Somehow I missed this story when it first broke last week:
Officers had been searching a wide swath of southern California since Saturday after family members found letters saying the group was awaiting an apocalyptic event and would soon see Jesus and their dead relatives in heaven.
The group of Salvadoran immigrants, described as “cult-like” by sheriff’s officials, was led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles county, sheriff’s captain Mike Parker said.
Members left behind mobile phones, identification documents, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the ‘Rapture’.
“Essentially, the letters say they are all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” Mr Whitmore said. “Some of the letters were saying goodbye.”
Did she brainwash them? Presumably. They were all found safe and sound in a park, though, so that’s good at least.
Ms Chicas apparently had formed her own religious group. About 12 to 15 people would gather at her home in Palmdale, a high-desert city of 139,000, and one night about a week ago, they didn’t leave until 2am, said neighbour Cheri Kofahl.
Others who knew Ms Chicas said she was devout but hardly fanatic in her religious beliefs.
Former neighbour Ricardo Giron said that Ms Chicas became increasingly religious after she separated from her husband four years ago, but added, “everywhere she was going, she was taking her kids with her. You felt like you could trust her”.
I seem to recall people thought Jeffrey Dahmer was mostly okay, too. Everyone assumes their neighbours are, until they aren’t.
Anyway, the Kansas City Star has an article about Chicas and her end times schtick, something so many people have tried and failed with before, sometimes the same person has failed more than once and believers just keep on believing. From the Star:
Richard Flory, a University of Southern California sociologist who studies religion in America, said the idea of the rapture can be a persuasive tool for conversion.
“It brings a subliminal fear,” he said. “It says you better be ready because this thing can happen at any time.”
Those who expect the end of the world also often believe that there will be signs that it’s coming, the scholars said. Natural disasters, such as major earthquakes and fires, often bring spikes of apocalyptic forecasts.
They mention raptureready.com and its list of sources for proof the end truly is nigh. Then they quote Tim LaHaye of “Left Behind” fame who takes a theological approach, but still makes a good point:
“They’re disobeying the Scripture, which says no man knows the day or the hour. Anytime anyone sets a date, they’re wrong because no one knows that date,” LaHaye said. “It’s just unguided enthusiasm. Every day you read the newspaper, and ask, ‘Is there any hope for the world?’ It’s just getting worse and worse, and people think there’s got to be something better.”
Sadly, what they often think is better is the earth destroyed by Jesus so they can all ascend to heaven while the devil tortures those who never got saved. They’ll sit around waiting and praying for proof that day is around the corner instead of doing something useful to help the world while they wait. That would defeat the purpose, after all.
The article also makes the point that these kinds of beliefs hold the most sway in impoverished, uneducated populations, where improved situations are even less likely than the apocalypse is.
The idea can be a comfort to the disenfranchised, a guarantee that justice will be served and scores settled, said theology scholar Cecil Robeck Jr. In a time of joblessness and economic frustration, Robeck said, that pledge can be particularly appealing.
“People are desperate. When someone says, ‘You’re in a terrible situation now, but if you’ll follow me, I’ll make it OK,’ people are hungry, they need hope, they’ll follow,” said Robeck, a Pentecostal minister and professor of church history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
There aren’t any easy solutions, obviously. People are going to be fleeced by anyone who offers them relief, even through something as perplexing and impossible as rapture. Everyone needs something to believe in, I guess. It’s just unfortunate that this is what they get.