- “The Rapture” — by Robert Bissell
I was in a Schmuckapalooza supermarket in my hometown in upstate New York, at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, when I realized the end was coming.
I remember it exactly because a Christian minister, Harold Camping, had predicted that precise time and date for the Rapture. According to Camping, 200 million Christians would be spirited into Heaven at just that moment. The rest, the left behinds, would live out their days on an increasingly violent Earth until the entire planet was destroyed just 5 months later.
I had just reminded the guys in the Schmuckapalooza meat department of our impending doom. “Did you know the Rapture is predicted for a little more than 15 minutes from now?”
We joked about it for five of the remaining minutes, and afterwards I went about my business elsewhere in the store, mulling the idea of a Christian-themed apocalypse.
Caught up in my thoughts, mulling the recent media coverage of the prediction, I almost didn’t notice it, except I glanced at the clock at exactly 6 p.m.
It was at just that moment that I suddenly realized what was coming. I thought: “It’s over. We won.”
The statement itself might have been a little hasty, but the point was that the conclusion was pretty much a dead certainty. In the modern battle against religion, the tipping point had come, and God was on a definite – and hopefully not too lengthy – downhill slide into extinction.
The evidence for my conclusion was not just the national reaction to Camping’s prediction, but the media coverage the prediction had gotten.
Nationwide, atheists had vocally and visibly poked fun at Camping’s message. But there was an unexpected parallel in the reaction of U.S. corporate media. Major network news covered the “End of the World” with the same winking whimsy reserved for the pranking of a major public figure. A gay activist threw a bagful of glitter on presidential contender Newt Gingrich within the same time frame, and the tone of the two reports – Gingrich-glitter and goddy apocalypse – was pretty much the same. If anything, the coming apocalypse was given even more comedic spin.
The significance of the tone of coverage was that corporate media outlets were, for the first time, unafraid of Christian backlash. The story was funny, and covered as such, rather than with the fearful gravity Christian subjects had always demanded.
By chiming in on the laughter, the major networks showed that the bubble of respect which usually surrounds all such religious pronouncements – they were covered with solemn reserve or not at all – had been pierced.
Hereafter, the subject of wingnut religion was not just the plaything of atheists and comedians. It was a comedy football for the news media too.
This was a historic first. Never before had the massed news media felt free to poke fun at mainsteam religion, even the extreme wingnut segment which the likes of Harold Camping occupied.
And now the followup, five months later, is that Camping’s second prediction of apocalypse was barely even mentioned. Not because it wasn’t news, but because it wasn’t funny anymore.
Camping — and the apocalypse — is now officially boring.
Eventually that boredom will extend to religion itself.
BTW, the pic above is a painting by Robert Bissell. Guy’s got some pretty cool stuff.