Yes, I do have a bit of an apocalyptic streak in me, as some of you know, but I’m also fascinated by people who think they actually have a specific date (and time, in this case — 6 PM in each time zone. Sort of a “rolling Rapture,” I guess) that proclaims an apocalyptic event.
In this case, the Rapture. For those of you who have been living under a rock, you’ve missed Harold Camping’s latest prediction, which he started touting a couple of years ago, I believe. The Rapture (Judgment Day) starts tomorrow. Or today, if you’re Down Under. May 21, 2011.
So where am I going with this? Have a look…
Camping came to this idea via a strange self-induced numerological system that he himself seems to have devised and applied to the King James Bible (apparently forgetting that the original texts of the Bible were written in Aramaic and then translated a gajillion times over the centuries). Using this system of numbers and applying it to specific events of his choosing in the Bible, he has come to the conclusion that the Rapture is tomorrow.
And sure, for those of us who know better, who know that there have been thousands of prophecies and thousands of guesses, it’s sort of amusing. For me, with my dark humor streak, it has proven immensely funny and twisted, but in the back of my mind, I’ve been worried about the people who allow themselves to get caught up in what seems to be a cultish belief. There are people out there who have sold everything, quit their jobs, and hit the road to “spread the word.” Seriously. I’m not making that up.
What happens to those people when May 21 comes and goes? And then May 22? And May 23? I remember Jonestown. And Heaven’s Gate. And I do worry. I’ve been worried about these folks since I found out about Camping and his prediction a few months ago. Camping, for the uninitiated, is the 89-year-old founder of Family Radio (based in CA), a Christian (as if it’s not obvious) radio network. He started it in 1958, and it’s worldwide now, and translated into at least 60 languages. In other words, this whole May 21 thing is not confined to a small group of people. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. Google May 21, 2011 in “images” and you’ll see billboard photos pop up from all over the world.
Here’s the thing. I don’t like to diss other people’s beliefs, no matter how wackadoodle I think they are (okay, wait — I do diss the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church — I’ll own that). For the most part, though, I might say “bless their hearts” or some such, but who am I to diss people for what they believe? And when it comes to religion, when you’re dealing with a true believer, you might as well be talking to a door. Mr. Camping is a believer, even though his first prediction about the end (1994) didn’t come to pass.
Sometimes, true belief is sort of cool, something that gets people through bad times and gives them comfort. But in situations like this, I worry. Because it looks a whole lot like a cult, though Camping isn’t a typical cult leader, either in demeanor or in motive, though he has said that gay pride is a sign of the end times. Blaming people for an apocalypse doesn’t strike me as overly helpful or even truly Christian, but there you go.
Religious upheavals or freakouts like this usually coincide with uneasiness and freakouts about conditions on the ground. That is, bad economic situations, social tensions, uncertainty about the future. America has seen huge religious upheavals since its founding. I’m thinking here of the Great Awakening, which swept the nation around 1730-1760. So from a historic perspective, a religious freakout like this makes sense. Lots of people are uneasy about the future; they’ve maybe lost jobs in the bad economy; demographic shifts no doubt make some people feel as if they’ll be displaced. These are legitimate concerns, but unfortunately, rather than seeking to build communities through difference and find creative solutions, some people instead seek answers through religion, rather than using religion as another outlet to build some peace and community. In this case, they seek answers through one man, and they buy his line completely. And that, I think, isn’t healthy.
So yes, though we may laugh and poke a little fun at the pronouncements of Camping (like the almost 500,000 people on Facebook who have joined the “Post-rapture looting party“. And the no doubt thousands of others who are having parties and get-togethers on that day. But this true belief also has a corrosive and destructive effect. It’s splitting families and friends.
One family in Maryland is divided by generation (click link above). The kids don’t seem to buy the Rapture, but their parents do. Mom quit her job and she and Dad went out to spread the word. They stopped saving for their kids’ college funds. Mom has told her 16-year-old daughter that she [the daughter] is not getting into heaven. What an incredibly selfish and hurtful thing to do to your children. Not only do you stop helping them prepare for the future, but you tell them they don’t get to participate in yours. This is the dark side of fervent belief, of crossing that line between cult and religion. No religious belief should place you on a pedestal to the detriment of others. I doubt Jesus would have told you to forsake your children and tell them things like “oh, sorry. You don’t get to go to heaven with me and Dad.”
So yes, belief in the Rapture really does provide a lot of fodder for dark, cynical humor. But it also hurts real people. What are those parents going to do when they wake up on the 22nd and nothing has changed? Are they going to apologize to their kids? Start saving again? Get jobs? Or will they find some excuse for their behavior? I’m betting the latter. One thing about cultish believers is that they rarely accept responsibility for the things they do or the people they hurt.
And yes, I’m one of those who doesn’t believe that any kind of Rapture is going to happen tomorrow. Probability suggests it won’t. Thousands of predictions over the past centuries, and not one has come true. Other reasoning I’ve presented can be found at The Situation Room, my blog on my homesite. And yes, I’m one of those who wouldn’t be welcome at a Rapture, anyway, because Mr. Camping blames me and people like me for his apocalypse. Which doesn’t strike me as very Christian, either, that you would blame someone for your troubles and not welcome all in the human community to your table unless they think just like you.
All that said, events like this provide endless writing fodder for freaks like me. And yes, I do have some ideas in mind. MUAH HA HA!
I’ll leave you (not literally, since I’m not invited to participate in the giant cosmic vacuum that sucks you out of your clothes and into the sky) with a couple of my fave tunes, which seem apropos of the moment:
REM! “It’s the End of the World as We Know It…and I Feel Fine”
Blondie! Of course. Duh. “Rapture”!
If the hair and outfits in this vid don’t make you wanna Rapture party, I don’t know what will. “Don’t stop! Sure shot! Go out to the parking lot! Get in your car! Drive real far! And you drive all night and you see a light!” And then some crazy man from Mars shoots you dead, eats your head, and you go out and eat up cars and bars.
Yeah. Okay, then. Go, Blondie! With your car- and bar-eatin’ self! RAPTURE!
All right, all. Happy weekend. For real! And go easy on the mojitos.