Will you vanish on Saturday at 6:00 p.m.?

Tomorrow, May 21, in the year of our Lord 2011, the rapture will occur.  According to the calculations of radio preacher Harold Camping, all true Christians will be taken up into Heaven at 6:00 p.m., when that hour comes in all time zones.  I suppose if we hear about strange disappearances in other parts of the world earlier in the day, we will know that this is happening and we can prepare ourselves when our time comes.  (The earlier version of this post said 3:00 p.m., but I have learned, as some of you have said, that it’s 6:00 p.m.  You’ll have three more hours.)

Tomorrow will not be the End of the World.  That will happen, according to Camping, six months later, on October 21.  You’ll want to put that down on your calendar too.  Tomorrow will be the rapture of the Church.  Then will come some pretty intense tribulations until Jesus shows up in October.

To see how Camping came up with these dates–including links to some of his own writings as well as those of his critics–see this post from Justin Taylor: Judgment Day: May 21, 2011? – Justin Taylor.

Now I don’t believe this will happen, but if it does, it will at least clear up some important questions.   We get into all kinds of theological discussions on this blog, and some of them get pretty intense and personal.  If Camping’s prediction comes to pass, at last we will have solid empirical evidence for who is right.

Now Lutherans don’t believe in a rapture like this at all.  I don’t believe in it, though, is a pre-requisite for it happening to a person.  It may well be that all Lutherans will vanish on Saturday afternoon.  Or maybe Roman Catholics are right after all and they will be gone.   Or the Eastern Orthodox.   Or the Reformed.  Or Arminians.  Or Baptists.  Or Pentecostals.  Or non-denominationalists.   Or it may well be that there are true believers in all of these traditions.   Those who show up in Church this Sunday  may be the apostates, and those who don’t may have a good excuse.

Camping himself is a hyper-Calvinist, though not an orthodox Calvinist.   He says it won’t do any good to repent at the last minute and no one can really do anything about whether they are raptured or not.  God will take his elect and that’s that.   But Camping teaches his listeners that ALL churches today are apostate and that real Christians shouldn’t go to church at all anymore.  They should instead just listen to his radio program.   So if he is completely right, church services will go on as normal this Sunday, since church members of every denomination will get left behind.  Instead, the elect is to be found among those who do NOT go to church.   I wonder if the number of the elect may be so small that no one will notice whether they have been raptured or not.

At any rate, we will know some things for sure on Saturday afternoon, if only that Camping’s theology is disproven.  Be sure to tune into this blog on Monday if you are here and if I am here.  We will do a roll-call to see if anyone is missing.

So if the end is coming on Saturday evening, what should you do in the meantime?  Plant a tree?

Odin, Thor, and our Christianized paganism

Lars Walker, the novelist who is a long-time commenter on this blog, has written a perceptive review of the hit movie Thor.   He liked it–as did I, actually, for the most part–but what struck me in his review is his point about how even our pop paganism has been influenced by Christianity.  Lars, an expert in all things Norse, points out that the notion of a benevolent deity–taken for granted even by atheists–is distinctly Christian, and that the actual pagan gods were very, very different:

To anyone schooled in Norse mythology, the Odin of the movie is almost unrecognizable, except for his long beard, lack of one eye, and possession of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse (which provides an extremely cool special effects moment). Anthony Hopkins’ Odin is wise and good, full of benevolence and cherishing a horror of war. He’s kind of like a professor of English or some social science at an Ivy League university—wooly-headed enough to throw away the gods’ greatest weapon at a moment of dire military threat.

The Odin of the Vikings was most of all an extremely powerful magician, a wizard—not the nice kind of wizard like Gandalf, though he was one of Tolkien’s inspirations for the character, but the old kind of wizard—treacherous and murderous, with lies on his lips and blood under his fingernails. He delighted in war for two reasons—one in order to feed the wolves and ravens that were his familiars, secondly in order to fill his hall, Valhalla, with heroes who would stand with him at Ragnarok, the last great battle. To this end he raised heroes up and then brutally betrayed them. He was also, according to the eddas, a sexual predator and a known deviate.

The difference between these two Odins, I think, is suggestive of important—and generally unrecognized—elements in western culture. The script writers have confused Odin with the Yahweh of the Jews and Christians. It doesn’t even occur to them that a high god could be anything but kind and peace-loving, since we all have so thoroughly internalized Christian suppositions that even people who reject the Christian religion—and I assume that a large proportion of the people who made this movie do—can’t conceive of a religion founded on darkness, brute force, and the domination of the weak by the strong.

In an odd plot element (I’ll try not to spoil it) Thor submits to a Christ-like humiliation for the sake of others. This is something that would have never been said of him in the old religion, except as a joke. Even Thor has grown richer through acquaintance with Jesus.

via Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments: “Thor”: Norse Mythology Mediated By Christian Ideas.

Sect that believes Vladimir Putin is St. Paul

More weird religion:  An all-female cult in Russia believes that the nation’s strongman is the reincarnation of St. Paul:

Members of the sect that has sprung up in a Russian village some 250 miles southeast of Moscow believe that the 58-year-old macho Russian politician is on a special mission from God.

“According to the Bible, Paul the Apostle was a military commander at first and an evil persecutor of Christians before he started spreading the Christian gospel,” the sect’s founder, who styles herself Mother Fotina, said.

“In his days in the KGB, Putin also did some rather unrighteous things. But once he became president, he was imbued with the Holy Spirit, and just like the apostle, he started wisely leading his flock. It is hard for him now but he is fulfilling his heroic deed as an apostle.”

Reports from the sect’s headquarters close to the town of Nizhny Novgorod say that its members are all women who dress like nuns and pray for Mr Putin’s success in front of traditional Russian Orthodox Church icons that have been placed alongside a portrait of the Russian prime minister himself.

Followers are reportedly encouraged to sing upbeat patriotic Soviet songs at ‘services’ rather than hymns.

As befits a sect that worships a man who has denounced the decadence of the oligarchs, the sect’s members are said to survive on a Spartan diet of turnips, carrots, peas and buckwheat.

via All-female sect worships Vladimir Putin as Paul the Apostle – Telegraph.

Right wing atheism

Time’s Amy Sullivan draws attention to how a number of Republican leaders are fans of Ayn Rand, the militant atheist whose praise of capitalism led to her ethical principle of the “virtue of selfishness” and her attacks on Christianity for promoting the “weakness” of altruistic love.  We’ve blogged about her before, and some of you have defended her, Christian though you be.  I am less tolerant, having witnessed the family of a good friend of mine torn apart by her influence.  I was interested, though, in the names that Sullivan mentions:

When George W. Bush declared in a 1999 GOP debate that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus, pundits snickered and wondered whether he actually knew any political philosophers. But the answer was politically canny, establishing Bush’s evangelical bona fides with social conservatives.

In contrast, the philosopher GOP leaders quote most reverently these days was vehemently anti-religion, and referred to Christian teachings as “evil” and “monstrous.” Awwwwkward. Fortunately for Republicans, most social conservatives haven’t yet made the connection. (See the dozen Republicans who could be the next president.)

Here’s just a taste of the praise GOP and other conservative leaders have for Ayn Rand:

- Paul Ryan says Ayn Rand is the reason he entered politics and he requires all staff and interns to read her books. Says Ryan: “Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.”

- Clarence Thomas requires his law clerks to watch The Fountainhead, and has said “I tend really to be partial to Ayn Rand.”

- Sen. Ron Johnson, Ryan’s GOP colleague from Wisconsin, calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundational book.”

- Rush Limbaugh calls Ayn Rand “the brilliant writer and novelist.”

- Fox News repeatedly promoted the recently released movie version of Atlas Shrugged, airing the trailer on several shows and interviewing cast members.

The conservative evangelical leader Chuck Colson has become so concerned about Rand’s booming popularity in the GOP that he recently recorded a video warning that Rand “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.” And the Christian group American Values Network, which presents itself as an alternative to organizations like the Family Research Council, has distributed a memo to congressional offices highlighting Rand’s criticisms of Christianity and some of her more controversial comments, including praise for a man who raped, murdered, and dismembered a 12-year-old girl.

via An Atheist Icon? Social Conservatives Worried About GOP Ayn Rand Resurgence – Yahoo! News.

It sounds like some Christian activists and social conservatives are becoming aware of what Rand and the Randites stand for.  Does this herald a split in conservative ranks between those who believe in moral reality and those who don’t, between  Christian conservatives and materialist conservatives?

Happy National Day of Reason!

In their attempt to become, in effect, a socially-acceptable religion–getting military chaplains, vaunting how moral they are, and evangelizing the unenlightened–atheists are trying to start a holiday.  May 5 is the National Day of Reason!

I love holidays and I love reason, so I am willing to celebrate. . .uh, what is it we are celebrating?  I will try to set aside time to think.  But don’t we need something more to inspire our observance, to give it some meaning?  It turns out that May 5 was chosen simply to counter something else that is on that day, the National Day of Prayer.  The atheists are protesting that by trying to take over the day for themselves.

This demonstrates the weakness of atheism.  It is purely reactive.  Its doctrines are purely negative (there is no God; there is no life after death; there is no meaning in life).  And even when its teachings are put in a positive way–we believe in reason! we believe that material things are all that exist!–there is nothing, really, to celebrate, or even to be happy about.

Actual holidays, on the other hand, commemorate some meaningful event and we celebrate the meaning.  They usually involve some kind of story.  They are deeply, richly, human, evoking family and good memories and inspiration.  And Christian holidays–widely recognized even by devotees of other religions are the best of all–are full of wonder and joy.  The root of “festival” is “feast.”  “Holiday” means “holy day.”   You can’t have a holiday without some sense of holiness.

It’s hard to celebrate an abstraction, such as “reason.”  But, hey, let’s give it a try.  How could we do to make the Day of Reason work as a holiday?  What would be the equivalent of a Christmas tree or Easter basket for the Day of Reason?  What foods should be associated with this day of rationality?  If it ever rates a day off, what should individuals and families do?

National Day of Reason :: About Us.

Equal rights for atheists

We have had movements for equal rights for African-Americans, women, gays.  The next victimized, discriminated against minority who are demanding approval:  Atheists!

The Washington Post has published an op-ed piece by Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, raising the issue and asking “Why don’t Americans like atheists?”

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

Rarely denounced by the mainstream, this stunning anti-atheist discrimination is egged on by Christian conservatives who stridently — and uncivilly — declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society, rendering nonbelievers intrinsically suspect and second-class citizens.

Is this knee-jerk dislike of atheists warranted? Not even close.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, are far from the unsavory beings many assume them to be. On basic questions of morality and human decency — issues such as governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation or human rights — the irreligious tend to be more ethical than their religious peers, particularly compared with those who describe themselves as very religious.

via Why do Americans still dislike atheists? – The Washington Post.

First of all, to answer the initial question, the major reasons atheists aren’t well-liked are evident right there in the column:  the atheists’ habit of condescension, anti-religious bigotry, reductionistic snarkiness, and insufferable smugness.

Second, one has to ask, how, exactly, are atheists being discriminated against?  Are they not allowed to vote?  Are they not getting hired?  Is there wage discrimination against atheists?  Are they not allowed to get married?  A complaint here is that studies show that many people don’t want to marry an atheist and don’t want to vote for one.   If someone doesn’t want to marry you, is he or she violating your rights and discriminating against you?  Should defeated politicians be able to sue everyone who voted against them for discrimination?   I realize that the authors are just demanding social acceptance, but can there be an inalienable right to be liked?

The third point is the most important of all.  Notice how the authors are framing the issues.  Atheists are actually MORE moral than religious people, they say.  They then define “basic morality and human decency” not according to a traditional measure (such as the second table of the Ten Commandments) but according to what is primarily (though not completely) a list of distinctly contemporary secularist positions.  Thus, someone who does not believe in homosexuality, who does believe in capital punishment, who sometimes spanks his child, and who is not an environmentalist is EVIL, lacking basic morality and human decency.

This kind of moral and social inversion, if it catches on, would very soon result in actual and probably legal-driven discrimination against an unpopular minority whose human rights would be violated:  Religious people.


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