I’ve never aspired to write religion columns. I’d just as soon be a coal miner. Or man the graveyard shift in an all-night convenience store. Heck, I’d rather work as a third-string fry cook than tackle a task as daunting as writing about my own faith or anyone else’s.
But this week, I just can’t help it. Because I didn’t get raptured last Saturday.
In fact, I haven’t heard of anyone who did. And that’s bound to be causing an inestimable amount of embarrassment to Harold Camping, the 89-year-old civil engineer-turned-end times radio evangelist who has now predicted the exact date of Doomsday not once but three times. It was supposed to happen back in 1994. When it didn’t, Camping figured he’d done the math wrong. May 21, 2011 was what he should have said. “I’m certain of it,” he warned. “There is no Plan B.” Wrong. When he and 200 million or so other “true believers” weren’t taken up at 6:00 p.m. (local time, across the globe) he recalculated again.
The new date? October 21, 2011.
Which is bound to prolong the media circus surrounding the founder of Family Radio International and his band of followers. I can’t speak to Camping’s motives for predicting when the world is going to end. Whether he’s doing it for financial gain or love of the spotlight or a sincere desire to encourage his fellow human beings to get right with God, heaven only knows. But it’s for sure that his actions have had a whole lot of negative fallout.
Camping is reported to have spent one hundred million dollars announcing May 21 as Judgment Day. He bought full-page color ads in various newspapers, including USA Today, rented space on 5,000 billboards and purchased 20 recreational vehicles that allowed his apostles to travel the country spreading his message. Call me crazy, but I call that squandering your resources. Surely there are better ways to spend that kind of money.
Many of Camping’s followers have literally lost their shirts because of his apocalyptic message. They quit their jobs, sold their homes, and emptied their children’s college savings accounts, figuring that those who are raptured don’t need worldly possessions.
Worst of all is how easy Camping’s antics have made it for skeptics to dismiss Christianity and all its teaching as foolishness. Thanks to fringe cases like him who dominate the news, many non-believers have jumped at the chance to label all people of faith as irrational and delusional.
That bothers me. A lot.
I don’t hold with what Harold Camping preaches any more than I do with the Reverend Terry Jones burning the Koran or members of Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the funerals of fallen American soldiers. I lean hard toward Methodist founder John Wesley’s admonition to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Feed the hungry, visit the sick, give blankets to people who are cold. Those who strive to do that don’t have a whole lot of extra time to worry about the rapture.
Countless jokes and cartoons have surfaced since this Harold Camping debacle made its way into the news. One of my favorites was a Facebook posting: “Sorry folks, but it actually WAS last Saturday. If you’re still here…well, what can I say?” The best was a political cartoon by Randy Bish of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It’s a drawing of a simple country church with a sign in front that says IF YOU MISSED THE RAPTURE, WE’RE STILL OPEN.
And that’ll do it for me writing a religion column. At least until after October 21.
(May 29, 2011)