Brain Pain—Part 3: The Delta Dawn Syndrome

This blog entry is third in a series documenting the application of the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance  to a variety of issues throughout American History. See the introductory entry “Dealing with Dissonance” for a detailed overview explaining the background and basics of the theory.


Cognitive Dissonance:
The feeling of mental discomfort and agitation in your brain
created by attempting to hold two contradictory beliefs
inside the same brain at the same time

The Delta Dawn Syndrome


The year was 1844. For the past two decades, William Miller—former Deist, former Constable, former Deputy Sheriff, former Army Captain in the War of 1812, and current roving evangelist—had been sharing his conviction, with whoever would listen, that Jesus Christ was going to come back to Earth some time between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. His “Second Advent” (“coming”) was nigh. “Even at the doors.”

So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. (Matthew 24:33)


Particularly since 1839, Miller had gathered a lot of help publicizing, publishing, and spreading his ideas, and the “Millerite Movement” had quite a reputation across the land as 1844 dawned. Hundreds of thousands of people had heard Miller or one of his associates give lectures on his predictions, and perhaps millions had heard about them from booklets, books, and pamphlets distributed by “Adventist” publishers. And even more had heard about them…often in an unflattering way…from newspapers of the time.


(For more details about Miller’s predictions, and the history of Miller and the movement up to 1844, see the previous entry in this series, The Great Disappointment.)

The movement was greatly picking up steam as the “end date” of the supposed year of the Advent drew near. Even many skeptics began wondering “what if??” No doubt lots of folks “jumped on board the bandwagon” toward the end “just in case.”

But then March 21, 1844 came and went, with no sign of Christ on Earth. The Millerites were bewildered and embarrassed. Those with little commitment to the movement went back to what they were doing before all the hubbub started, many of them no doubt just returning, a little sheepishly, to their Baptist or Methodist or other denominational congregations, taking a bit of ribbing from other members for their gullibility. The skeptics went back to their skepticism…and often, mockery.

But thousands of Millerites had been deeply committed to the belief in the projected time frame for the Advent, some of them for as long as a decade or more. Many had left their former church denominations and gathered together into informal Millerite fellowship groups. They had attended weekly worship services and bible studies, many lecture series, camp meetings, and annual conferences. They had contributed their efforts, their zeal, their enthusiasm…and often significant amounts of money…to spreading the message.  Their closest friends were those who shared their belief about the imminent return of Jesus.

What now?

For those without much “investment” in the theory, who only “temporarily” bought into the prediction “just in case,” there was little reason for the failure of the date to affect their belief in God, or the Bible, or Christianity in general. But for the “True Believers,” it was a much different story. Although the predicted date was the center of their Adventist activity, it became an integral part of a complex set of beliefs and convictions and practices that led to them identifying themselves as “Millerites”… not just Baptists or Methodists who happened to temporarily believe in a prediction.

The reactions of these “True Believers” was a textbook-perfect example of Cognitive Dissonance in action.

Only recently, while gathering first-person documentation of the reactions of Millerites to the failure of their prophetic chronology, did it dawn on me what was perhaps the most central perception that the Millerites had of themselves. They were not just a group of people who had intellectually accepted a chronological date for the Return of Christ.

No, they were, in their own eyes, much more.

They had concluded that they were not just what they considered “nominal Christians.” They had concluded by 1844, as they received more and more ridicule and persecution from “outsiders,” that they, collectively, were The Spiritual Bride of Christ, preparing for their Bridegroom, the Prince of Peace, to come and get them soon! Very, very soon.

1840queen vic

They were, in their own minds, the spiritual version of Queen Victoria, shown here dressed for her 1840 wedding to her Prince Charming!

In some ways, instead of despising or being embarrassed by the ridicule and persecution, they embraced it as one more “proof” that they were correct in their understanding of their glorious role. This must have been difficult at times, though…such as this instance described years later by Seventh Day Adventist Uriah Smith, who was at an October 21, 1844 Millerite meeting.

“In the evening, a rabble came up from the village, and began to pelt the tent where the meeting was held, with apples from the orchard. Waxing bolder, as the meeting became more earnest, they gathered around the door and began to direct their missiles against the lanterns hanging on the center-poles in the house-shaped tent. These were soon hit and demolished, and the glass scattered over the floor of the tent, and all were left in total darkness. The rabble grew bolder, and seizing hold of the framework of the tent, and cutting the guy-ropes, soon leveled it to the ground. Meanwhile, the crowd had seized a large hog, brought him to the tent, lifted up the curtain and pushed him in, and there we were—women, children, and the hog—in darkness under the cover of the tent—not a very pleasant companion, and not a very agreeable situation.”

But to the Millerites, those kinds of experiences paled into insignificance as they looked forward to being “glorified” as the Spiritual Bride of Christ and taken up to meet Him in the air, to go to the Wedding Supper and then dwell with their Spiritual Groom for all eternity.

Yes, the New Testament spoke in metaphors of Jesus as being the “husband” of the Church that He said He would build. Jesus spoke in parables of a great Wedding Feast to be held for him and his multi-faceted Bride. Indeed, the grand climax of the last book of the Bible, Revelation, speaks of the Bride.

Leading up to the failure of the original March 21, 1843- March 21, 1844 predictions, there had been some talk of this Bridal role, but it seems to have become even more central in their minds during the summer of 1844.

As they gathered at camp meetings and conferences that summer, many among them attempted to speculate on “what went wrong” with the March 21 dates, and what God would have them do next. Amateur Millerite theologians were working overtime sifting through obscure Bible passages and re-crunching numbers to try to come up with a biblical explanation. One such minor Millerite player was sure he hit the jackpot.

…Samuel S. Snow at an August Exeter, New Hampshire, camp meeting had electrified his audience with his understanding that the prophecies pointed to the close of probation and Jesus’ return on the Jewish Day of Atonement [Yom Kippur] that year. [Source]

Snow had decided that one of Miller’s original academic sources for historical information had been incorrect in some matters. By fixing the errors, adding a few more scriptures, then re-crunching the numbers himself, Snow had come to the rock-solid conclusion that the specific date Christ would return was October 22, 1844, which he said was the Biblical “tenth day of the seventh month,” the Day of Atonement (Hebrew: Yom Kippur), in 1844. Other amateur Millerite theologians sifted through his “proofs” and became convinced he was correct.


American Jews praying on Yom Kippur, c. 1900

Actually, the Jews of America observed Yom Kippur on September 23 that year, not October 22. Some skeptics mocked the Millerites for getting the wrong date, but the Millerites countered that they weren’t basing their calculations on the teachings of the modern Jews of the time. Those Orthodox Jews had beliefs and customs guided by a combination of the Old Testament writings AND the writings of the ancient Jewish sages in the Talmud.  Instead the Millerites claimed that they were following the lead of a break-away group of Jews called the Karaites, who had anciently dumped the Talmudic teachings and had allegedly gone “Back to the Bible” … and the “Bible Alone”…for details on such things as setting the annual worship calendar.

(As it turns out, there are discrepancies in the various claims for the Karaites and their “alternate Jewish Calendar” to this day, and numerous websites discuss the minutia of whether the Millerites were following the Karaites at all in 1844, or had merely invented their own apologetics for what they were doing and tacked the Karaite name on it, to make it all sound impressive. The predilection for the nitpicking of mind-numbing minutia in fringe theological circles has amazed me for years!)

In any event, Snow’s new “revelation” was a big hit among the bewildered Millerites, who were desperate for fresh understanding of God’s Plans. Which led to The Seventh Month Movement.

The news had spread like wildfire.

Twenty-three-year-old James White [future husband of Seventh Day Adventist “prophetess” Ellen G White], who was present at the meeting, later recalled: “Language cannot describe the solemnity of that hour. . . . The time for shouting, and display of talent in speaking, singing, and praying seemed to be past. The brethren and sisters calmly consecrated themselves and their all to the Lord and His cause, and with humble prayers and tears sought His pardon and favor.”

Fifty-two-year-old Joseph Bates, who also was there, said, “When that meeting closed, the granite hills of New Hampshire were ringing with the mighty cry, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.’ As the loaded wagons, stages, and railroad cars rolled away through the different states, cities, and villages of New England, the cry was still resounding, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh!’ Christ, our blessed Lord, is coming on the tenth day of the seventh month! Get ready! Get ready!”

Many were excited at the news that Jesus would return in about two months, but others were terrified. At first, even the foremost leaders of the Millerite movement did not endorse the October 22 date, though as the groundswell of acceptance grew among the laity, eventually most of the leadership came to accept it. William Miller himself was among the last of the leaders to do so. On October 6, little more than two weeks before the much-anticipated day, he wrote to Joshua V. Himes:

“I see a glory in the seventh month which I never saw before. . . . Thank the Lord, O my soul. . . . I am almost home. Glory! Glory!! Glory!!!”  [Source]

It didn’t take long until this “last warning” before the Second Coming was dubbed quite specifically “The Midnight Cry.” (Like the “Bride of Christ” term, they had used this reference all along, but now it took on an even more powerful significance.)


Matthew 25:5-6

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him..

Yes, Jesus was coming for the Bride. They had originally thought He’d come before March 21, not realizing that “the Bible” made it clear He was going to tarry for a bit, making His arrival later than anticipated. But nowNOW…there was much more than an ETA… “Estimated Time of Arrival.” Now they had an absolute promise of the Exact Date from the Lord Himself, straight out of His Word, the Bible. (Well, his Word…as interpreted by amateur theologian Samuel Snow.) It was as if He “texted ahead” from his heavenly train, with His heavenly iphone, to assure them that this time…THIS TIME…He’d be right on time.

And the Millerite True Believers proved their rock-solid belief in this reality. Miller exclaimed:

“I think I have never seen among our brethren such faith as is manifested in the seventh month. . . . There is a forsaking of the world, an unconcern for the wants of life, a general searching of heart, confession of sin, and a deep feeling in prayer for Christ to come. A preparation of heart to meet Him seems to be the labor of their agonizing spirits. There is something in this present waking up different from anything I have ever before seen.”

With time passing rapidly, steam presses were operating around the clock publishing Adventist literature. Those able to do so donated funds so that more materials could be printed and given away. Everything must be done quickly! The momentous day was just ahead; all must be warned!

One who experienced that climactic period recalled, “All grew more enthusiastic. Crops were left unharvested, their owners expecting never to want what they had raised. Men paid up their debts. Many sold their property to help others to pay their debts, who could not have done it themselves. Beef cattle were slaughtered and distributed among the poor. At no time since ‘the day of Pentecost was fully come’ had there been the like—a day when that pentecost was so completely duplicated as in 1844, when Adventism prevailed and reigned.”  [Source]

And then the Tenth Day of the Seventh Month (according to their reckoning) came. And went.

The comments of Henry Emmons, a Millerite who endured that Great Disappointment, likely reflect how many felt the next day.

I waited all Tuesday [October 22] and dear Jesus did not come;– I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint, and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain– sick with disappointment.

Hiram Edson, one of the movement’s leaders, wrote the following memoir about that same October day:

“Our expectations were raised high, and thus we looked for the coming of the Lord till the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before. It seemed that the loss of all earthly friends could have been no comparison. We wept, and wept, till the day dawn.

I mused in my own heart, saying, My advent experience has been the richest and brightest of all my Christian experience. If this had proved a failure, what was the rest of my Christian experience worth? Has the Bible proved a failure? Is there no God- no heaven- no golden home city- no paradise? Is this all but a cunningly devised fable? Is there no reality to our fondest hopes and expectation of these things?”

And thus it recently dawned on me…these were the feelings not of someone whose “intellectual theory” has been proven wrong.  These participants described their feelings exactly as those of a bride, waiting at the church on her wedding day for the bridegroom to come and marry her—and he doesn’t show up!

These are the feelings of Delta Dawn.

If you are over 40, you may remember the chart-topping Country Music hit by that name from 1972. First recorded by little 13-year-old Tanya Tucker, it went on to be a success for other singers such as Bette Midler and the Righteous Brothers. My family has not been much into Country Music over the years, but Helen Reddy made a cross-over pop hit out of the song, and that’s the one we remember, long after we’ve forgotten most ephemeral hits of the era.

The reason we remember it is that our daughter (45 years old now) latched onto it as “her song” at about age 3. Remember the fad in 2014 where it seemed everybody’s cute 2 or 3-year-old daughter was being featured on Youtube belting out the Disney Frozen hit “Let It Go”? If the Internet had been up and running in 1974 or so, I would likely have put a video on Youtube of Little Mona Dewey lisping through Delta Dawn. “Delta Dawn, what’s that fwower you have on? Could it be a faded wose fwom days gone by?”

Dewey family portrait age 3

I’m sure that in her early years Mona hadn’t a clue what the words meant, but was just hooked on the catchy melody and the swelling “church choir-like” chorus.

Yes, reading through the descriptions of some of The Disappointed Ones of 1844 recently, the Delta Dawn song came flooding into my mind.

Here’s Helen Reddy’s version that Little Mona mimicked.

And here are the words.


Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?
And did I hear you say he was a-meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky?

She’s forty-one and her daddy still calls her, ‘baby’
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks down town with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man

In her younger days they called her Delta Dawn
Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on
Then a man of low degree stood by her side
And promised her he’d take her for his bride

Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?
And did I hear you say he was a-meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky?

The achingly pretty song tells the tale of a jilted young lady who was so traumatized by being essentially “left at the altar,” she was unable to rationally evaluate her circumstances, and get on with life.

In other words, she was overwhelmed by the Brain Pain of cognitive dissonance. One side of her brain was filled with the unshakable belief that she had a wonderful lover, who wanted to marry her, and promised take her away to a life of bliss. The other side was forced to entertain a new “fact”…he never showed up when he said he would to marry her and carry her away to be with him always. Common Sense would say that this should have shaken the unshakable belief.

But Common Sense would be wrong.

Instead of forcing a change in the belief of the wonderful lover, her tormented mind sought a totally irrational solution to the problem. It became forever “stuck” in the Groundhog Day of their planned meeting. She played her part every day, showing up with her wedding corsage pinned to her chest, and her suitcase in hand to search for him. He hadn’t failed to come, in her delusional world…he just hadn’t come yet. It’s not mentioned in the song, but it would be easy to imagine a scenario where…at least on the first day, or for a few days after…she could have convinced herself she just misunderstood what day he had told her he’d be there to get her.

Sadly, in the song’s story, that first day repeated itself through the next week. Then the next month. Then the next year.  Then the next decade…and the next.

One might imagine in the first few days that she was “willingly blinded” to the facts, in order to keep her sanity and not give in to total despair. This would even, for a time, be a rational response. But at some point, there would have been a crossover into an inability to separate fact from reality. Ultimately, Delta Dawn alleviated her Brain Pain by artificially altering her perception of reality, denying what was clear and unmistakable to everyone else around her, and grasping instead at her own artificial version of reality.

Which brings us back to the world of the Millerites of 1844.

Henry Emmons and Hiram Edson, mentioned above (along with tens of thousands like them) had believed in their heart of hearts that they were part of the spiritual Bride of Christ. They were engaged to Him, and they were absolutely certain He had promised to come and get them on October 23, to take them to be with Him eternally in, as Delta Dawn had put it, “his mansion in the sky.”  Didn’t they clearly read in the Bible, in John 14:1-3, that He said to Believers…

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

And didn’t all their excruciatingly careful Bible studies show them clearly that the time of that “coming again” would be on October 23?

Yes, it was perfectly natural that Henry Emmons felt heartsick, and remained in bed prostrate for two days, when the date passed without the promise being fulfilled.

It was perfectly natural that Hiram Edson wept and wept, and wondered, “Is there no reality to our fondest hopes and expectation of these things?”

They had spent their last weeks joyously and zealously proclaiming to everyone in earshot, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh.” They rejoiced with the other Believers around them in the Millerite Movement, reminding one another in word and song that they were all part of the Bride, and would be heading with the Groom to the Wedding Feast on October 23.

And then… He didn’t cometh.

A bride being jilted just before her wedding doesn’t happen every day, but actually it happens often enough that you can see videos on Youtube and photos on Facebook feeds these days of how various young women have dealt with the situation. No doubt all of them spent the first day or two after the crisis stunned and weeping. But then each dealt with the situation in her own way in order to get over the grief and get on with her life.

The family of one jilted bride, with an expensive wedding reception already paid for, held a banquet for the poor and gave away the food in October 2015:

First to arrive, nearly a half hour early, was a woman who lives in a shelter with others too old to work and too financially strapped to afford rent.

“I was thinking at that moment, if she’s the only person that comes tonight, this was worth it,” [said the mother of the jilted young woman.]

But more came — single people, families, grandparents and newborns.

Rashad Abdullah arrived with his wife and five children. Plates overflowing with food, the family ate like royalty. It was a stark contrast to their usual struggle just to eat three meals a day.

“When you’re going through a hard time and a struggle for you to get out to do something different and with your family, it was really a blessing,” Abdullah said.

His wife, Erika Craycraft, had the Duane family top of mind. Their charity means the world to her, she said.

“To lose out on something so important to yourself and then give it to someone else is really giving, really kind,” Craycraft said.  [Source]

Another young woman’s family did the same thing in January, 2016. Read that heartwarming story and see a video of the festivities opened to 150 women and children from a homeless shelter at this link.

Another young woman dealt with being jilted in a different way after she got past a few days of grieving. She arranged for a “trash the dress” party with her bridesmaids and parents on the date the wedding was to have been, professionally photographed by the person who was to have done the wedding photography.

trashed dress

trash dress3

trashed dress2

And it wasn’t about “bitterness” at the ex-groom. It was just about “getting on with life.’

Eager to ensure that the day didn’t turn into a ‘pity party’, Shelby invited her bridesmaids and her parents to join her for the shoot, and even offered them the chance to help her destroy her dress.

‘My mom is the one who paid for the dress, so I was nervous as to how she would react when I told her what I wanted to do with it. “…

‘But both of [my parents] were 100% supportive and wanted to be there for me.’

Indeed, far from being a sad occasion, Shelby’s family and friends helped her to turn the shoot into a happy and celebratory event as they covered her and her dress in an array of glitter, paint and feathers; her dad even provided Champagne and cigars.

“The moment the paint hit my dress, I was free. I can’t even describe how liberating and cathartic the experience was for me.”

Photographer Elizabeth added: ‘Shelby really is as amazing as it seems.

“While she trashed her dress she never once trashed talked her ex to me or anyone around me. It really was a celebration of a new life and a new direction.”

Shelby’s multicolored dress is now on display at a local Memphis bridal store, The Barefoot Bride, which is donating a portion of the proceeds from each dress bought while it is on display to a nonprofit organization called Be Free Revolution.  [Source]

Not every jilted bride can rebound from her disappointment this easily, of course. I’m sure many take months, many take years to feel totally healed from the experience…especially depending on whether they are able to develop new relationships to replace the lost one. Some may even “carry a torch” for their lost love for decades, feeling melancholy whenever the thought comes up. But even among the ones who hang onto grief for quite some time, I’m pretty sure most are not under the illusion that actually the old lover DID plan to marry her, and the fact he didn’t show up for the wedding meant nothing…he STILL plans to marry her. It might even be today. She just needs to keep going through the motions of getting ready for the wedding each morning.

Yes, brides for thousands of years have dealt in various ways with being “stood up” before their wedding days. I would guess that most eventually move on, many fairly soon. They do this, in large part, by dealing with their Brain Pain by facing reality, and stopping clinging to illusions. But there are some that don’t succeed in that effort.

And that brings me to the new “informal psychology” term I’ve invented recently… The Delta Dawn Syndrome.

Perhaps you have heard of some other informal psychology terms, coined to describe certain “symptoms” that afflict some people. The Peter Pan Syndrome, for instance, describes grown men who absolutely refuse to “grow up” and accept the responsibilities of a mature man.


Or the Cinderella Syndrome (or Cinderella Complex) that describes a woman who is fearful of independence, and has an unconscious desire to be taken care of by someone else…a “someone” she may irrationally envision as a perfect Prince Charming who will rescue her from her circumstances.


I have coined the term “Delta Dawn Syndrome” to indicate the symptoms of a type of emotional disorder which results from the inability to deal in a rational way with a situation involving severe cognitive dissonance created by disappointed expectations.

delta dawn book

The most classic cases of this are seen in religious settings in which an individual has accepted the belief that they are part of a unique, elite, limited group of people who have a special role in the Plan of God. And further, that this Plan involves a very specific set of events that will be fulfilled in their lifetime on a very specific date.

This specific set of events is usually predicted to conclude with a savior or saviors coming to take the special group away, so that they may escape some sort of disaster. And that they will then be united in some way with whoever saved them in eternal bliss. Yes, throughout history this has been a typical scenario that has played out in Christian religious sects, but it is definitely not limited to Christian settings.  Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails book chronicled the saga of a group that expected to be “taken up” in an intergalactic ship by extraterrestrial (but not “divine”) beings to escape a great disaster on Earth. Later in this blog series, we will consider some other historical American scenarios that have been outside the realm of religious experience, but that exhibited some of the same elements of expectation/disappointment/dissonance, and yielded very similar responses from those involved.

And as I hope you have seen by now, the Millerite Movement of the 1840s “set up” just such a scenario for its devoted adherents.

When the savior or saviors fail to appear on the promised date, this creates a severe level of cognitive dissonance in the minds of those who have invested themselves extensively (particularly emotionally) in the conviction that failure of the prediction would be impossible.

Someone with the Delta Dawn Syndrome will not react to this failed scenario with just deep disappointment. Nor will they just try for a few days to make excuses for a short “postponement” of the timing, and then give in to the cold, hard, facts, and abandon their “belief.”

No, just like the aging woman in the Delta Dawn song, they will instead overpower the “facts” with self-delusion. But unlike Delta Dawn in the song, they won’t just live out their delusions in their own head. The psychologists involved in establishing the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance described in When Prophecy Fails came to the conclusion that a typical result, among a certain subset of people, would be…to try desperately to draw others into the delusion. In some cases, this would mean that a man or woman might try to convince others who had been waiting with them to “see” the situation in the same delusional way.

But even more strange…it often means that whole groups of these people will try to make NEW converts to their original belief! Yes, even though the “date has passed,” they will zealously try to get new people to first believe the original date was “correct,” and then to believe that the “excuses” for the reason it wasn’t fulfilled as expected are valid. And that they ought to believe even more new speculation based on that failed date.

Lest you think this is far-fetched, I offer this photo.


Notice the chart above, in this screen capture from a Youtube lecture. Yes, it is the exact same chart used in 1843 to “prove” that William Miller’s chronological  predictions were air-tight.  But look at the gentleman next to the chart. He is obviously not from William Miller’s time. This man is NOT just giving a talk about the failed “Millerite Movement” of the 1840s. He is NOT just referring to that chart as an example of a quaint antique from the period.  He is an Adventist lecturer of today, using that SAME chart to convince a new audience that Miller was RIGHT. And that they ought to get ready because Jesus is coming soon. Very soon. To take The Bride away.

Or look at these pictures.


YES, that is the same chart from 1843 on the front of this “evangelistic t-shirt” being sold to 21st century Adventists. They are encouraged by the seller to buy one and wear it as a “conversation starter” with unbelievers, so that they can witness to the fact of the nearness of the Second Advent.


Even more strange…on the back of the shirt is another antique chart. This one is from 1850, six years after the Great Disappointment. It has all the same “number crunching” that the 1843 chart had. But it was just slightly altered in some of the descriptive details. And it, too, is being offered in the 21st century as an evangelistic tool, to make new converts to the Midnight Cry that Jesus’ coming is “near, even at the very doors.”

As are the words of William Miller, written to Joshua Himes on November 10, 1844, three weeks or so after the Great Disappointment. (These words are shared on many evangelistic Seventh Day Adventist websites also as part of attempts to convince prospective converts to get on board and expect that the Advent is at the doors.) When Miller wrote this letter in late 1844, other Millerites were already trying to explain away the failure of the prophetic schedule, and re-crunch the numbers and come up with a new “time” for the Second Coming. Not Miller.

“I have fixed my mind upon another time, and here I mean to stand until God gives me more light—and that [time] is Today, TODAY, and TODAY, until He comes, and I see HIM for whom my soul yearns.”

He never received “more light”…nor did he live to see the “soon coming” of Jesus to the Earth. He died December 20, 1849.

The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance is a very useful tool in understanding the various kinds of solutions individuals and groups of people throughout American history have come up with to deal with the Brain Pain of failed expectations. My concept of the Delta Dawn Syndrome is useful to understand just what emotional and mental factors have driven some of them to choose the strange solutions they have picked.

We’ll apply both of these ideas to the aftermath of the Great Disappointment of 1844 in the next blog entry.





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6 Responses to Brain Pain—Part 3: The Delta Dawn Syndrome

  1. Er, sorry to be pedantic, but that’s not Queen Elizabeth you have illustrated waiting for her Prince Charming (as a type of the Bride of Christ) but a pre-nuptial Queen Victoria 😉

    But I like your idea of “Delta Dawn Syndrome” as an adjunct to cognitive dissonance: it might also go some way in explaining the behaviour of Scientologists…

    • Duh. 🙂 Thank you for the heads-up on my stupid royal blunder. Of course it was Queen Victoria! My brain just went into auto-pilot when I was typing that.

      And thank you for the kind words about my newly-coined term. Funny you should mention Scientologists. I just discovered, for the first time in some reading I was doing yesterday for this blog series, that “Marian Keech” (the pseudonym for the lady who was the head of the “flying saucer” cult described in When Prophecy Fails, whose real name was Dorothy Martin), had originally been a devoted follower of L Ron Hubbard’s “Dianetics” movement, the precursor to Scientology. And she supposedly built into her little group some of the principles of Dianetics.

      • I really must go through ‘When Prophecy Fails’ again; the Dianetics connection quite passed me by the first time I read it. And there’s Alison Lurie’s marvellous comic novel ‘Imaginary Friends’ which is squarely based on Festinger’s account—well worth reading too.

  2. riley1955 says:

    Pam, what a wonderfully thoughtful post! I look forward to reading more of them.

  3. Pingback: Brain Pain–Part 4: Imminent and Inevitable | Meet MythAmerica

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