Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Apocalypse Whenever

Not too long ago, a do-it-yourself theologian came up with a set of assumptions, Bible verses, and numeric manipulations - and convinced some folks that End Times Were Nigh. Judgment Is Upon Us. Pretty much the same stuff I've been hearing and reading for decades.

One thing that helped put Harold Camping on the map, I think, was the billboards:

(Oakland Blog, via SFGate, used w/o permission)

Also the efforts of his enthusiastic but ill-informed followers.

Judgment Day, Again: October 21, 2011

Judgment Day, May 21, 2011, came and went. No Rapture, no celestial fireworks - not even a single major earthquake.

Mr. Camping isn't through with us yet, though. Turns out he 'made a mistake.' J-Day is October 21 of this year.1 He says. When October 22nd rolls around, my guess is that he'll wait a few days and then trot out another End Times Bible Prophecy - and might have a new book on the shelves in time for Christmas.

I've written about Mr. Camping, the quaint 19th-century idea we call "Rapture,"2 and a few serious topics, before. (May 22, 2011)

By the way, I think the CDC made pretty good use of America's recurring 'coming apocalypse' fads:

Responses, Silly and Serious

I don't always agree with what I suspect is the underlying philosophy in Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur. On the other hand, I think Mr. Miller is a very good observer of human foibles and cultural quirks. And I like his Obvious Man character. Who doesn't appear in yesterday's strip:

(Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller, used w/o permission)

Not everybody's been quite so calm about the latest Rapture prediction:
"Okay, I have a serious bone to pick with the news media.

"It is being widely reported that the evangelical Christian broadcaster whose Judgment Day prophecy went embarrassingly unfulfilled on Saturday has explained that he miscalculated, and the actual Apocalypse will happen later.

"So my question is, why are we even still quoting this man? Why are we spreading his hogwash?

"In my book, he's moved to the very, very bottom of the list, under every other person on earth, when it comes to credibility about Apocalypses, yet here we are running stories about his newest prediction.

"Really? How many chances does he GET?

"And while I'm on the subject, a 'miscalculation' is like when you leave too small a tip for your waiter, and so he beats you up in the parking lot.

"It's NOT the word you use to explain why you got sad, gullible people to rearrange their lives around going to heaven...."
(Oddly Enough, Robert Basler)
Mr. Basler's Oddly Enough blog generally has a much lighter tone. My guess is that he's genuinely upset at what Mr. Camping's predictions have done to folks who took him seriously.

I see Mr. Basler's point. Quite a few folks who took Mr. Camping's 'Biblical' prediction seriously got hurt, financially and otherwise:
"...Follower Jeff Hopkins also spent a good deal of his own retirement savings on gas money to power his car so people would see its ominous lighted sign showcasing Camping's May 21 warning. As the appointed day drew nearer, Hopkins started making the 100-mile round trip from Long Island to New York City twice a day, spending at least $15 on gas each trip.

" 'I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car,' said Hopkins, 52, a former television producer who lives in Great River, NY. 'I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face.'...
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
Please note: Mr. Hopkins is a "former television producer." Not everybody who takes the likes of Mr. Camping seriously is like Non Sequitur's Eddie.

Having money or a diploma is no guarantee, I think, that a person has the sort of wisdom or caution it takes to study extravagant claims before 'really believing.'

Particularly if the person's emotions are engaged. I've written about emotion and reason not playing well together. Fairly often:
Even folks who take the idea of "Rapture" seriously often seem to have read enough of the Bible to know that there's dubious value in saying when God's going to take their church to Happy Acres, and punish folks who don't agree.

Interestingly, although "Rapture" is firmly entrenched in American culture and folklore, I haven't run into many folks who think the Wandering Jew is out there somewhere: and make that the pivot-point of their lives. Although the story of the Jew who is now upwards of 2,000 years old is equally "Biblical." Matthew 24:34-36, and all that.

Folks Spending Their Life Savings? So What?

I think that weaving a tale that has folks spending money they can't afford to 'spread the word' is a serious matter. I also think that screwball 'Bible Prophecies' hurt more than the finances and lives of 'true believers.'

I'm a Christian, and have taken my Lord very seriously for as long as I can remember. Which is why I converted to Catholicism, and that's another topic. Or, maybe not so much. Being the sort of person I am, I studied Jesus and His church. I also took the endemic 'End Times' predictions seriously - until noticing that they didn't pan out, and followed a fairly routine pattern. Yet another topic.
If you're waiting for a rant about wolves leading the sheep astray, that's not gonna happen. Not today, anyway.

For all I know, Mr. Camping may really believe what he says - and not notice how often he's been wrong. Or how much he's hurting people. Folks I've known who are convinced that Judgment Day is Coming are - as far as I can tell - quite sincere.

Wrong, big time: but sincere.

Then there's another set of folks, who seem convinced that Mr. Camping, Fred Phelps, and the Pope are all alike - that they are parasites who feed on the feeble-minded. As far as I can tell, these folks are sincere, too.

I'm about as sure as I can be that they're wrong about 'those religious simpletons,' but what would I know? I'm one of those Catholics. Yet again another topic.

Mr Camping's latest stunt - and what promises to be a replay coming in October - gives folks who seem determined to reject God one more 'proof' of how silly religion is.

'With Friends Like These'

Here's what another bunch of enthusiastic Christians - just ask them - were doing at Arlington National Cemetery last Veterans Day, 2010.

(Reuters photo, via FoxNews.com, used w/o permission)

I've said this before: Those are not, in my considered opinion, typical Christians. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church (the one in Kansas) isn't even, again in my considered opinion, typical of American Protestant churches: even the 'Evangelical' ones.

That's not, though, what a fair number of folks I've known assume. The Fred Phelps and Mr. Campings of this world are louder, I think, than most folks who just chug along worshiping Jesus - and they're the ones that get noticed.

And that's - you guessed it - yet again another topic.

Related posts:

1 Excerpt from last month's news:
"As crestfallen followers of a California preacher who foresaw the world's end strained to find meaning in their lives, Harold Camping revised his apocalyptic prophecy Monday, saying he was off by five months because the Earth actually will be obliterated on Oct. 21.

"Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven Saturday before global cataclysm struck the planet, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday message did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife. His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions -- some of it from donations made by followers -- on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message....

"...Camping, who made a special appearance before the press at the Oakland headquarters of the media empire Monday evening, apologized for not having the dates 'worked out as accurately as I could have.' Through chatting with a friend over what he acknowledged was a very difficult weekend, the light dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, May 21 had instead been a "spiritual" Judgment Day, which places the entire world under Christ's judgment, he said.

"The globe will be completely destroyed in five months, he said, when the apocalypse comes. But because God's judgment and salvation were completed on Saturday, there's no point in continuing to warn people about it, so his network will now just play Christian music and programs until the final end on Oct. 21.

" 'We've always said May 21 was the day, but we didn't understand altogether the spiritual meaning,' he said. 'The fact is there is only one kind of people who will ascend into heaven ... if God has saved them they're going to be caught up.'

"It's not the first time the 89-year-old retired civil engineer has been dismissed by the Christian mainstream and has been forced to explain when his prediction didn't come to pass. Camping also prophesized the Apocalypse would come in 1994, but said later that didn't happen then because of a mathematical error....

"...Camping's hands shook slightly as he pinned his microphone to his lapel, and as he clutched a worn Bible he spoke in a quivery monotone about some listeners' earthly concerns after giving away possessions in expectation of the Rapture.

"Family Radio would never tell anyone what they should do with their belongings, and those who had fewer would cope, Camping said.

" 'We're not in the business of financial advice,' he said. 'We're in the business of telling people there's someone who you can maybe talk to, maybe pray to, and that's God.'

"But he also said that he wouldn't give away all his possessions ahead of Oct 21.

" 'I still have to live in a house, I still have to drive a car," he said. "What would be the value of that? If it is Judgment Day why would I give it away?'...

"...Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling 'Left Behind' novels about the end times, recently called Camping's prediction 'not only bizarre but 100 percent wrong!' He cited the Bible verse Matthew 24:36, 'but about that day or hour no one knows' except God.

" 'While it may be in the near future, many signs of our times certainly indicate so, but anyone who thinks they "know" the day and the hour is flat out wrong,' LaHaye wrote on his website, leftbehind.com.

"Signs of disappointment also were evident online, where groups that had confidently predicted the Rapture -- and, in some cases, had spent money to help spread the word through advertisements -- took tentative steps to re-establish Internet presences in the face of widespread mockery....

"...Camping offered no clues about Family Radio's finances Monday, saying he could not estimate how much had been spent on getting out his prediction nor how much money the nonprofit had taken in as a result. In 2009, the nonprofit reported in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.

"Josh Ocasion, who works the teleprompter during Camping's live broadcasts in the group's threadbare studio sandwiched between an auto shop and a palm reader's business, said he enjoyed the production work but he had never fully believed the May 21 prophecy would come true.

" 'I thought he would show some more human decency in admitting he made a mistake,' he said. 'We didn't really see that.' "
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
2 "The rapture," and American culture:
"...All three films hinge on a literalist interpretation of certain Scripture passages and are informed by a pessimistic brand of Protestantism known as 'premillennial dispensationalism,' which took root among certain fundamentalist Christians in the early 19th century.

"Central among its tenets is 'the rapture,' here meaning a sudden, unexpected taking up to heaven of those faithful to Christ, in advance of his second coming and presaging a seven-year period of tribulation for those 'left behind.' While Catholic teaching accepts a rapture event at Christ's return in glory, the church rejects the notion of it occurring prior to the second coming as suggested by the films. "
(Left Behind, Media Review Office, Catholic News Service, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.