Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The king's name is a tower of strength...

As regular readers know, I'm not particularly impressed at this point by the evidence that's been brought to bear in cases of alleged hauntings.  It's not that I'm saying it's impossible, mind you; it's just that we lack the two things that a skeptic would require: (1) hard evidence, for which a ghostly presence is the best explanation; or failing that, (2) a plausible mechanism by which spirit survival could occur.

Neither of these has yet been demonstrated.

Take, for example, the claim earlier this week that some spiritualists in England were contacted by a spirit who may have been King Richard III.  (The spiritualists were careful to say that it may not have been the Hunchback King himself, but someone else named Richard.  There are, after all, lots of Richards out there.)

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Medium Gill Hibbert was with a group in Donington le Heath Manor House, the place where King Richard spent his last night before riding out to his death in Bosworth Field in 1485, and they were using a "ghost box" that allegedly "allows spirits to speak through white noise."

So if you listen to the clip on the link provided above -- which I would prefer you do with your eyes closed, for reasons I'll describe in a moment -- you first hear nothing but crackles and static, and then you allegedly hear the ghost speaking a single word.

Now, here's the difficulty.  On the recording, there is captioning that tells you what the ghost is supposedly saying.  And therein lies the problem.  Because if someone tells you what you're hearing, it becomes almost impossible not to hear it.  Take, for example, this wonderful "Misheard Lyrics" version of the classic Orff choral piece "O Fortuna," from Carmina Burana:



I know a good bit of Latin, and when I watch this video, I find myself unable to hear anything but the rather twisted English version (I still guffaw at "Salsa cookies!  Windmill cookies!  They give you gonorrhea!").  So once the ghost hunters tell you what you're listening for in the white noise, they've biased you to hear it.

Still, they heard it when they first recorded it, right?  But remember, they already had an idea about what they were hoping the ghost would say.  And given that, is it any surprise that they picked out that particular word?  It's what they expected to hear -- which is the exact definition of confirmation bias.

So, okay, maybe it was King Richard III, hanging around the premises 530-odd years after his death, for some reason.  Seems like an odd thing to do -- if I was a spirit, I'd probably head off to Maui or Belize or somewhere, rather than haunting the place where I was hunted down by hostile knights and then gutted like a fish and left to die on the battlefield.  But to each his own, I suppose.  And I need more evidence than this to come to that conclusion.

Because this recording isn't doing much for me, honestly.  Hibbert et al. say they're going to turn the recording over to professionals to have it analyzed further, which is a good idea, but even if it turns out that it was a human voice, it very much remains to be seen that it was a ghost's.

So at the moment, I'm putting this into the "Interesting but unconvincing" category.  Once we have a ghost show up, in full view, preferably in broad daylight, and tell us some verifiable piece of information that no one in the room had any way to know ahead of time, then I'll be convinced.  Until then, I'm going with the "Suck juice from moose" explanation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blood moons and End Times

I would have thought that most of us knew enough science, and had discarded enough superstition, to be past the "Look For Portents In The Sky" approach to knowledge.

Apparently I'm wrong.

The next couple of years are going to be unusual in having four total lunar eclipses, the first of which happened two days ago.  (Subsequent ones will occur in October 2014, April 2015, and September 2015.)  Which is quite spectacular and cool, although I must protest to the Weather Gods (speaking of indulging in superstition) for sending upstate New York cloudy weather a couple of nights ago, obscuring our view of the first in the "tetrad."

[image courtesy of photographer Alfredo Garcia and the Wikimedia Commons]

So far, only something of interest to astronomy buffs.  But then someone nicknamed them "blood moons," because of the deep red color the Moon assumes during a total lunar eclipse, and that was enough to get the loons going full-force.

First, we had Pastor John Hagee, of Texas's Cornerstone Church, who claims that the "four blood moons" are signs of the End Times:
In Acts 2:19-20, it is written, “And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord...”  Just as in biblical times, God is controlling the sun, the moon, and the stars to send our generation a signal that something big is about to happen.  The question is: Are we watching and listening to His message?
No, Pastor Hagee, actually the question is, do you understand how eclipses work?  There's nothing supernatural about them, so there's nothing supernatural about four in a row, either.  There was one such "tetrad" in 1949, and another in 1967, and the world didn't end.

Oh, but Hagee says, stuff happened both times!  Big stuff!  1967 was the year of the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, and 1949 was... um... soon after the state of Israel was founded.  Okay, two years after, but maybe god was busy elsewhere and didn't get to that event's Four Blood Moons until later.  He's got a lot to manage, okay?

Not to be outdone, Pastor Mark Biltz said that not only were the Four Blood Moons a portent of evil, it was President Obama's fault:
Barack Obama quite recently, expressing his frustration that Republican members of Congress won’t give him what he wants, threatened arbitrary executive action, promising that he has a “pen and phone.” 
But there are “flashing red warning lights” in the heavens that should command peoples’ attention right now, because the one behind those warnings, God, had “more than a pen and a phone in his hand,” according to the author of “Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs.” 
Pastor Mark Biltz, whose book is creating a tidal wave of interest right now with the first of four lunar eclipses expected to become visible early Tuesday, was speaking to Breaking Israel News... 
“I believe the moons are like flashing red warning lights at a heavenly intersection saying to Israel as well as the nations they will be crossing heavenly red lines and if they do, they will understand as Pharaoh did on Passover night 3,500 years ago that the Creator backs up what He says. 
“Like Pharaoh the leaders and pundits of today will realize when it comes to crossing the red lines of the Creator of the universe he has more than a pen and a phone in his hand.” 
Whooo-weee, that's one persuasive argument.  "The Moon looks funny tonight" + "I don't like Obama" + "I don't understand science at all" = "God agrees with my political beliefs and is trying to send the Democrats a sign by coloring the Moon red."

Well, can't argue with that.

What's funniest about Biltz's argument, though, is that he's acting as if somehow god could have stopped the lunar eclipses from happening, if only President Obama had been a good boy.  It's not like we haven't known for years that this "tetrad" was going to occur; it would have happened even if Mitt Romney had been elected.  So how the hell can this be a portent of anything if it would have happened no matter what?

And the scary thing is, Biltz and Hagee are only two of hundreds.  If you Google "blood moons end times" you will get thousands of hits on sites all owned by people who apparently don't know a single thing about planetary astronomy.

I shouldn't let this kind of thing frustrate me, I suppose, but I keep hoping that humanity will one day choose science over superstition.  People like Hagee and Biltz, however, don't make it easy, with their appeal to people's primal fears and political biases.

As for me, I'm just going to enjoy the photographs people have posted of the event, and hope for better weather in October.  And I'll be willing to bet that we'll make it through all four lunar eclipses unscathed, with no sign of the Antichrist -- just as we've done countless times in the past.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hallmark, censorship, and the culture of persecution

So apparently, someone over at the Hallmark Channel thought it'd be a good idea to censor out the word "god" in their broadcast of the movie It Could Happen to You.

The backlash was immediate and vitriolic.  The Facebook page for Hallmark Channel USA erupted in comments like the following:
I watch you [sic] channel all the time. WHY DID YOU BLEEP OUT THE WORK [sic] GOD IN THE MOVIE IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU.  Same [sic] on you.....Without GOD you would have no network. 
REALLY HALLMARK!!!!  BLEEPING OUT THE WORD GOD!!!!  HAVE WE FORGOTTEN THAT YOU USED TO BE A CHRISTIAN NETWORK!!!  WTH!!!  HOW ABOUT NOT OFFENDING CHRISTIANS!!!! 
We are very disappointed in Hallmark's decision to delete the word GOD from their presentation of "IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU"...  We will wait for Hallmark to issue a public apology before resuming our support of the Hallmark Channel etc... 
Why did you bleep out the word God from the movie "It Can Happen To You" broadcast today? I think it is time to block your channel. You make a lot of money off the rising of God's only son who died and rose again day of rising [sic], yet you bleep his Name.  I am beyond disgusted. 
Some freak High on pot says it was ok for them to do this.  I bet he collects a check on our dime.  This is exactly what is wrong.  When you are high~~you think you are god! 
I am so furious and upset. I am sick and tired of "god" offending people.  Hallmark has some explaining to do!  I have written Glenn Beck, Bill O' and Hannity.  This country is so far gone!
Marvelous.  Go ahead and tell Hannity, Beck, et al., and they'll make a capital case out of it, giving the pathological persecution-culture that is becoming more and more common amongst American Christians further fertilizer to grow on.

And fertilizer it is, friends, as in the bovine variety.  Because the reason that Hallmark censored the word "god" in It Could Happen to You wasn't because they were trying to eliminate the mention of a deity from the movie; it was because it occurred in the phrases "oh my god" and "I swear to god," and therefore constituted biblically-forbidden instances of taking the Lord's Name In Vain.  Yup -- that's right; they didn't bleep out "god" because it was holy, but because it wasn't holy enough.

[image courtesy of photographer Kevin Probst and the Wikimedia Commons]

And it's not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  Back in 2002, a mention of "Jesus" by the co-host of The View (in the context of saying "Thank you, Jesus," for her losing weight) was censored out on similar grounds, leading to a petition by outraged Christians who thought that this constituted suppression of religion.  In 2007, an ABC censor mistakenly bleeped out all mentions of the word "god" in the in-flight version of the movie The Queen, because he thought it contravened the rules against blasphemous use of religious language.

Each time, censors erred not because they were trying to offend, but because they evidently knew that these people have the sensibilities of petulant children.  For all the good it did.  If there's nothing to be angry about, they'll find something.  The phrase "damned if you do, damned if you don't," comes to mind.

Okay, I know that Hollywood is a pretty liberal place, and that much of what's on the air these days is there because of its capacity to shock (Family Guy, I'm looking at you).  But picking on The Hallmark Channel?  Really?  The network that was created from the merger of the American Christian Television System and the Vision Interfaith Satellite Network?  You'd think that someone watching a movie on Hallmark would take for granted that whatever was being done was somehow motivated by an attempt to honor Christian values.  I mean, I can see assuming the worst of Syfy or Comedy Central, but Hallmark?

I found out about this from a Facebook post, where I saw yet another comment by an outraged Christian, to wit: "14% atheists in the US, and 71% Christians, and for some reason we're letting the atheists run the show!"  Which might qualify as the single most moronic statement I've seen in months.  "Run the show?"  Being an atheist in the United States pretty much automatically dumps you into the category of "politically powerless."  If we were running the show, do you seriously think that there would be a bill that looks likely to pass in Louisiana declaring the bible to be "the official state book?"  Would there be a bill still in conference in South Carolina declaring that the mammoth is the official state fossil -- and that it was created on the Sixth Day?  Would the governor of Iowa have just signed a proclamation stating that July 14, 2014, be set aside as a "day of thoughtful prayer and humble repentance according to II Chronicles 7:14?"

Running the show, my ass.

Censor that, Hallmark.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Green ghosts and falling plates

It's been a while since we've had any interesting ghost claims, here at Skeptophilia, so today we'll look at a couple of curious ones from the last few days.

The first one comes from Coventry, England, where a photograph of a talk being given by Irish President Michael Higgins at the city's Medieval Guildhall caught something strange:


Here's a close-up of the odd apparition:


I wonder if you'll notice what I immediately found interesting about these photographs; the fact that it isn't simply a camera flare, or other such optical glitch -- because whatever the green blob is has a clear reflection in the polished floor in the first photograph.  Further (if you'll look at the photograph gallery in the Coventry Telegraph article I linked above) you'll see that the image persists in subsequent photographs, meaning that whatever it was hung around for a while.

The Guildhall is rumored to be haunted; it is the site of a famous photograph from thirty years ago, taken at a meeting of the Coventry Freemans, in which there appeared a monk-like figure who hadn't been there when the picture was taken.  So given its reputation, the paranormal enthusiasts have been having a field day with this.

Now, I still think that there's a rational explanation for the Guildhall Green Ghost; I just don't know what it is.  Anyone who might have expertise in photography, and who might have some ideas -- I'm a-listenin'.

Also curious, but perhaps explainable as a hoax, is last week's claim of a poltergeist in a Gilford, New Hampshire general store.  In a surveillance camera video, which you can view at the link provided, we see a glass plate slide off the counter and shatter on the floor of the Ellacoya General Store.

Employee Heidi Boyd, who heard the plate crash and was the first on the scene afterwards, denies it was rigged.  "We did not make this up, people," she wrote, after skeptics claimed that the whole thing was a setup.  "I was the only one in the store!  Couldn’t slide off and leave everything under it untouched."

Well, maybe.  There have been previous claims that the store was haunted -- store manager Lisa Giles said that when the store first opened, she saw a figure of a man standing in the doorway which vanished when she approached, and other employees have heard the sounds of ghostly whistling when the store was empty.  But even so -- given human ingenuity, and the free publicity that something like the rumors of poltergeist activity could provide, you can't rule out that the falling plate clip could be a fake.  Myself, I'm not ready to throw myself into the "sold" column based upon an odd video.

As I've said before; between the general tendency of the human perceptual apparatus to interpret incorrectly what we're experiencing, and the fact that some people seem to enjoy perpetrating hoaxes, I need more than a few curious images to convince me that there's a dead dude's spirit hanging around a place.  A direct, unequivocal experience of ghosts would go a long way, not some second-hand account.  Of course, given my temperament, I'd appreciate it if any ghosts who are reading this would wait to appear when I'm not alone in a house at night, because besides being curious, but I'm also a big fat coward.  Thank you.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spinning Jesus's wife

New from the "Tempest In A Teapot" department, we had an announcement on Thursday that the fragment of papyrus that mentions Jesus's wife was not a modern forgery.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Predictably, the hue and cry started almost immediately, especially after historian Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, who brought the papyrus to light last year, stated, "The main point of the [fragment] is simply to affirm that women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples."

Some were in favor of the whole thing.  Hal Taussig, of Union Divinity School, said that the idea of Jesus not being celibate would be a "huge shift."  "This is where people will take the most offense," he said.  "But for many married people, this might make Jesus feel closer."

Then there were the ones who started claiming immediately that the woman referred to in the scrap of papyrus was Mary Magdalene, and that therefore "Dan Brown was right."  Evidently not recognizing the fact that The Da Vinci Code is still shelved in the "Fiction" section at Barnes & Noble.

Others, however, were not so sanguine, although only marginally more grounded in reality.  Reverend James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer, said, "It’s incredible that the four Gospel writers wouldn’t have mentioned Jesus’s wife if he had one.  They mentioned everyone else in his family.  There are Gospels that talk about Jesus turning stones into birds...  [F]unnily enough, the people who are quick to accept the veracity of this appear to be liberal Christians who question the veracity of other biblical accounts, including that of the Resurrection."

Reverend Henry Wansbrough, English biblical scholar and Prior of the Cathedral of Norwich, echoed Martin's sentiments.  "It will not have a great deal of importance for the Christian church.  It will show that there was a group who had these beliefs in the second century - Christians or semi-Christians - who perhaps had not reflected enough on the implications of the canonical scriptures - to see that Jesus could not have been married.  It's a historical interest, rather than a faith interest."

Then we have Professor Alberto Camplani, of Sapienza University in Rome, who added that the text "should be read purely symbolically."

Whatever that means.

What I find funny about all of this is that the fragment doesn't date to the 1st century C. E.; it dates to somewhere between the 6th and 9th centuries, and "possibly even earlier," according to the Harvard Theological Review.  So, at best, the fragment was written four hundred years after Jesus's death.  So it's a little like we had a fragmentary account that said only, "King Henry VIII said to his girlfriend..." and forthwith started arguing over whether the phrase was referring to Anne Boleyn, with others commenting that no, it can't mean that, that it wasn't referring to Boleyn but to another woman, who, by the way, had nice legs and spoke with a French accent, and yet others who claimed that the phrase was entirely metaphorical in nature and that "Henry's girlfriend" referred to the country of England.

Given that, it's no wonder that Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, said that the papyrus was not a "game changer" with respect to belief and biblical understanding.  Of course it isn't.  People have come to the conclusions they have -- whether Jesus likes gays or is pro-welfare or would have been in favor of the Iraq War or thinks that premarital sex is verboten -- by cherry-picking whatever biblical quotes seem to support the point of view they already had.  Because a big, complex, internally inconsistent document like the bible, that has been translated and copied and retranslated and recopied hundreds of times, and which in any case reflected the changing beliefs of a bunch of Middle Eastern mostly-illiterates over a period of perhaps two thousand years, is bound to contain support for damn near any worldview you happen to have, whether you are a bleeding-heart liberal tree-hugger or a steely-eyed close-the-borders conservative.

So if you come to understanding a different way than science, you can end up wherever you want, really.  The science says that the document isn't a forgery, and dates to somewhere around 1,400 years ago; the linguistic analysis gives us an idea of what the Coptic text said.  And that is all.  After that, if you want more, you have to leave the realm of rational, evidence-based understanding.  But it you do that, you can take the results and spin it whichever direction suits your fancy.

Which is mostly what people do anyhow.  So business as usual, I guess.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Resistance is... imperative.

I should know better by now.  Whenever I post something that has the subtext, "Isn't this ridiculous?  I mean, really.  Can you think of anything more idiotic than this?" -- as I did in yesterday's post, wherein I described an ultrareligious website's claim that the Rapture has actually already happened -- it just acts as an impetus for someone in my readership to send me something even stupider.

So when I got an email from a loyal reader that said, "First the Rapture, and now this," I paused for a moment before clicking the link.

I should have paused for a lot longer.  And gotten myself a glass of scotch.  Because the link was to a story about an evangelical pastor and a talk-radio host...

... who think that the gays are forming an army of super-soldiers.

*brief pause to allow you to go get something to fortify yourself with before reading on*

I wish I was kidding about this, I really do.  But according to an article over at Raw Story, Reverend Jeff Allen of Indiana was interviewed a couple of days ago by TruNews radio host and fundamentalist wingnut Rick Wiles, and they were in total agreement that the gays are trying to create a master race of super soldiers.

Fig. 1: Super Soldier.  Not sure if he's gay, but we should assume the worst.  [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Wiles and Allen ignore, of course, the fact that being gay, the super soldiers will have a little trouble reproducing their Master Race unless they enlist some help.  But as I mentioned yesterday, facts seem to be very much beside the point with this crowd.

"Hitler was trying to create a race of super gay male soldiers," Wiles said.  "It’s not an exaggeration to say ‘homofascist,’ because the German Nazi Party was homosexual.  Hitler was a homosexual.  The top Nazi leadership, all of them were homosexuals."

Which would have undoubtedly come as a surprise to Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda, who had six children; Joachim von Ribbentrop and his wife Anna, who had five children; Ernst Kaltenbrunner and his wife Elisabeth, who had three children; etc.  Not to mention the thousands of homosexuals who were rounded up during the Holocaust and sent to concentration camps, where many lost their lives.

Oh, but do go on, Mr. Wiles, don't let me distract you with actual facts.

"They were creating a homosexual special race," Wiles continued.  "That’s what it was all about.  It wasn’t this thing about an Aryan race of white people, blue-eyed, blonde-haired, white people, Hitler was trying to create a race of super gay male soldiers.  If it’s not stopped, it will end up in America just like it was in Germany but it won’t be the Jews that will be slaughtered, it will be the Christians."

Then Reverend Allen chimed in, but not with what any sane person would have said, which would have been, "Are you fucking crazy?"  No, Allen acted as if what Wiles was saying made perfect sense.

"Right," he said, his voice carrying that intensity that you only hear in people who have utterly and completely lost their minds.  "We haven’t gotten, fortunately, to the slaughtering part, but we’re getting to the point of the marginalizing part.  Marginalized, get us to the edge, remove us from any influence in society."

Marginalized even though Christians still account for nearly three-quarters of the population in the United States.  Righty-o.

But never mind that, Allen said.  "Gays are Nazi thought police and they’re going to be the worst kind of tyrants we’ve ever seen.  They’re going to hunt you down and they’re going to persecute you.  That is the spirit that is alive in this country right now and is being embraced by political leaders in both parties, it is the new Nazism."

And if that isn't enough, add it to what appeared on Herman Cain's website a few days ago -- an article written by Dan Calabrese, editor-in-chief of The Best of Cain, who compared gays to the Borg on Star Trek.  "This movement is evil," Calabrese writes, "not because homosexuality is a 'worse sin' than other sins, but because its champions are trying to not only silence but in many cases destroy those who disagree with them.  The gay movement understands something.  They understand that in order for their movement to ultimately succeed, they need to turn the entire culture into a mindless army of obedient adherents like the Borg on Star Trek.  You will be assimilated.  Resistance is futile."

You know, the only hopeful thing I can see in all of this is that the lengths to which some people are going to deny LGBT individuals the right to marry -- and, honestly, the right to have a voice, to stand up and be counted, to be who they are without fear of repercussions or violence -- may be an indication that the bigots realize that they're losing.  LGBT individuals and their allies won't be silenced, just as in an earlier generation the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement refused to give up.  Christians themselves are beginning to repudiate people like Allen, Wiles, and Calabrese, recognizing that the teachings of Jesus had way more to do with "do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you" than they did with "make sure that an entire segment of society is discriminated against, even if it means telling blatant lies to do so."  Because the truth is, the bigots have no better arguments; denying LGBT individuals the rights that heterosexuals have always enjoyed cannot be defended logically (can someone please explain to me why allowing two gay men to marry would have any impact on my marriage at all?), so off into the stratosphere they go with ridiculous talk of gay super soldiers and Borg drones.

And, you know, narrow-minded loons like Wiles and Allen and Calabrese will end up on the wrong side of history, just as George Wallace and Eugene "Bull" Connor did a generation ago.  It's only a matter of time.  

So maybe there's something to what Calabrese said, after all, only not the way he meant it.  If your position is ethically right, and the opposition is making a last-ditch crazy stand, maybe it's time to push even harder, and topple the bigots from their positions of power once and for all.

In the case of LGBT people and their allies, resistance isn't futile; resistance may well be a moral imperative.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Apocalypse yesterday

I find it simultaneously amusing and terrifying how steeped in self-delusion some folks are.

Now, it's not that I think I'm always right, or free from biases.  Those of you who read yesterday's post might remember that I had something to say about that, apropos of the accuracy with which our brains function.  But still; one thing the scientific, rationalistic point of view does have is a clear protocol for figuring out when you're wrong.  And when you are...  well, you alter your theory to match the facts, or else scrap it entirely and go back to the drawing board.

But some people evidently don't work that way.  They take things the other way around.  If the facts don't line up with their favorite model about how the world works, then they change the facts.  And their altered facts, miraculously enough, always seem to support their model.  So without any apparent realization that they've just committed circular reasoning, they announce that their claim is vindicated.

You remember the whole nonsense about the Rapture, that came into the news largely because of the late Harold Camping, extremist religious wingnut extraordinaire?  Camping, you might recall, announced a date for the Rapture, and stated his case so vehemently that more than one of his followers sold all of their belongings and gave away the proceeds, or else used the money to purchase billboard space to warn the rest of us that the End Was Near.  The day before the Day, many of them bid tearful farewells to their loved ones, promising to say a good word in Jesus's ear on their behalf after all the dust settled.

Then, the next day, nothing happened.

So Camping revised his prediction to a new date, six months later.  This time he was right, he said, cross his heart and hope to vanish.  But once again, the faithful stayed put on Earth, and worse still, the Antichrist never showed.  So Camping closed up shop, and two years later, died of a stroke at the ripe old age of 92, disappointed to the last that he hadn't lived to see the Rivers Running Red With The Blood Of Unbelievers.

[The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887).  Image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.]

You'd think that sort of failure record (100%) would be a little discouraging to the faithful, wouldn't you?  We keep having predictions of the End Times, and the world refuses to cooperate, and end already.  No Beasts appear, no Antichrist, no Seven Seals; everything just kind of keeps loping along as usual.  Eventually, you'd think people would say, "Hey, you know what?  Maybe we need to reconsider all of this apocalyptic stuff, because so far, it's running a zero batting average."

But no.  They'd never let a little thing like no results change their minds.  In fact, yesterday I came across a site that claims that the Rapture did happen, and if you didn't notice, it was your own damn fault.

I'm not making this up.  According to the website Now the End Begins, the holy did too get Raptured.  Millions are missing, the site says:
Well, we told you it was coming.  Perhaps you were a casual reader of this site, but never got really involved, "too many religious nuts" you said.  Maybe you had a family member who would plead with you night after night to "get right" with Jesus before His return.  "Nah, never happen", you said, "people been saying that for ever.  Nonsense!".  But, it wasn't nonsense, was it?  Turns out the religious nuts were right after all.  The Rapture of the Church actually happened.  Now we are gone, and you remain.  Left behind.  I can only imagine the shock - terror - panic - and questions that must be running through your head right now.  My heart breaks for you, and that's why I made this page, to get you through what the Bible calls the time of Jacob's Trouble, the Great Tribulation, and it's moments away from starting.  Are YOU ready?
I... what?

What do you mean "we are gone?"  If you're gone, who is writing for and maintaining the site?  Are you suggesting that Heaven has WiFi and a fast internet connection?  Is the server hosted by the Lord of Hosts?  What do you do if Christ wants to use the Holy Computer while you're updating the website?  Do you tell him, "I'm sorry, Jesus, but you'll have to surf the web another time?"

But my main objection is, if all of those people really had disappeared, don't you think someone would have noticed by now?  Sure, the website tells us.  We all did notice.  And apparently, we're all pretty puzzled about it:
And that's exactly what just happened, and where we have now gone.  Oh, knowing the media as I do, I am sure that there are many attempts to explain it - UFO's, alien abductions, a harmonic convergence, a government program, FEMA camps, cosmic shift, worm holes, and the list goes on and on.  But none of those explainations really satisfy you, do they?  I mean, it's hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people, right?  Could any one government, no matter how corrupt, really process that many people in the "blink of an eye".  No, they could not.  You know better than that.
I do?  I mean, yes, of course I do.  I'd never fall for the media telling me that hundreds of millions of people were sucked into a wormhole!  That'd just be silly!  I'll believe instead that hundreds of millions of people vanished, and no one has mentioned it in the media at all!

Because, of course, the teensy little problem with all of this is that everyone seems to kind of... still be here.  While I understand that given the circles I travel in, it's understandable that none of my immediate friends and family were Bodily Assumed Into Heaven, you'd think that at least one or two casual acquaintances would be amongst the hundreds of millions who were holy enough to be Raptured.  Strange to say, I haven't noticed anyone in my community vanishing lately.  I really don't think that I'd have missed something like that.  There are even a few I can think of that I'd be happy enough to wave goodbye to, as they floated off into the sky, but no such luck.

The rest of the site consists of suggestions about what to do now that we've been Left Behind (number one piece of advice: don't accept the Mark of the Beast).  But all of that really pales by comparison to the opening bits, wherein they tell us that the Rapture happened while we were otherwise occupied, and we Ungodly Types have yet to notice.

I've said before about the extremely religious that they'll never let a little thing like facts stand in the way of their beliefs, but this may be the best example yet.  The whole thing reminded me of the words of George Aiken, Republican senator from Vermont, who said, when it became obvious that the United States was losing the Vietnam War, "The best policy is to declare victory and leave."  Or in this case, don't let the fact that the Rapture didn't happen interfere with your conviction that the Rapture has actually happened.

Me, I'm just going to do what the world does, namely, keep loping along and not worry about it.  Even if the UltraChristian crowd is right, I'm pretty certain to be Left Behind anyhow, a possibility that doesn't scare me much.  I've read the Book of Revelation more than once, and I have to point out that whatever else you can say about it, the apocalypse sounds interesting.  There's the Scarlet Whore of Babylon and the Beast with Seven Heads and the Star Wormwood and the Four Horsepersons and various other special offers from the God of Love and Mercy, any one of which would certainly alleviate the boredom around here.  So if the Rapture really has already happened, let's get this apocalyptic ball rolling, okay, people?  The End Times are a-wastin'.