Back in May I wrote about Harold Camping and his prediction that the rapture was imminent, followed by the end of the world no later than 21st October. At the time the rapture didn’t happen – Camping’s believers gathered to be whisked from this mortal coil to a better place, but nothing happened. At least nothing visible. As morning turned to day and then day turned to evening, the prophet declared that something-or-other invisible had indeed happened, but we wouldn’t see the outcome until October. No-one apologised for the delay or gave much of an explanation (a bit like the British rail system actually).
Five months after the end of the world
Well, 21 October is here. Harold Camping’s most recent statement pronouncement suggested that we still have a date with God and today is the appointed time – though appointed by whom I’m not really sure. Unlike the timing of the date of Easter, which is also a mystery to most people, the dates surrounding the end of the world have not been laid down in officially sanctioned mathematical tables for hundreds of years, which may be because Jesus said that no-one knows the day or the time (Mark 13:32). So we are left with people like Mr. Camping to enlighten us. Or not.
The problem is that it is just too tempting. The Bible is a book full of rich stories guiding us towards an understanding of what God is like and what we should be like. Unfortunately Bible-calculation, trying to use numbers in the bible to add up to some ultimate answer, is just more satisfying for so many and has being going on for nearly two thousand years. The first known date for the end of the world as we know it was Hilary of Poitiers prediction that it would all be over in 365 A.D. It’s a bit like The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy, where Deep thought was built to give the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but instead replied with 42. Meaningless but solid.
The world to end soon and quietly – probably
Shortly after the lack of rapture in May Camping had a stroke. His tone is now slightly milder. “the end is going to come very, very quietly probably within the next month . . . by October 21. Probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God . . . We can become more and more sure that they’ll quietly die and that will be the end of their story”. Nice.
Reading comments on Facebook there appears to be a fair amount of anger surrounding this, whether directed at Camping, his followers or just all believers for being – well, believers! The Wikipedia page has had non-too subtle words inserted (moron, retard) which rather reduce its usefulness. I’m not angry. I don’t suppose for a moment that any of these people intend to deceive – I could be wrong but Camping doesn’t look like a con-man to me. I’ve met a lot of people who are far too sure about their belief for their own (or other people’s) good, and on the whole the last thing they wanted was to hurt anybody – nor were they particularly stupid. So I suspect that Camping isn’t evil and his followers aren’t brainless the brainless idiots that internet discussion would make them out to be (the discussions put it much more impolitely). Mostly it’s the too-certain leading the over-intense, with a lack of perspective all round.
So I’m not angry, not even (well, not much) at the blatant mis-representation of this whole thing in the media and online which suggests that somehow this behaviour is representative of all people of all faiths, and particularly that all Christians are secretly scanning the skies nightly*. No, I just hope that if or when any of the mis-believers become disillusioned that there will be other people around them who will help them down gently.
And what can you expect today? Will you be raptured? I refer you to the same humorous flowchart as last time so that you can see where you stand when the trumpet blows. It is pleasing to see that, just like when I play Connect 4 with Mrs. DramatisDei, there is no way that I can win. Between them they’ve got me beaten.
p.s. I’ve put this post in the Big Issues category, not because it is a big issue for most people (clearly it isn’t) but because for those involved it is big enough for them to give away everything. That is quite big.
* Actually I do scan the skies fairly nightly, but that is mostly because I am hoping to catch a glimpse of the International Space Station or because I am testing the Planets app on my iPhone.