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.
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!