I am easily scared. I avoid scary movies for this reason—something in a startling image gets seared into my brain and I often see it when my mind won’t quit when it’s midnight and I have an early morning ahead of me. Why this didn’t keep me from watching the Exorcist in high school with three friends is beyond me—I still have nightmares.
Stories can have a similar effect on me, although it takes someone who really knows how to tell a story to make it stick. I was most susceptible when I was a kid. Especially if I heard it over and over.
Turns out, you say something enough times and you make people afraid. A friend of the family, a guy my older brother’s age, loved to tell ghost stories that were supposedly real. One of his favorites: there was this girl, right, and she was babysitting this young boy. Late at night—maybe 10—she hears a noise from upstairs. No big deal. Then she hears it again, accompanied by what she thinks sounds like a stifled scream. Cautiously, she treks up stairs clutching the handrail for dear life. And when she reaches the boy’s room—the door ajar—she watches as a dark shadow whisks the toddler out the window. She screamed and then ran for the phone to call the police. Turns out—once the police arrived—that this entity had taken a few children in the neighborhood, and all kids from rooms late at night. What did these kids have in common? Nothing, except their young age and the fact that none of the windows—through which witnesses said the thing escaped—were opened or had even moved.
The friend seemed to enjoy the effect these stories had on me, as these are the kinds of stories that encouraged me to sleep with my light on.
The Book of Isaiah may not have ghost stories in it, but it sure has its share of bleak warnings that get repeated so often, you might understand why people back then—and some even now—cower before the idea that God is about to get medieval on the earth.
Purportedly written by the prophet in 8 b.c., Isaiah is a step backwards in the Bible—we’ve read what happens after—but it serves to convey Isaiah’s prophecy’s about all that will happen to Israel and her enemies. Amongst these nuggets of wisdom is the idea of God’s wrathful reckoning, for which everyone must be prepared.
You’d think you could cover this with a strong enough impression to make it stick. But no. It comes up over and over. Perhaps people weren’t convinced, but on repeat people started to think, well, maybe… This is how people get brainwashed, yes?
In 2011, a few news outlets were in Times Square covering Robert Fitzpatrick, a man who was getting ready for the rapture—the Bible says God is coming to wipe out everyone on Dec. 21st, 2012. He believed this because Harold Crimping, a Christian Radio broadcaster who served as his Bible teacher, said so. This prediction inspired Fitzpatrick to spend $140,000 to spread Camping’s Bible prediction. (The sad part of the story was not the level at which the man believed, it’s the level at which that preacher had drained this man’s retirement account.) Armed with the date and time, he was feeling rather sorry for those who had yet to repent (check out the full story here: http://www.ibtimes.com/harold-campings-disciple-robert-fitzpatrick-reacts-doomsday-false-alarm-video-644220).
The camera filmed his confused and crestfallen expression when that time came and went without any fire and brimstone. How could this have not been true?
Look, just because someone repeats a story—or fact, detail, etc.—over and over, doesn’t make it true. All that tends to happen is that people get convinced and then their imagination runs wild. Not to mention: there is an element of the boy who cried wolf here. When exactly is it happening? Oh, it’s on its way. Is it here yet? Trust me, it’s coming, and it’s going to be bad… To put it a different way, this is the kid in the back seat on a road trip, the one who constantly pesters dad about if they are there yet.
Thankfully, I’m old enough to know what I should avoid, based on its impact on me—I still avoid horror or slasher movies, for example. This only becomes an the issue if you haven’t learned what often repeated information is dangerous for you.