us saved. My pastor postured that, in today’s world, we face a lot of information from a lot of sources — continuously and constantly — and these days, mostly wrong.

We’ve got to be discerning — taking “facts” as they’re presented and applying logic and dispassionate judgment to all that would persuade or sell us. Bombarded by constant, 24/7 marketing and an Internet chock-full of whatever and everything — we’re susceptible to influences and untruths we struggle to perceive.

And there’s the all the unrelenting bias in talkshows and certain news channels. True believers are hatched from such unrelenting repetitive exposure, and facts won’t change their course.

But to maintain balance and objectivity we’ve got to persevere in discernment. We’ve got to keep our minds open to the full range of available knowledge, opinion and facts — prior to locking down our beliefs and opinions.

And should we ever cede our thinking to “absolute-leader types,” well, the thinking’s been done, and Camping, Jim Jones, David Koresh, Rush Limbaugh or Grover Norquist will have us following like hogs with rings in our noses.

True-believer stuff almost always ends badly — from failed churches, to failed revolutions, to failed wars, to failed tax policy and even to failed states.

Discern with balanced, tempered, well-researched facts, and you’ll see good decisions leading to steady, productive, rational policy — and usually — secure, long lives. Go with fanatic emotion, and you might wake up looking silly to the press one day — or much, much worse.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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