Weinland Watch

Weinland Watch

When Prophecy Failed — In 1954.

From the Pinter & Martin website:


In 1954 Leon Festinger, a brilliant young experimental social psychologist in the process of inventing a new theory of human behavior – the theory of cognitive dissonance – and two of his colleagues, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter, infiltrated a cult who believed the end of the world was only months away. How would these people feel when their prophecy remained unfulfilled? Would they admit the error of their prediction, or would they, as Festinger predicted, readjust their reality to make sense of the new circumstances?

“Not only is When Prophecy Fails of great historical importance as the first test of a powerful theory, but it is also a surprisingly touching account of what happens to ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances.”

From the  Wikipedia entry on the book. Note the timeline of events for the evening that prophecy was to be “fulfilled”.

Sequence of Events

Festinger and his colleagues infiltrated Mrs. Keech’s group and reported the following sequence of events:

  • Prior to December 20. The group shuns publicity. Interviews are given only grudgingly. Access to Mrs. Keech’s house is only provided to those who can convince the group that they are true believers. The group evolves a belief system—provided by the automatic writing from the planet Clarion—to explain the details of the cataclysm, the reason for its occurrence, and the manner in which the group would be saved from the disaster.
  • December 20. The group expects a visitor from outer space to call upon them at midnight and to escort them to a waiting spacecraft. As instructed, the group goes to great lengths to remove all metallic items from their persons. As midnight approaches, zippers, bra straps, and other objects are discarded. The group waits.
  • 12:05 A.M., December 21. No visitor. Someone in the group notices that another clock in the room shows 11:55. The group agrees that it is not yet midnight.
  • 12:10 A.M. The second clock strikes midnight. Still no visitor. The group sits in stunned silence. The cataclysm itself is no more than seven hours away.
  • 4:00 A.M. The group has been sitting in stunned silence. A few attempts at finding explanations have failed. Mrs. Keech begins to cry.
  • 4:45 A.M. Another message by automatic writing is sent to Mrs. Keech. It states, in effect, that the God of Earth has decided to spare the planet from destruction. The cataclysm has been called off: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.”
  • Afternoon, December 21. Newspapers are called; interviews are sought. In a reversal of its previous distaste for publicity, the group begins an urgent campaign to spread its message to as broad an audience as possible.

Festinger stated that five conditions must be met, if someone is to become more fervent in a belief even after its disconfirmation:

  • 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 behaves.
  • 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.
  • The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
  • Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
  • The first two of these conditions specify the circumstances that will make the belief resistant to change. The third and fourth conditions together, on the other hand, point to factors that would exert powerful pressure on a believer to discard his belief. It is, of course, possible that an individual, even though deeply convinced of a belief, may discard it in the face of unequivocal disconfirmation. We must therefore, state a fifth condition specifying the circumstances under which the belief will be discarded and those under which it will be maintained with new fervor.
  • The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence we have specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, we would expect the belief to be maintained and the believers to attempt to proselyte or to persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.

“When Prophecy Fails” is being rereleased by Pinter & Martin in August. Buy the original book used from Amazon.

Written by weinlandwatch

May 26, 2008 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “The group sits in stunned silence” describes how it was for me at the Sabbath service on March 22nd after the non-event of March 18th.

    Our small group was anticipating the sermon and Ronald Weinland’s explaination of what ‘didn’t happen’ when the 7th seal supposedly opened. Instead of teaching us or helping us to understand – RW chided us with statements such as “you just don’t get it”, implying our lack of faith & threateningly “if you are not in complete unity with this, then you are in the wrong place”. I believe (if memory serves) it was that sermon in which RW warned us against reading/taking part of activities/info on the internet.

    That experience was the last (of many) red flags for me. My experience with Ronald Weinland & COG-PKG was short lived ( 3 months ) – it was enough to come to “see” that RW’s behaviour & speech are emotionally & spiritually abusive.

    As for the other members of the group, they stopped communicating with me when I “departed”. I haven’t heard from any of them, which indicates to me the possiblilty they are still hanging on to RW’s every word. I think of them often – and how increasingly difficult it may be for them, now that “the wheels are starting to come off” the organization, “feeling stuck” like that and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
    I am sending positive thoughts their way.


    May 27, 2008 at 3:09 pm

  2. “I am sending positive thoughts their way.”

    That’s all we can really do isn’t it? And send positive information. I keep referring people to Happy News, but I don’t know if it’s done much good.


    May 27, 2008 at 7:17 pm

  3. I’m glad to know this little flock saved the world from God’s wrath in 1954. So why hadn’t I heard about it, until I read this post?

    Who knows how many others have done this through the years? Maybe William Miller’s backers in 1844. Maybe the people who believed Edgar Whisenhunt and repented in 1988 — then ’89.

    And maybe…. just maybe…. these few baptized believers in COG-PKG are persuading God to show mercy on Earth just a little bit longer.

    (But of course, this is a Church of God group — so it’s probably just the opposite, and God’s delay is out of frustration with the church more than joy and happiness.)


    May 31, 2008 at 3:13 am

  4. Don’t forget the Zetaran believers — they believed November of 1997 was going to see the Earth zapped out of the sky by “the spaceships” (According to those whackjobs, “the spaceships” are the stars in the sky that twinkle — needless to say, the concept of atmospheric striation completely discombobulates them.)


    May 31, 2008 at 10:43 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: