The Not-So-Merry Miller

I could be wrong, but I seem to remember seeing someone mention that the Jehovah’s Witnesses originally thought the world would end in 1844. Actually, the organization that would become the Watchtower didn’t exist until the 1870s, so that’s obviously not the case. The group that did think this was one that was a predecessor to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the Seventh-Day Adventists. This would be the Millerites, founded by a guy with the rather dull name of William Miller.

It seems that a lot of religious movements are founded by people with incredibly common names, though. Even going back to the time of Jesus, he was contemporary with a lot of other Yeshuas. Anyway, Miller grew up in upstate New York, much like Joseph Smith. At that time, the nation was in the midst of what was known as the Second Great Awakening, a time when revivals were used to draw more people to Christianity. New York in particular was so full of different revivals and religious movements that it came to be known as the “Burned-Over District.” Miller was from a Baptist family, but he decided to convert to Deism, and also became a Freemason. He returned to Christianity after fighting in the War of 1812, specifically the Battle of Plattsburgh, at which the Americans drove off the British despite being very much outnumbered. He was also unscathed by an explosion right near him, which killed one man and wounded three others. At that point, Miller figured that God must intervene in human affairs, and that He must have really hated those other four soldiers. Seriously, I come across this kind of stuff all the time. When one person survives a tragedy, it must be the hand of God at work. But isn’t God supposed to be in charge of ALL humanity? Why did He have to kill all those other people to make a point to the one survivor? Even worse is when people talk about how God helped them through their minor problems. So He’ll do that, but not lift a holy finger to save Japan from the earthquakes? Yeah, I know about mysterious ways, but I also always got the impression that Christianity was supposed to DISCOURAGE selfishness. Still, this was apparently enough for Miller, and he began reviewing the entire Bible verse by verse until they all made sense to him. In doing this, he came to the conclusion that the world was going to end soon. Like most doomsday preachers, he was especially fond of Daniel and Revelation, despite the fact that these books seem to many scholars to refer specifically to Israel under Greek and Roman rule. Miller decided that the 1260 days mentioned in Daniel were actually 1260 YEARS, which sounds rather arbitrary, but he was by no means the first to make such leaps in logic when it came to apocalyptic passages. The preacher even chose a date that he figured would be the end: 22 October 1844. He was able to gather a significant number of followers, but since the world didn’t end then (at least as far as we can tell), it became known as the Great Disappointment. Miller’s response to this was to figure that there must have been a human error in his calculations, and apparently a lot of people accepted that, as the Adventist movement did not die out at that point. For some reason, people who come up with bogus dates for the end of the world can pretty much always weasel out of it, at least with their followers. We still see plenty of that kind of stuff today. Y2K wasn’t the huge disaster doomsayers were predicting it would be? That’s okay, because the world is actually going to end in 2012, because of the Mayan calendar, despite the fact that the Mayans followed a totally different religion and there’s no indication that they intended to end of their calendar to be the end of the world anyway. Not all of these would-be prophets are Christians, but many of them are, and you have to wonder why they aren’t paying attention to what Jesus said about no man knowing the day or the hour of the coming of the Son of Man. Still, it’s always best to be prepared. Anyone want to help me construct a bomb shelter? Because, you know, the wrath of Almighty God apparently can’t penetrate underground.

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2 Responses to The Not-So-Merry Miller

  1. Heh, “William Miller”‘s the name of the main character in Almost Famous!

    I think looking at the Hand of God at Work is fine as an Internal thing. The idea of “I survived, so God must hate the ones that didn’t,” IS completely unChristian and dumb, but “I survived when I probably shouldn’t have– maybe there’s something important I still have left to do here!” is perfectly decent and not really selfish at all, if you expect that everyone dies eventually and who can say when, even if it’s not fair. Why does God intervene in little things and not big things? I have claimed that God has helped me, myself, but it’s in personal, internal matters: “help ME do this,” “don’t let me go over the edge.” Not “Don’t let some external thing happen or not happen.” Stuff happens– how you deal with it is what matters, and a spiritual connection can help people deal.

    I have always been puzzled by doomsday survivalists who claim it’s a Christian version of doomsday they’re expecting, and then they “prepare” by hoarding supplies and firearms (okay, my husband could be prone to this, but he’s not a practicing Christian) and otherwise behaving SELFISHLY. Um, dude, if the Judgement is upon us, the person who just gave their food to OTHER PEOPLE is the one who’s going to make it in the end…

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