Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World As We Know It... and I Feel Fine

If you're reading this message, you may safely assume that you have not been raptured.  Although I'm writing this message in advance, this is decidedly NOT a message intended to inform you, in my absence, of what has just happened to me.  In fact, I expect not to have been raptured, either.

Judgment Bus New Orleans 2011You may have already figured out what I'm talking about.  You may have seen the billboards talking about Judgment Day set to occur today, May 21st, 2011.  Apparently some even specify 6:00 pm, precisely, although I've not seen those, myself. (and if you're wondering "what time zone?" don't worry about that.  They actually do seem to mean 6:00 pm at whatever time zone you happen to be in).

Even though I do not believe that these billboards, nor the belief behind them, are correct, I should further clarify that the theology behind them doesn't intend to tell us that the end of the world should have happened quite yet.  The world's actual end, assuming these guys are correct, comes in October (also on the 21st).  All that's supposed to happen today is the rapture (well, the rapture coupled with a series of earthquakes every hour on the hour as a new time zone recognizes 6:00 pm on the 21st, which means we should have been getting news reports since 9:00 pm PDT last night, so we really should know for sure by the time you're reading this). 

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.  For those who don't know what I mean by "the rapture," I mean the event whereby believers in Christ are taken to heaven before God brings about the end of the world.  While a belief in the rapture is by no means universal among Christians, it is reasonably common.  The point of dispute here is less "will the end times include a rapture event?" and more "at what time will the end times/rapture occur?"

Most Christians argue that it is impossible to know in advance when these events will take place.  We can even point to a Scripture passage that tells us that we can't knowHarold Camping, president of a reasonably large Christian radio network and the main proponent of this May 21st end times campaign, knows all about this passage, so don't bother trying to tell him about it.  He's fully articulated why he doesn't think that passage applies to this situation, and however wrong he might be, it's the kind of argument you're never going to shake his belief about.  However wacky and contrived the mathematics he uses to arrive at his conclusions may appear (to say nothing of the basis for why he chooses the scripture passages, dates, and numbers he's working from), no amount of reason is going to change his mind.

This isn't Camping's first attempt to foretell the end of the world.  1994 came and went, and the world is still here.  To Camping's credit, he admitted back then to the possibility that he could be wrong.  I've seen no such allowance made this time around.  In fact, his sense of certainty seems to be unshakable.

So, I'm curious to know which of the following events will occur today:
  • Harold Camping admits that he was wrong (although after his comments in that link above, this would have to be devastating for him).
  • Harold Camping discovers that he was, ironically, not one of those who were raptured, yet insists that the rapture occurred on schedule (although whether or not we get those periodic earthquakes around the world at 6:00 pm for each time zone would have to be taken into account).
  • Harold Camping is unable to be reached for comment due to having disappeared.
It would probably be fair to accuse me to poking fun at this prediction that I honestly believe has pretty much no chance of coming to pass.  I don't mean to be cruel about it.  I just really do think it's that ridiculous.  But taking a step back for a moment, these kinds of predictions have been made for a long time.  And the results have been anything but funny.  People mislead by these predictions are traumatized, and the reputation of Christianity is further diminished in the eyes of a secular world that already has trouble taking us seriously.  Not that there's anything that can really be done about it, I suppose.  People of religious conviction are going to do what they believe God commands them to do, and they rightly put such dedication to God over the concerns of mere mortals who disagree with them.  But each and every time we get it wrong about something so major, it remains regrettable.

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