Most of us have (rightly) shaken our heads in amazement at the delusional Harold Camping and his recent prediction of the Rapture. Many of us also consider such people to be on the fringe: they are crackpots or charlatans whose antics have no significant, lasting effect on the rest of the world. However, a quick look at history indicates that this is not always the case.
Take the Seventh-day Adventists, for instance. They form the 12th largest religious body in the world, with almost 17 million adherents.
It turns out that the Adventist movement has its roots in precisely the sort of crackpot prophecy-making in which Harold Camping is involved. (There is much history here which I won’t go into – see the Great Disappointment and the Second Great Awakening.) Adventist beliefs stem from the 19th century Millerite movement whose leader, William Miller, predicted that the second coming of Christ would occur somewhere between 1843 and 1844. The “Great Disappointment” is the term aptly used to describe many people’s reactions to the failure of his prophecy.
A demonstration of calculations that went into Miller’s prophecy is shown in the image below (click to enlarge). It is every bit as deranged as Camping’s calculations, but it helped spawn one of the most successful religious movements in existence today. Buyer beware!
(Image from here.)