When (false) Prophecy Fails


18:21. And if in silent thought thou answer: How shall I know the word that the Lord hath not spoken?
18:22. Thou shalt have this sign: Whatsoever that same prophet foretelleth in the name of the Lord, and it cometh not to pass: that thing the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath forged it by the pride of his mind: and therefore thou shalt not fear him. (Source)

It should be this simple.

If someone makes a prediction about a future event and the event doesn't take place - then they were at best wrong and at worst a fraud.

However, when a person or their followers can't accept that they were wrong - then life gets interesting - that's where we cross the threshold to 'cognitive dissonance theory' (link).

General human behaviour 
... when confronted  with a reality which contradicts their beliefs.

First let's clarify something: There is no justification for justifying ones own actions based on the supposed future action of someone else.  This holds true in both the logical and moral sphere.

In effect the person is acting out of fear of a supposed future event.

I'm not talking about a pre-emptive strike in the presence of an actual significant build-up of forces or a hostile nation seeking to develop WMD's, such as when the IDF bombed a nuclear plant in Syria.

I am referring to what happened when Bishop Williamson et al warned of a 'sell-out' agreement between Rome and the SSPX.

Various members of the 'resistance' have claimed since ~2000 that Bishop Fellay was going to 'sell-out' the SSPX and the faithful who rely upon them for the Sacraments. In their fear, Bishop Williamson, Fr. Pfeiffer et al screamed from the roofs of youtube videos the warnings of a pending apocalypse.

Did the prophecies prove true or false?  Well, from the perspective of Rome, the SSPX is still in a canonically irregular condition because its leader (Bishop Fellay) would not sign the 'preamble' due to its ambiguities.  From the perspective of the SSPX, they still operate under supplied jurisdiction due to the case of necessity.

So, the sell-out didn't happen in 2001, 2006, 2012 or even in 2014.

So what happened when a sell-out didn't occur?

Did the resistance admit that they had no basis for their actions?

Nope, they started 'rationalizing' like crazy and making up excuses for their false prophecies.

Various leaders have gone on record as stating: its going to happen anyway, the agreement is an unsigned one, a message from the Blessed Virgin Mary, can't you 'see' the slide into modernism ... the list goes on.

Then they started trying to convince others to join them on their path.

This behaviour is completely consistent with the cognitive dissonance theory.  In this they share the human behaviour of the Jehovah Witnesses, Campings and Seekers.

Over the last two years, I have encountered people that confirm that this theory is a good model for explaining and even predicting how humans will react to various stimuli. In the religious sphere, I have encountered this behaviour in 'Modern Catholics',  'resistors' and in sede-vacantists.

The Sede-Vacantist interaction was definitive. When I presented the doctrine that an infallible dogmatic fact is established when all the bishops of the world accept a newly elected Pope, it confirms that he is validly elected etc.  My interlocutors could not accept this doctrine as clearly stated and did everything they could to re-imagine it in a manner aligned with their pre-conceived notions.

A similar instance happened when I presented some pre-conciliar quotations that were unacceptable to the mind of the person who believed that they were from the Second Vatican Council. He couldn't handle it and withdrew from the conversation.

I have also experienced the same type of response in discussions that I've had with Tony LaRosa aka 'ecclesiamilitans' - a 'resistance' coordinator based in the Toronto area.  First on 'Ignis Ardens' and then later on 'Suscipe Domine'.  When confronted with Catholic Doctrine on Ecclesiology and how the 'resistance' is deviating from that Doctrine, Mr. LaRosa replied by repeating a principle established by the SSPX General Chapter of 2006 and attempting to elevate it to a higher level by linking it to Satis Cognitum.  In short he did not reply directly to the doctrine put forward, instead made excuses for his actions and his collaborators.  My detailed replies to the Mr. LaRosa's 'non-reply' are here and here.  In short, it is not valid for the 'resistance' to point to Satis Cognitum as an excuse for holding an invalid concept of the Church and Her doctrine (Open Letter to Bishop Williamson, How Far Does the Pfeiffer Apple Fall from the Williamson Tree? ).

Lastly, I have encountered a similar behaviour in discussions with 'modern' Catholics whenever the actions of Pope St. John Paul II were raised in the context of the Teaching of the Church. Ultimately, when confronted with the objective fact of the kissing of the koran, it took 20 minutes for them to admit that the action was objectively bad.

What is common to all three of these cases?  In each case is a refusal to accept that their beliefs are not congruent with reality and/or Church Teaching. In other words they refuse to admit that they were wrong in their belief and adjust their behaviour accordingly.

In my early days in the blogosphere, I was perplexed by the inability of people to man-up and say 'I was wrong' when presented with what should have been incontrovertible proof of their error.

This led me to remember two key points when engaging in an argument:

  • If a person defends an absurdity, further argument is pointless.
  • If the opponent is not thinking rationally, further argumentation will only serve to cement them in their opinion - even when faced with proof that their opinion is wrong.

Then I came across an article on the Seekers, their failed prophecy and what happened afterwards.

Enter Cognitive Dissonance Theory

Example: A person believes that smoking is harmful to their health, but persists in smoking.  This causes 'dissonance' which humans normally seek to reduce.  There are three options: Change belief (smoking really isn't that bad), Change Action (quit smoking), Change perception of action (smoking calms my nerves and enhances my performance).

Example:  See quoted discussion with "Catholicam" here.

In my experience, the extents that people will go to 'reduce dissonance' are directly proportional to the amount they have invested in the belief.  In a similar manner, I was surprised by a consistency of each priest that I know that has gathered around himself a little clique.  They always try to gain more adherents.

For the resistance, their only option is to change the perception of the action.  Since obviously Bishop Fellay has not compromised, they have to cast their nets further afield looking for any 'hints' that something is wrong and ignoring any disconfirming information (confirmation bias), hence the alleged 'liberal slip' of the SSPX and the other conspiracy theories that they have spawned.

According to Festinger, five conditions must exist in order for someone be transformed into a more fervent believer after a failed prophecy:
  1. A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he or she behaves.
  2. The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual's commitment to the belief.
  3. The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
  4. Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
  5. The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselytize or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct. (Wikipedia)

Based on this list, the 'resistance' seems to be nicely aligned with the theory.  If the 'resistance' succeeds in getting people to isolate themselves (read: Fr. Pfeiffer approach) by becoming 'home-aloners', then they will fulfill #5 and could end up working themselves into a corner in a circular room.

There appears to be only one cure for this death spiral:




Wikipedia: When Prophecy Fails
Slate: Prophecy Epic Fail - Apocalypse 2011
Wikipedia: Cognitive Dissonance Theory
Simply Psychology: Cognitive Dissonance Theory


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