About that raptured pet owners insurance

As reporters often focus on brand new information, follow-up stories sometimes get left by the wayside. Tracking down a source or checking in on the end result of something might not lead to anything worth reporting. It’s nice to see NPR do some digging around on a story that was begging to be shared across the Internet.

Remember when Harold Camping’s prediction that the faithful would be raptured was all the rage for about a week in May? There were plenty of stories about end of the world predictions and what happened to people who believed such predictions. As we noted, NPR was one of the first to highlight the struggles families faced as the date drew nearer.

What happens, though, when media outlets report on a seemingly silly business, one that preys on people’s beliefs? Looks like Bart Centre made out with at least $35,000 by promising to care for people’s pets if the owners were raptured in the next 10 years. Of course, some people wanted a refund, which Centre declined.

Even with a few dissatisfied customers, he took on about 260 clients who promised to pay $135 for the first pet and $20 for additional pets. What was feeding his business? Here’s his take:

There might not have been much fallout to Centre’s business from the rapture not happening, but there was some fallout, in the form of complaints, when NPR first told Centre’s story. Many criticized him and said that he was taking advantage of people, but Centre says that’s not the case.

“I do not advertise my business. My business is advertised by the media and by word of mouth,” Centre says. “I don’t threaten people with the rapture coming; I outright tell them I do not believe in the rapture.”

Surely the business won’t end with Camping’s false prediction.

Centre says business has been a little slow and he’s added only a few clients since May. But he expects that around October 2012, close to when the Mayan calendar ends and what many people believe signifies the coming rapture, business might just pick up again.

It’s nice to see a follow-up story, tracking down whatever happened with the original story. Could the story use a balancing view of some sort, perhaps a scholar who looks at faith and business? Are people more likely to spend money on a service if something is tied to their belief, for instance? What do end of the world predictions cost families? Simply reporting on this one particular business with no other voices seems to legitimize it in some way.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Dave

    Be funny if Centre were unexpectedly raptured.

  • Jerry

    It’s wonderful to see a followup story. That is so often missing. So I’m really happy to see the story highlighted here.

    But I do disagree a bit on the analysis. There is another story that could and should be written that covers a larger perspective about after-the-prediction fallout. I’ve seen some stories over the years, but a “faith and business” story is not one that I remember. So rather than ding the story for not having other voices, I would vote for another story with those voices.

  • Julia

    I’d like to see an analysis of why Americans no longer understand the concept of insurance as payment for somebody else taking on your risk.

    Health insurance is no longer considered “insurance” by most poeple. They think of it as health plans. Most people do not understand the concept of “underwriting”.

    People paid a man for his taking on the risk that he’d have an awful lot of pets to take care of. He was upfront and told them he didn’t think the rapture would happen but he would take on the risk that they did believe in. It isn’t insurance if you get your money back.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Julia, good point. Thanks, Jerry, for adding to the ideas. When I meant “faith and business,” I was thinking the story might feel a bit more substantial if it offered some perspective on how businesses play off of people’s faith. Maybe that’s the wrong angle on this one, but by itself, the piece felt a little thin.

  • evildave

    LOL. Well, more of a chortle, actually.

    I love to see lessons taught in the most appropriate way.

    Fools and their money, all of that.

  • Daniel

    The Equitable Life Assurance Corporation used to set up plans where you could insure your life, then trade it in for college tuiton

  • carl jacobs

    Surprises me not at all that a story like this would show up on NPR. It plays to the both the prejudice of their audience (“Look at the gullibility of these religionists.”) and the self-image of their audience (“I am far too smart to be conned into spending money on pet rapture insurance.”) It thus confirms the a priori conclusion of the audience (“Why do we let these people breed let alone vote?”)

    What group is it by the way that pays money for cryogenic freezing of a corpse in hopes of being resurrected some day? Is that really any different?


  • http://!)! Passing By

    I thought it was a funny, and, yes, thin little story. The picture of the angel dog is really funny.

    Serious question: is Centre a Christian at all, or simply cynical? I would like to have known his basic belief structure. The notion of a Rapture is based on a view of scripture and history certainly popular in some circles, but not by any means all. The majority of Christians worldwide believe that the Lord Jesus will return, but don’t have beliefs on exactly how that will happen. Thus it’s possible that this guy falls out as a Christian, but not a Premillennialist.

  • Daniel

    Thus I’m not sure whether Bart Centre is more ethical or less ethical than Equitable Life Assurance, but I guess in the 1940′s and 50′s they were trying to present an image of humanitarianism and altruism, whether this was realistic or not, and in our more litigious and entitlement driven culture today, we see people arising who, whether driven by enlightened self-interest, or the unenlightened variety, make a business of indulging others’ whims. It’s yet to be determined whether Bart Centre is enlightened or unenlightened. I surely would like to see stories exploring this take (on things).

  • Mike O.

    What happens, though, when media outlets report on a seemingly silly business, one that preys on people’s beliefs?

    Can what Bart Centre offered be considered preying on people’s beliefs? This seems similar to devices and services offered to Orthodox Jews to allow them to navigate Sabbath restrictions (e.g. a stove or lights which work off of a timer). While we on the outside might find these self-imposed restrictions unusual, would we consider the manufacturers of these devices as preying on the customers that want such things? If there are people, whether they be followers of Camping or someone else who thinks the rapture is coming real soon, that legitimitely feel they need such a service then so be it.

    Often when it’s said people are preying on someone’s beliefs, it’s usually for things like faith healers and fortune tellers. I’d argue that what Mr. Centre did is different. When Peter Popoff promises to heal your arthritis or a fortune teller explains that your dead grandmother says you were her favorite, they are lieing. Mr. Centre offered a service and there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t go through if it if the rapture actually occurred.

    To bring this back to journalism and the article at hand, there is a brief mention about people complaining about what Mr. Centre was doing. I wouldn’t have minded a specific complaint to nail down what they think he did that was so wrong. As far as some of the questions Mollie asked at the end of her article, I definitely would have liked a grander perspective but I don’t think every story needs to be the sum of all things. A story focusing on this specific man and his business was perfectly fine as well.

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    Simply reporting on this one particular business with no other voices seems to legitimize it in some way.

    Why does it need to be legitimized? What’s illegitimate about it?

  • Julia

    People can insure almost anything with Lloyd’s of London.
    Are they unethical and preying upon people?


  • http://growahealthychurch.com/ John Finkelde

    It is amazing what fear & love will drive people to do with their money

  • Crude

    “Are they unethical and preying upon people?”

    Yep. Was Centre even equipped to handle the responsibility should it have fallen to him? Did he have space allotted? The resources? The knowledge? Or do you think the ethical and legal questions regarding insurance comes down to “did they agree to give you their money?” If you sign on to potentially cover the losses of X vehicles, you’re legally and ethically required to be able to deliver should it come to that. Or do you think, sweetheart, that a contingency plan of “I’ll just declare bankruptcy” is looked upon as ethical? You may want to learn a thing or two about what sort of standards legitimate insurers are held to.

    Actually, no, you wouldn’t. That’d require some thought and effort. You just want to be “that girl” who plays devil’s advocate and thinks she’s coming across as smart or – worse – a “good debater”. Not what she actually is – an obvious, but self-unaware, clown.

    Anyway, I’ll leave you to your followup act of asking stupid questions and acting bewildered, if not offended, that someone would call you out. Have a blast. ;)

  • http://www.thesecondadam.com Wayne Sutton

    Sad. Sad. Sad.

  • Matthew

    What I would like to know is how the reporter knew that “many people believe [the Mayan calender's end] signifies the coming rapture.” That hardly sounds like a view popular among premillenialists, or American Evangelicals in general.

  • Just visiting

    Passing By:

    “The notion of a Rapture is based on a view of scripture and history certainly popular in some circles, but not by any means all.”

    It’s quite possible not to be a Christian without believing in the idea of the Rapture. The whole idea only appeared in the Christian imagination in the 19th century and took off in the 1970s with the millennarianism of Hal Lindsey and his ilk, eventually to be enshrined in the popular consciousness with the _Left Behind_ series.

    The Rapture might be big in American evangelical Christianity, but American evangelicals are only a subset the number of Christians worldwide. It’s parochial to assume that the Rapture is normative for Christianity; even imagining that it might not be is a bit off.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    #17 – I think you meant that it’s possible to be a Christian without believing in the idea of a Rapture. That was my point.

    It is, of course possible NOT to be a Christian without believing in the Rapture. In fact, it’s probable

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Well, blew that: the point is that a non-Christian probably won’t believe in the Rapture.

    Never post before coffee!