Friday, May 27, 2011

The Rapture that wasn't

I have mixed feelings about Harold Camping - the man who predicted the May 21st Rapture/Judgement Day. Well, actually, no I don't: he's either a con-man, or he's delusional. It doesn't matter which, since either way he's dangerous to anyone who takes him seriously. Camping, of course, denies responsibility for any actions taken by his followers in response to his warning; this strikes me as the moral equivalent of shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater and then protesting that people only got hurt because they panicked and made bad decisions.

Camping is also doubling down on his prediction; he says he was wrong about what exactly was going to happen on May 21, but that the Judgement did come "spiritually" and the world will definitely end on October 21. I'm going to make a prediction: no, it won't. If I'm right, that makes me a better prophet than Harold Camping, despite the fact that I'm functionally an atheist. (If you're keeping score, the current record between us is me-1 him-0.)

No, I don't have mixed feelings about Harold Camping. I do have mixed feelings about his followers. On the one hand, the urge to point and laugh is nearly irresistible. I mean, seriously: crazy old dude announces that he, and he alone, has figured out the Bible-based math that reveals the true date of the end of the world? And people believe him? I've said before that while Camping's predictions have their roots firmly in Christian tradition, they're also directly anti-Biblical (i.e. clearly violating the passage where "no man knows the day or the hour"). Family Radio - or at least some of Camping's followers - had an answer for that... sort of. (Don't read that if you value your sanity.) So, yes, you can make a pretty good argument that someone would have to be a complete idiot to fall for that.

But on the other hand... I've had those moments where I suddenly sort of woke up and realized that something I was doing (or had recently done) was... well... very much not the good idea that it seemed like at the time. Twice, that was accompanied by the realization that what I'd been doing was not only a bad idea, but a potentially life-ruining mistake. And I strongly suspect that a lot of Camping's victim-followers experienced something very similar last Saturday.

Here's the thing: anybody can fall for a scam, if you catch them in just the right way at just the right moment. And these are people who are predisposed to believe in precisely this sort of thing. (It doesn't really matter, for them, whether Camping is a con-man or whether he's completely sincere.) Should they have known better? Yes. Are they victims in this situation? Also yes. So while the urge to point and laugh is strong, I'm also more than a little sympathetic. That's a lousy position to find yourself in.


  1. I think Mr Camping needs to br brought to book and other Christian organisations should be behind that.

    The biblical teaching on the responsibiliy of leaders is clear. Those who lead others astray with false teaching should be held accountable and those who witness such behaiviour have a responsibility to act on it.

    Its all well and good the world laughing at him and the news channels giving him airtime, but where are the people who are actually trying to remove his influence?


  2. I think that people who are predisposed to looking to the sky for Jesus eminent return might easily fall prey to this sort of thing, especially those who don't study the bible for themselves, but rely on their pastor as the voice of God. It's really sad.

  3. I kind of felt sorry for them all, including Camping for a short moment. The dude really thought he was right and was baffled why it didn't happen as he thought it would. He then had to re-adjust his thought process and make it fit.

    And now what's he going to do in October when we are all still here?


Feel free to leave comments; it lets me know that people are actually reading my blog. Interesting tangents and topic drift just add flavor. Linking to your own stuff is fine, as long as it's at least loosely relevant. Be civil, and have fun!