Prophesying the End of Days can make you money but has a limited shelf life, Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert @ebertchicago, the esteemed movie critic of the Chicago Tribune and the famed Siskel and Ebert show, has discovered Twitter in a big way.
A prolific journalist, Ebert has become an even more prolific tweeter who seemingly suffers from insomnia as do I.
It’s not so much insomnia as a life long desire to watch late night movies like the Ninth Gate on television.
“Prophesying the End of Days can make you money, but has a limited shelf life.” was his post around midnight last night.
“People have short memories,” @sdpate replied. “you can repeat the act after a reasonable amount of time. JWs have been doing it since the 1860s.” They have named the date for the End of Days at least 16 times since then.
I’ve watched the religion for 6 decades and marvel at their 7 million adherents who regularly ignore the stupidity of believing one wrong End of Days prediction after another.
For a time, I was one of them. My mother converted to be a Jehovah’s Witness when I was 5, much to the anger of my father who was the typical lapsed Catholic. He wasn’t so much as lapsed as a man working two jobs to support a family and weekend tavern habit with a journalist’s cynicism about religion.
So for the next 25 years I heard nothing but Armageddon warnings, about the war between Jesus and Satan and how only Jehovah’s Witnesses would make it through to paradise on earth. Fire would dance on the surface of the world in the End of Days consuming the wicked – which meant everyone not out selling Watchtowers on the weekends.
As a child, it was an intriguing concept and held in place by daily bible readings, five hours of meetings at the Kingdom Hall, bible study at the dining room table and sundry other bits of brainwashing. I went along for the ride.
Then around 14 years old, the normal age for boys to seek adventure beyond church, I discovered Beyond the Fringe. You were perhaps expecting me to say girls. I had discovered them long before that.
Beyond the Fringe was a London West End satirical skit with Dudley Moore (10, Arthur), Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. In many ways they were the forerunners for Monty Python and were successors to The Goon Show, Hancock’s Halfhour and other post-war British comedy.
The Beyond the Fringe LP of their performance was produced by George Martin who would soon produce for The Beatles records. His early days at EMI Parlophone records included odd jobs like producing comedy records which he he apparently enjoyed.
Along with sacred topics like British participation in the World War II, Beyond the Fringe lampooned people who prophesied the end of the world in a skit called “The End of the World.”
I won’t repeat the punch line and spoil the audio clip but suffice it to say, my rebellious teen mind latched onto this and never believed in Armageddon with the same breathless fervor of the devout Jehovah’s Witness. My mother tried in vain to destroy the record. She understood it’s corrosive danger.
Of course, comedy records are a poor substitute for religious belief. Other than the ridiculous image of people sitting on a high mountain waiting for God to end it all, I had no proof He wasn’t coming.
Rock and roll, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and life were much more interesting to this teenager than marching door to door on Saturday telling people to buy the Watchtower and Awake and avoid the end of the world.
And here is how they get people to stay in a religion based on the most ludicrous of propositions while failing over and over to deliver – “love and marriage, love and marriage, go to together with a baby carriage.”
I fell in love or lust with a girl at 19 and got married. She was a Jehovah’s Witness and zip goes the strings of your heart. I was married, bought a house and fathered two wonderful children before long. So for another five years I tried my darnedest to fall into line and believe God was coming with fire next time.
Luckily the Watchtower announced the date He was coming – October 1, 1975. Just like the Beyond the Fringe skit, JW leaders had read the ancient scrolls, manuscripts and papyrus to determine this was THE END OF DAYS.
Even if I didn’t believe, what were the odds? It was like insurance. Hang in there with a really bad premise because it was only 5 years away and you might hit the jackpot.
As time marched on closer and closer to October 1, 1975, people were leaving their jobs, selling homes, moving to far away places to become missionaries and otherwise prove to God they were his kind of people. The excitement started to build around 1973 and JW’s were adding new members at a rapid clip.
Of course, God didn’t end the world on October 1st, 1975. Nothing happened and just like those silly people sitting on the mountain top, JW’s did a collective “Huh? What happened?”
Like the satirical skit, the Watchtower leaders shrugged their shoulders and said they would try again. “Same time tomorrow. We must get a winner one day.”
Restless, I headed into Charlottetown to UPEI Library and later the Confederation Library to research the Jehovah’s Witness religion. One of the secrets the leaders of the JW’s learned was that publishing builds a religion. If you can create another “world view” in print, people will believe it. That’s why they come to your door regularly with The Watchtower and Awake magazines. They print their own bibles and books with their slant to theology.
What I discovered was that the Jehovah’s Witness religion (International Bible Students IBS back then) started back in the 1860s on the same premise – prophesying the End of Days.
During the 1830s and 1840s, Seventh Day Adventists had predicted the end of the world so many times, their faithful lost faith. Charles Taze Russell, the IBS / JW founder, took some of their bible dating techniques and teachings from other religion and started predicting the End of Days on his own.
In a corporate raider move that Donald Trump would admire, he stole The Watchtower magazine from another religious man and started churning out magazines predicting the End of Days.
From then until now, Jehovah’s Witnesses have prophesied the End of the World incorrectly at least 16 times -I’ll put the list from Wikipedia as end note.
Amazingly, I remembered some of them vaguely from things people would tell me. In every instance of getting it wrong, the faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses had swallowed the rationalization given them in the pages of The Watchtower.
So you can make money prophesying the End of Days. The Jehovah’s Witness religion is rich. They own very valuable real estate all over the world, including some of the choicest spots in Brooklyn New York, printing plants and the free labour of 7 million magazine and book sellers around the world.
Dates Jehovah’s Witnesses prophesied as the End of the World
- 1877: Christ’s kingdom would hold full sway over the earth in 1914; the Jews, as a people, would be restored to God’s favour; the “saints” would be carried to heaven.
- 1891: 1914 would be “the farthest limit of the rule of imperfect men.”
- 1904: “World-wide anarchy” would follow the end of the Gentile Times in 1914.
- 1916: World War I would terminate in Armageddon and the rapture of the “saints”.
- 1917: In 1918, Christendom would go down as a system to oblivion and be succeeded by revolutionary governments. God would “destroy the churches wholesale and the church members by the millions.” Church members would “perish by the sword of war, revolution and anarchy”. The dead would lie unburied. In 1920 all earthly governments would disappear, with worldwide anarchy prevailing.
- 1920: Messiah’s kingdom would be established in 1925 and bring worldwide peace. God would begin restoring the earth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful patriarchs would be resurrected to perfect human life and be made princes and rulers, the visible representatives of the New Order on earth. Those who showed themselves obedient to God would never die.
- 1922: The antitypical “jubilee” that would mark God’s intervention in earthly affairs in 1925 would take place in “probably the fall” of that year. The chronology was described as “correct beyond a doubt”, “absolutely and unqualifiedly correct”, bearing “the stamp of approval of Almighty God” and “too sublime to be the result of chance or of human invention”.
- 1924: God’s restoration of the Earth would begin “shortly after” October 1, 1925. Jerusalem would be made the world’s capital. Resurrected “princes” such as Abel, Noah, Moses and John the Baptist would give instructions to their subjects around the world by radio, and aeroplanes would transport people to and from Jerusalem from all parts of the globe in just “a few hours”.
- 1938: In 1938, Armaggedon was too close for marriage or child bearing.
- 1941: There were only “months” remaining until Armageddon.
- 1942: Armageddon was “immediately before us.”
- 1966: It would be 6000 years since man’s creation in the fall of 1975 and it would be “appropriate” for Christ’s thousand-year reign to begin at that time. Time was “running out, no question about that.” The “immediate future” was “certain to be filled with climactic events … within a few years at most”, the final parts of Bible prophecy relating to the “last days” would undergo fulfillment as Christ’s reign began.
- 1968: No one could say “with certainty” that the battle of Armageddon would begin in 1975, but time was “running out rapidly” with “earthshaking events” soon to take place. In March 1968 there was a “short period of time left”, with “only about ninety months left before 6000 years of man’s existence on earth is completed”.
- 1969: Human existence would not last long enough for young people to grow old; the world system would end “in a few years”. Young Witnesses were told not to bother pursuing tertiary education for this reason.
- 1974: There was just a “short time remaining before the wicked world’s end” and Witnesses were commended for selling their homes and property to “finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service”.
- 1984: There were “many indications” that “the end” was closer than the end of the 20th century.
The 1974 citation refers to the announcement of October 1, 1975 which had been predicted back in the 1960s.