Nerds and the supernatural

So the rapture didn’t happen. Not a big deal. Here’s one thing that I think warrants attention: Harold Camping is a nerd. He has a degree in civil engineering from Berkeley. As the British would say, “he can do the sums.” I have never really believed in the supernatural. As a small child I knew I was supposed to believe in the supernatural, but I honestly had a hard time taking any of it seriously. I have normal human instincts, like getting “spooked” in the cemetery…but my own personal experience with friends visiting cemeteries at night for fun and laughs as a younger man is that actually opening yourself to the possibility of the supernatural naturally changes how you view “creepy” background events (my friends who believed in ghosts were really easy to scare, it was quite fun!) Most of my friends might assent to the proposition that there probably weren’t ghosts in cemetery X, and that that ghosts may not even exist, but most of them did not dismiss out of hand the very possibility of the existence of ghosts. I did.

 

All that being said, I have tried to imagine myself, a nerd with a quantitative and analytic bent, existing in a world where the Bible was the Word of God. I can immediately intuit how someone like Harold Camping could arrive at his absurd conclusions! To the nerdy crazy fundamentalism seems eminently reasonable once one accedes to the peculiar propositions of faith. Give a nerd an absurd axiom, and he will infer absurd entailments! Camping did as a nerd is wont to do. Most normal humans don’t have this nerdish momania to create integrated rational wholes, and then project inferences from the system which they’ve constructed. It seems silly and a waste of time. This is why so many conservative Christians easily spouted sage skepticism worthy of James Randi all this week.

The bigger problem is the collateral damage which Camping’s Bible-nerd fixations have caused, by enticing the less nerdy desperate, gullible, and plain dull. Normal social feedback mechanisms will tell people to reject Camping’s assertions on a “common sense” basis, but people extracted out of these social networks, living in a state of atomization, will feel the pull of attraction. In the history of religion there is always talk of mystics and prophets. But there’s far too little discussion of nerds such as Origen, Athanasius, and Augustine, whose logics have determined the life and death of many, whether they would have wished it to be so or not.

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