Covering All the Rapture Bases

By Ebonmuse

Greetings all,

As I mentioned previously, I’m away this week, having gone to Spain with my wife to celebrate our first anniversary. My only regret is that because of this trip, I was out of the country on May 21, when self-appointed prophet Harold Camping told us that the Rapture would absolutely, definitely occur. By now, you all know whether that prediction came true, and I only wish I could be there to join in the rejoicing – unless, of course, it turned out that he was right.

Well, either way, I wouldn’t want to leave you bereft of my thoughts on the matter. That’s why, before I left, I wrote this two-part post – one section for if the Rapture didn’t happen, one section for if it did – and scheduled it for automatic publication today. Please comment on whichever section is appropriate.

* * *

May 21, 2011 has come and gone, and to no one’s surprise, the Rapture failed to arrive on schedule. Harold Camping now stands fully exposed and shamed as a fraud, taking his place in the ranks of self-deluded false prophets that pop up throughout the history of Christendom. To atheists, of course, this was no surprise at all. Anyone who took the time to actually read Camping’s thesis knows that it was based on tortured reinterpretations and bizarre numerological arguments that ludicrously asserted to uncover hidden truths buried in the Bible. The only evidence he ever really had to offer was his utter certainty – but even when dignified with the name of “faith”, mere subjective certainty offers no insight into the true nature of reality.

Camping was undoubtedly deluded, but I believe that he was honestly deluded. Human beings are very good at convincing ourselves of what we most wish to be true, and for those unschooled in critical thinking, that tendency can quickly grow out of control, consuming all skepticism like a malignant tumor of the mind. If Camping was an intentional deceiver, he wouldn’t have staked his credibility on a definite test, this being one of the few fatal errors in religion. He would have just perpetually predicted that the Rapture was sometime in the near but indefinite future, and continued to rake in the bucks from followers – just as many of the more “mainstream” end-times prophets have successfully done.

Nevertheless, it’s not him I feel pity for, but his sadly deceived followers. We learned from stories like this one that many of them quit their jobs, sold their homes, emptied their savings in an attempt to help get the word out. The most striking and consistent element of these reports is how they refused to even consider that they were mistaken, as if to express any doubt might jeopardize the truth of the prophecy. But again, objective reality stands unmocked and unbowed by our beliefs about it, however fervent they may be.

What will happen to the Camping cult? This is actually one of the easiest questions to answer, since history offers so many examples of how failed apocalyptic prophets deal with their failure. Almost certainly, Camping will recheck his figures, announce he’s found some minor mathematical error that redates the Rapture to six months or a year from now, and repeat the whole charade all over again. And most of his flock will stay faithful. Despite his obvious and undeniable failure, his hardcore followers have invested too much of their lives in him to walk away. In a sense, his failure is their failure, and so they’re just as eager as he is to accept a face-saving explanation. This process may continue through several iterations, but as less committed members drift away, the Camping cult will gradually fade into the pages of history – to be remembered, if at all, as a footnote in the story of the next apocalyptic sect to fall for this seemingly endless foolishness.

* * *

May 21, 2011 has come and gone, and to everyone’s surprise, the Rapture arrived exactly on schedule. Harold Camping now stands fully proven as a prophet and a hero, the crowning figure of the history of Christendom. To atheists, of course, this was a terrible surprise. If we had taken the time to read Camping’s thesis, we would have known that it was based on true interpretations and clever numerological arguments that unlocked the hidden truths buried in the Bible. The best evidence he had to offer was his utter certainty, and as we now know, a faith so strong can only indicate genuine insight into the true nature of reality. Why, oh, why didn’t we believe while there was still time?!

We were undoubtedly deluded, honestly so, though that’s little consolation now that all the world’s coastal regions are flooded and its cities in flames from the series of massive earthquakes. From what I’m told, it’s too late to repent, and we know what’s coming. Well, here’s what I’m going to do, and if you have any sense, you’ll do the same: Bring all the warm clothes you own, and if there’s a camping store near where you live, a tent or sleeping bag. Stock up on freeze-dried meals, beef jerky, granola bars, dried fruit: food that requires little or no preparation and won’t spoil. Be sure to bring a good-quality water filter, a sharp knife, a lighter for starting fires, and an assortment of tools, including basic medical supplies and, if you have it, fishing gear. A firearm is a must, if at all possible.

Go to the nearest national park, or some other large wilderness area or isolated rural region – drive if you can, take public transportation or hitchhike if you have to. (Be aware that roads may be blocked by pileups of burning wreckage from Christians who were raptured out of their cars.) Once you’re sure that you’re far from any roads or settlements, find a sheltered place near a source of fresh water, make camp, and settle in. If you see any strangers, shoot on sight. It won’t be easy, but if Camping was right, we’ll only have to hold out for six months. And yes, we’re all doomed when Jesus Christ returns, but at least we can hope to escape the notice of the Antichrist’s global dictatorship and his stormtrooper hordes in the meantime!

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Peter N

    It looks to me like your first scenario was the correct one. Here, it was a lovely late-spring day, although it’s raining now. That’s about the extent of the Tribulation.

    However, I’m not sure I agree that Camping was honestly deluded. According to press reports, he has amassed a huge fortune — tens of millions of dollars — from his miserable thralls. If he had actually believed what he was saying, he would have spent it all to try to save us sinners from the predicted wrath of Jesus. He doesn’t need to restart his career by redoing his calculations and announcing a new date for the apocalypse — he has more money than he can possibly spend in his remaining days. I predict a quiet and very comfortable retirement for Harold Camping.

    By the way, you can use this nifty map to check on earthquakes worldwide in the past week.

  • Katie M

    The sun is rising, birds are singing, there was another great Doctor Who last night . . . tribulation’s looking pretty good so far :)

  • CMags

    The only person that disappeared was Harold Camping – after ‘elevating’ 80 million dollars into his pockets. Neither was surprising. In my opinion – it was a fair trade.

  • Tommykey

    if Camping was right, we’ll only have to hold out for six months

    Minor quibble. It’s actually five months.

  • Heather R

    Well, that story you linked to quotes Camping as saying that he used the book of Jeremiah to help determine the date.

    Sad that his followers didn’t do the same, or they might have found this piece of advice:

    Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. -Jeremiah 29:5-9 (emphasis mine)

  • Kenny

    Here in the Adirondacks, I managed to find a still working cell tower to get this message out. I still can’t believe we were wrong all this time. How disillusioning. I bumped into Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the few to have fled NYC alive, and he expressed regrets that he didn’t cross-check all his research and calculations with the Bible. I sent an email to Richard Dawkins, but isn’t responding. He may have been caught up in the Great Londond Earthquake yesterday.

    All those hours spent on books, papers and blog posts, and comments – all for nought. If only, if only, if only…
    Well, goodbye to all of you. It’s still peaceful around these parts – for how long, who knows. By the way, I have a shotgun, so don’t any of you come near me.

  • Peter Tibbles

    I live in Australia, and thus was one of the first to get to the 21st (New Zealand beat us but they don’t really count). I was raptured. That big bloke with the beard told me he used me for a test case, to see if it worked okay. He then said that if I was an example of humanity he wouldn’t bother with any others. Then he threw me back.

  • assclown

    I know South Park will make fun of this. Can’t wait to see!

  • the chaplain

    @ Peter Tibbles, #6:

    What happened? Did you forget to wear a tie for the big event?

  • Petrucio

    I’ll print the second part and leave it here for when the Zombie apocalypse hits – which we all know it will!

  • Peter Tibbles

    You’re right, the chaplain @ #8, it was just after midnight, I was getting ready for bed, dressed only in tracky dacks (track-suit bottoms) and T-shirt, a mouth full of tooth paste and then WTF, there’s this bloke who looked like Charlton Heston playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments”. I asked him about that and he said that he liked to change his image every so often (well eternity is a sod of a long time and he gets bored) and liked that look. When I suggested my look, after all I have a beard too, he dismissed it out of hand. That’s when he threw me back.

  • Thorarin

    Who says the worthy were not raptured? All we know is that the megadisasters that were suppose to start killing off the rest of us have not started. I mean, I have not met a single person since the 21st that actually lives their life as if they truly believe in god. Never mind the fact that I have never met a single person who actually acts like they truly believe in god and the bible, that just supports my theory that true believers are so scarce that if they are right, we might not notice the rapture at all.

  • mand

    It seems that there is another group on the scene with a new perspective in always disputing Camping’s prophesies. They make a compelling statement that “Jesus is here now.”

  • OMGF

    I’ve heard that his church did indeed bring in $80M, but also that Camping doesn’t take a salary from the church (reported on CNN). Also, it sounds like the $80M is at least partly tied up in broadcasting licenses for the radio program they do. This speaks to the idea that he may indeed actually believe his own BS.

    OTOH, the church certainly didn’t act as if the rapture would happen, considering that the employees set up meetings and the church asked for an extension to their non-profit status (set to end on July 15).

  • Tim

    Actually, do that second scenario anyway (minus shooting random passerbys). Sounds fun, and always good to have a natural disaster preparedness plan, or at least just go camping.

  • karen

    I’ve seen at least some mention about him reimbursing some of the followers who spent their life savings on billboards, travel and proselytizing about the end of the world.

    I certainly hope he can be shamed into sharing his wealth with the poor deluded folks who bought his “prophecy” and squandered their time and money on it.

  • James Barrett

    I find it a little hard to feel sorry for these “poor deluded folk”, given that one of their delusions was that 97% of the human race were unspeakable depraved evildoers who richly deserved five months of ghastly tortures followed by annihilation. But I’m forgetting that bigotry is perfectly respectable when it claims religious justification.

  • ArtyB

    Oh my goodness Ebon, you were right on the mark! Yesterday, Camping said he was flabbergasted and today he is saying that he misunderstood what May 21st meant. Now he has reschedule the darn rapture to occur on October 21st. And I bet people will fall for it again. Un-freaking-believable.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Almost certainly, Camping will recheck his figures, announce he’s found some minor mathematical error that redates the Rapture to six months or a year from now, and repeat the whole charade all over again.

    Nailed it, as mentioned by ArtyB. The new date is October 21, with the added twist (which i know was predicted by others) that the Rapture was a spiritual rapture, and went off as scheduled. The October 21 date is for the Apocalypse, not the Rapture.

  • D

    “Endless foolishness” is right. I didn’t know about Camping until the day of, but no less than four people told me about it at work. So, of course, I spent the day walking around and loudly proclaiming how stupid it was to believe this one guy who says the world’s gonna end, when the last zillion guys who said the same thing were all wrong. I need to pay more attention to end-of-the-world prophecies so I can prepare zanier hijinks.

  • Joffan


    the church asked for an extension to their non-profit status (set to end on July 15).

    …that’s hilarious. Definitely a message worth spreading far and wide, if only I could find anyone who was admitting to believing the revised date.

  • Robster

    “and if there’s a camping store near where you live”. Is that a store owned by Camping or his radio station or one that stocks tents?

  • Katie M

    Yet another victim-someone left most of her money to Family Radio.