It’s still not the end of the world

Today, once again, is the day that Harold Camping says the world will end. And this time he really, really means it.

Camping is not altogether wrong. For some of us, this will be true. The world will end today, Oct. 21, 2011, for tens of thousands of us — about 150,000 on average.

But then the same thing happened yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, and every day before that. And the same thing will happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and every day after that.

For most of us, though, Camping is wrong about the timing. For most of us, the world will not end today or tomorrow. But some day it will. Some day, for all of us, all of those Bible verses that Camping clings to so desperately, convinced that they speak of a “Rapture” of the faithful, all of those verses will come true. Two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming.

The odds are that today, Oct. 21, 2011, I won’t be among those who are “taken.” (Although now, I guess, if by some stroke of fate that does happen, then this post will take on an eerie tone and will probably go viral as the strange tale of the blogger who predicted his own death.) But sooner or later, my world too will end. And I’m now one day closer to that day than I was yesterday.

That’s a rather depressing thought, I suppose, but it’s inescapably true. The sad thing for someone like Camping is that he’s managed to convince himself that he’ll escape it.

At bottom, that’s what Rapture belief is all about: the denial of death. That’s not a biblical notion. The Bible is filled with emphatic reminders of our inescapable mortality, urging us to be prepared and not surprised by the fact of it. People like Camping ironically take all of those passages meant to remind us of that fact and twist them into a fantasy of, as Irene Steele put it, “Jesus coming to get us before we die.”

Poor Harold Camping has spent more time than anyone pondering all those passages about watchfulness and “redeeming the time,” and yet he’s completely missed their message. When his world ends, he’ll be more surprised and less prepared than most.

Sheesh, this post has taken a ghastly turn. Not my intention. I didn’t mean for this to be a depressing memento mori so much as a reminder that, hey, check it out, the world didn’t end. We’re still here, so we still have a chance to live well and to live fully, to love well and to love fully. As my friend Dwight Ozard said, “suck the marrow from the bones of life.”

(Yes, I know that wasn’t original. It’s from Walden. But Thoreau didn’t say it while dying of bone cancer and thinking that made it funnier. So points for panache.)

“This thing is too good to waste,” Dwight also said. And he was right. It’s Oct. 21, 2011 and despite what Harold Camping said, for most of us it’s still not the end of the world. Let’s make the most of it.

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  • Rachel McG

    Some day, for all of us, all of those Bible verses that Camping clings to so desperately, convinced that they speak of a “Rapture” of the faithful, all of those verses will come true.

    I hope you don’t mean this, Fred.  I hope what you mean is that everybody, eventually, dies, and so, eventually, the world ends for us all. And that you didn’t mean the world eventually actually ends in the particular, peculiar way yammered about in Revelation.  Right??

  • Pseudonym

    I’m obviously not Fred, but that’s how I interpreted it. The evidence is that Fred is talking about the end of your world, not the world.  Living each day as if it could be your last is actually pretty good advice for everyone.

    FWIW, the “rapture” idea isn’t actually in Revelation, or indeed any where in the Bible, but that’s another issue.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Fred has repeatedly said that the bible verses people like Camping believe refer to the Rapture are in fact about death.  Inescapable individual death.  In the body of the post you quoted he reiterates this claim.

    Consider the very next paragraph, in which Fred says that he likely won’t be among those taken today, a statement incompatible with the belief that the end will be universal.  It only makes sense if you assume that we’re talking about death as we know it, coming at different times for different people, unpredictable but falling within a probability distribution that allows us to say, “odds are…”

    Fred has on occasion talked about what he believes Revelation means, though I think he has usually done so by recommending a book on the topic.  Most recently here.  I’ll see if I can dig up anything else.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Not having a lot of luck, for example I can find where Fred said that he is recommending  Barbara R. Rossing’s The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation again, but I haven’t figured out where he said it the first time.

    [Added:]
    It looks like it hasn’t been migrated. It’s over here. Though some day that link will die when the post is migrated.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, but death has a bright side: It’s simply part of change. Without death, in some form*, nothing could ever be different.

    Not, perhaps, the most cheerful thought ever, but it consoles me. My death will lead to something new using what was me.

    Still, that’s no reason to not do everything I can to enjoy my life. I have it now, I won’t later. Best to do as much with it as I can.

    *Be that actual death of a living thing or “death” in the sense that something no longer exists.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Alas, it’s the end of R.E.M. as we know it. They had a good run…

    Stay safe, Fred.

  • Zenyatta

    ……and you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking. racing around, to come up behind you again. The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older. Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death. Or the Rapture, depending on what you believe. ;)

  • Anonymous

    I think the world really was originally going to end today, and the last time Camping predicted too, as well as the zillion times before that.  Camping’s problem is that the world keeps getting saved at the last minute by Buffy/the Doctor/Superman/Mario/all those RPG heroes/etc.

  • Grey Seer

     Alternately, the Men in Black. They are our first, last, and only line of defence against the horrors of the cosmos.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    @Spalanazi:disqus  –  I know I have personally saved the world (and countless others) many, many, many times.*  I grant I’ve never actually looked like me when doing so though, so I’ll forgive you all for not knowing of my many incredible exploits. (^.~)

    *I play too many videogames.  I’d be stark-raving mad without em though!

  • Anonymous

    I grant I’ve never actually looked like me when doing so though, so I’ll
    forgive you all for not knowing of my many incredible exploits.

    Now that I think of it, I’ve never seen you in the same picture as Superman.

  • Anonymous

    I have, but I later learned that the Superman in the picture was actually an impostor

    The plot thickens…

  • Anonymous

    I think the world really was originally going to end today, and the last
    time Camping predicted too, as well as the zillion times before that. 
    Camping’s problem is that the world keeps getting saved at the last
    minute by Buffy/the Doctor/Superman/Mario/all those RPG heroes/etc.

    Maybe the world was supposed to end today and Camping predicted correctly, and God postponed it just to spite him.  When I was religious as a teenager, I thought maybe the Rapture would happen on the first day that nobody in the world thought it would happen, since the Bible says that nobody can know when it will happen.

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    When I was religious as a teenager, I thought maybe the Rapture would happen on the first day that nobody in the world thought it would happen, since the Bible says that nobody can know when it will happen.

    Hmmm. So the Tzaddikim, the 36 righteous men and women, are out there carefully predicting that the world will end today. No, today. No, today. And so forth. I like it!

  • S C

    You make a good point about the desire to escape death. At the same time, though, I think there could be other things going on for those attracted to the predictions of Camping and co.  
    Two suggestions:

    (1) However much we might try not to overvalue the things of this life, I’d say many of us want “our time” to be meaningful.  So much happens around us so fast, and we receive so much information about it, that it’s very difficult for anyone to construct a narrative.  As humans, though, we need these kinds of narratives.  We make them all the time in our own lives, and we try to make them about the world, too.  Such stories give us meaning.  Of course, this story-telling can lead to all kinds of frightening outcomes in the world.  But you don’t have to be of an extremist bent to think about the ‘end times’, or even religious at all.  If you can convince yourself the world is coming to an end, that provides in one simple manoeuvre the kind of ‘sense’ you need to bring to and process all the strange, troubling and just plain confusing bits of information one can get from the news and online every day.  Take the news in the last few days (by design in a jumbled ordered, as things occur to me): crazy man releases wild killer animals in Ohio, Gaddafi gets killed by a mob, the Greeks go on general strike, a vague but growing movement aims to “Occupy” the world… Faced with the enormous task of trying to make sense of any one of these things, and to put it in context, draw lessons from it, etc., it’s not that unappealing to think ‘well, hey, maybe the world’s ending’.  An abdication of responsibility? Sure.  But I’d make a plea for it being an understandable one.

    (2) There’s also just a certain kind of liberation that comes with this kind of thinking, and not necessarily a nefarious one.  Right now, for instance, I feel pretty trapped by my own life.  It’s nothing special, and I’m terribly fortunate in a great many ways.  But if I knew, say, that there were five years left (David Bowie style), let alone only one day, I know that part of what I’d feel would be a sense of freedom and release.  And it’s not a release to hedonistic ends; rather, the freedom to do, say, and be the things that matter most to me.  And I think this is probably not unusual.  At the most basic level: if we didn’t have to plan work, mortgage payments/rent, retirement, all the stuff of daily life… we could be so much more present to those we love, and those for whom we’re often so unhappily doing the things that make us absent.  

    Sorry for the long post…  

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Nope, I ain’t dying Not now, not ever.  *fingers in ears* NOT LISTENING >.> it’s not foolproof but it’s a start.

    *edit*

    Come to think of it I should probably watch what I eat too >.> having chest pains at 28 does not bode well.

  • Anonymous

    My birthday was yesterday. If the world really *does* end today…I’ll have spent my last day alive being lazy, eating cake and playing L4D2. Not a bad last day.

    But what are the odds? 

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    My birthday was yesterday. If the world really *does* end today…I’ll
    have spent my last day alive being lazy, eating cake and playing L4D2.
    Not a bad last day.

    But what are the odds?

    The May Rapture was on my birthday.  The Mayan apocalypse is on my sister’s birthday.  I want to know what the universe has against my family.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The May Rapture was on my birthday. The Mayan apocalypse is on my sister’s birthday. I want to know what the universe has against my family.

    “Whether you believe it or not
    The Universe
    Is laughing behind your back”
    — National Lampoon, “Deteriorata” (from Dr Demento some 30 years ago)

  • Tonio

    Wouldn’t belief in the Rapture be just as much about the self-righteousness of tribalism as about the denial of death?

  • http://guy-who-reads.blogspot.com/ Mike Timonin

    It’s Oct. 21, 2011 and despite what Harold Camping said, for most of us it’s still not the end of the world. Let’s make the most of it.

    World without end, May it be so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jon.maki Jon Maki

    “You lot may die. I expect you will, ‘cos you’re stupid. Not me, though. … Death’s a mug’s game, and I’ll have no part in it.”

    -Hob Gadling, SANDMAN #13, “Men of Good Fortune”

  • Helena

    Nothing Poor about camping. He’s used this nonsense to swindle about 80 million. A piker compared to the pope, but still.

  • http://hummingwolf.livejournal.com/ Hummingwolf

    I hate to be the one to come to Harold Camping’s defense in any way because I find him a fairly unlikeable man, but after reading the link in Fred’s post, I do have to say:  Harold Camping does believe (or at least he teaches as if he believes) in a kinder, gentler end-of-the-world scenario than we’re all used to hearing from fundamentalists.  Camping teaches that there is no such thing as Hell, that God is too kind to make people suffer forever.  Damnation in Camping’s theology is just… death.  Ceasing to be.  Eternal nonexistence.  Camping thinks that the end of a lost soul’s life is a terrible tragedy, but he doesn’t believe that the death is followed by a ferocious flamefest.

    And yeah, I do think that Camping believes what he says, or at least is trying very, very hard to believe.  I listened to most of his first live broadcast after May 21 failed to go as he’d expected, and he sounded terribly lost and confused.  He also sounded incredibly annoying, which is why I only listened to most of that broadcast.  But no matter how much I’d dislike meeting him in real life, I do have to feel some pity for him.

  • Anonymous

    I’m currently rereading Ursula K LeGuin’s The Farthest Shore, so the idea of people trying to escape death, only to have to give up life to do so, resonates. The book is pretty blunt about this theme, but that’s its whole point–that we have to face our fear of death, but not by trying to avoid dying.

  • http://nagamakironin.blogspot.com Michael Mock

    Please, please tell me that somebody has organized a zombie walk outside the offices of Family Radio today. The idea of having them look out the window and see a bunch of zombies milling around in the parking lot is just… how could that not be happening?

    Sadly, I only just thought of it, and I’m in the wrong part of the country anyway, but surely someone beat me to the idea???

  • Anonymous

    Please, please tell me that somebody has organized a zombie walk outside the offices of Family Radio today.

    I dunno—that sounds like a good way to get yourself shot in the head.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Please, please tell me that somebody has organized a zombie walk outside the offices of Family Radio today. 

    Well, ZomBcon does start today…

    It reminds me of the Rapture day prank during Camping’s previous prediction, where people would take old sets of cloths, and leave them lying on the ground in public before dawn, place in such a way to suggest that a person who was wearing them suddenly disappeared.  

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds
  • Anonymous

    I like Steve Jobs’ take on it (from his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford):

    “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it….

    “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

  • Beepymusics

    Dang it, I forgot to go get “one last drink before the end,” like I did last time! Lucky for me I guess that nothing actually happened, I would have felt pretty dumb.

  • Jenora Feuer

    I’ve had a life that’s full, everyone’s been good to me,
    So fire up that fiddle boys, and give me one last drink!
    When the sun comes up, I will leave without a fight;
    The world is mine tonight!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptfNB_zfUh0

    Love Enter the Haggis..

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I have never really seen death as a tragic thing.  I die, I end, I cease to be.  Whatever function I had in life, another will take my place.  The world will endure the cessation of my existence and persist on without me.  The most I can do is to live well and die well, and if I have done so the thought that I accomplished something small but worthwhile before the end will comfort me when my time comes.  

    I am actually more concerned that other people might be unnecessarily upset by my death.  As a mindfulness thing, I do not want to cause unnecessary suffering to other people.  Yet I cannot avoid dying.  It is inevitable, determinate, that I will eventually die, and if other people have some kind of attachment to my animated existence then such suffering is unavoidable.  If there is anything scary about death, that is it.  

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Whatever function I had in life, another will take my place.

    If that were true, and I very much doubt it is, then you would have somehow managed to be one of the most useless human beings in all of history.  If not the single most useless.  To be so easily replaceable would mean that you effectively brought nothing to the table, nothing of value at least.

    I don’t believe you are nearly so worthless as you make out, which means that I don’t think your role can be filled without you.

  • Anonymous

    I think FearlessSon has a healthy humility. Few if any of us are irreplaceable in our roles in the world. But, all of us are unique in our ways of living and interacting with others. I think of life as a form of performance art–consciously creating something beautiful in the world with the knowledge that at some point the performance is done.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    If that were true, and I very much doubt it is, then you would have somehow managed to be one of the most useless human beings in all of history.  If not the single most useless.  To be so easily replaceable would mean that you effectively brought nothing to the table, nothing of value at least.

    I don’t believe you are nearly so worthless as you make out, which means that I don’t think your role can be filled without you.

    Yes, I am unique, as is ever other human.  However, because that uniqueness is, well, unique, it cannot be replaced.  No other human can take the place of another and keep things completely static.  But no human should.  All this human uniqueness is transitory.  I will die, my uniqueness will pass from the world, and some other uniqueness will move to fill in the gap left by the departure of my own.  The world would be a terribly boring place were it otherwise.  

    I think of the monks who spend months drawing out a beautiful, unique pattern of sand.  Each is special, and each takes a great deal of time and effort.  But when they finish their work of art, they wipe the sand away, destroying in seconds a unique work that took months to create.  Then they make another one, and repeat the process.  It is a meditation on transience and attachment.  

    I think it an appropriate metaphor for life and death.  Just because the uniqueness is destroyed at the end, does not in any way diminish that uniqueness, nor should one expect a unique object to persist beyond itself.

  • Guest

    The cemetaries are filled with indispensible men.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    And with few if any exceptions, their roles have not been filled.

    It is not, a the title of Fred’s post points out, the end of the world.  The lack of utter collapse following the replacement of a person does not indicate that their role has been filled, it indicates that their role, while it might have been important, was not necessary to the continuation of civilization.

    I recently watched the movie Moneyball in which the main character had to point out that they couldn’t get someone to fill the role of the player they had lost, so they had to find a way to do without that particular role.  Whether or not they managed that is a matter of some dispute (my father points out that the team didn’t win) but the entire movie made a convincing argument that trying to replace people is fairly useless even in a setting as narrowly defined and artificial as baseball, instead one should accept that lost people can’t be replaced and try to figure out the best thing one can do with the ones available.

    To try find someone who fills the role left by fearlessson or anyone else in the world, something much more complex than baseball, is futile.  The role will never be filled.  Other roles will adapt to take up the slack or fail to do so.  People are not nearly so interchangeable that someone can take over the vacated role (though I think I heard some talk of a tv series built around an attempt to do so.)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay so strictly speaking, this has virtually nothing to do with the thread, or the comment I’m replying to.

    That said, FearlessSon this part “I have never really seen death as a tragic thing.” of your comment reminded me of an amusing song that I think some folks here might appreciate <_<

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgPq5XhFgco

    Your regularly scheduled thread may now continue.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    That said, FearlessSon this part “I have never really seen death as a tragic thing.” of your comment reminded me of an amusing song that I think some folks here might appreciate <_<

    McFrontalot.  Why am I not surprised? 

    Incidentally, that song reminds me of “Death Can’t Stop This” by Ultraklystron (who is a friend of mine from college.) 

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Thanks for sharing that FearlessSon ish good.

  • Izzy

    Excellent post!

    But on that topic, can someone clarify what “make the most of it” means? Because every time I get into one of these discussions, I feel like I shouldn’t spend so much time working, or playing video games, or whatever, and that I should go out and climb a mountain or play checkers with my great-uncle. But I *have* to work, and I *like* playing video games, and I don’t know that I’d really be into climbing a mountain, and my entire family is rampantly introverted and none of us play checkers. 

    I mean, I generally interpret that sort of sentiment to be “do what you want to do and think is right, do what you have to do in order to make that work, don’t sweat other people’s opinions, remember what’s important”. But still. 

  • Anonymous

    Like Steve Jobs said, don’t waste your life living someone else’s.  Do what makes *you* alive, not what you think you’re *supposed* to be doing to make the most of your life.

  • ako

    I know what you mean.  There’s a sort of cultural picture of how one should live a truly fulfilling life, and it’s kind of generic and not perfectly suited to any particular person, and it can be turned into another source of unsatisfying obligation.

    I think it’s as much about the how and the why of what you do as it is about the actual actions?  Like…there’s a difference between turning on the TV to watch something you find enjoyable and engrossing and satisfying, and turning on the TV to kill time in a way that involves as little effort as possible.  And even then, you get people who make it sound like “Never watch a dumb TV show to kill time or you fail at life!” when it’s more like “It’s better to do the more fulfilling stuff as much as possible.”  And that’s true whether the stuff you find fulfilling is swimming with sharks or playing Halo.

    (“As much as possible” is actually where it gets much harder, because there are limits and tradeoffs and budgeting issues and timing problems and multiple desirable things can conflict and most people are going to have a moment along the lines of “I could quit my job and backpack around Europe, but I’d rather keep a stable job.”  And that can be trading dreams for dull adequacy, or giving up a romantic fantasy for the sort of comfort and security that makes you happy, or something completely different, and it really depends on the person and their circumstances.  And it’s one of those areas where it’s hard to come to a reasonable and accurate judgement about someone else’s life and easy to create a dramatic story about why their decision is wrong and your decision is right, so it’s hard to talk about in a useful way.)

  • Lonespark

    So, there’s a nifty article in the new Idunna magazine about Ragnarok.  Lots of studying of Old Norse and whatnot, but the gist of it is this:

    “..the breaking of all social bonds is the end of the world.”

  • Mr. Heartland

    “Now I will destroy the whole world!”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Local morning drive-time (KFI-AM 640) was playiing REM as sound-bite bumpers.

    Though Camping kind of got upstaged by Gadhafi’s personal end-of-the-world.

  • LunaticFringe

    I safeguard myself by never grinding any meal. 

  • Anonymous

    I think this fits here too, but if we get another “it’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness/hope” post here’s a nice item. I shall continue to sing out “Livin’ on a Prayer” in the shower with even more pride, http://www.grist.org/list/2011-10-21-jon-bon-jovi-opens-pay-what-you-can-soul-kitchen

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    “Curse you, darkness!”
    http://l-userpic.livejournal.com/107848434/4682578

    (do img tags not work?)

  • Matri

    Well, it’s the 22nd over here now and the only ones raptured are my Dungeon Defenders characters. Stupid bugs.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson
  • Cuntoleezza Rice

    Gosh, I’d hate to be grinding with someone who was suddenly “taken”

  • Anonymous

    Cuntoleezza Rice Today 04:45 AM
    Change your username. NOW. There are no words for how much it offends me. (And I don’t even like Condoleeza Rice.)

  • P J Evans

     You’d go, too. ‘End of the world’ is not normally selective.
    (Also seconding EllieMurasaki’s comment.)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Classy.  (That’s sarcasm btw.)


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