Fundamentalist radio preacher Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world for Saturday, May 21, 2011. That’s right. Put it in your calendars. Buckle your seatbelts. End of the world this Saturday.
I won’t go into all the Bible quotes about ‘no man knows the day or the hour’ or the fact that Camping is a well known, ignorant anti-Catholic radio guy. I wish we could just ignore people like him, or write him off as a nutcase.
Unfortunately, a good number of American Protestants take him seriously, and an even greater number who may not take Camping and his prediction seriously have bought in to the whole rapture, end of the world scenario. A recent survey said something like 52% of Americans believe Jesus will come again on the clouds and ‘rapture’ all the born again Christians. This all comes from a Biblical interpretation system called ‘Dispensationalism’. Dispensationalism basically says the Bible (and therefore the whole of human history) can be broken down into different ‘dispensations’ of time. By understanding all this you can ‘de-code’ Gods plan for mankind by understanding the hidden clues in the Bible.
The whole thing was cooked up by a fellow called C.I.Schofield in the late 1800s. The ‘Schofield Reference Bible’ is a version of the King James Bible with copious study notes that helps people read the Bible through the dispensationalist lens, and it is considered the best Bible version by armies of fundamentalist Protestant Americans. This is side comment, but what tickles me about this, is that these are the same folks who blame Catholics for believing in late, man made doctrines like the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin…so go figure.
There are too many things wrong with Camping and his approach to even give time to. First of all is to observe that Camping is the end result of the ridiculous Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura. It’s Camping and his Bible. He’s on the air every day telling people not only that the Catholic Church is wrong, but all churches are wrong. “Don’t go to church where you’ll get false teaching. Just listen to Mr Camping.” The proponent of sola Scriptura will argue that not everyone is quite as looped as he is. Maybe not, but their methodology and foundational assumptions are the same. Whether it is a sophisticated Episcopalian liberal theologian or a conservative and sensible Presbyterian pastor or a left wing New Testament scholar or a snake handler or Mr.Camping–they’ve all got no more authority than each other because for each of them its just them and their Bible.
The second totally weird thing about Camping and his gang is their spooky, superstitious understanding of not only the Biblical texts, but the Bible itself. They treat the Bible as some sort of supernatural boy hero code book. As if God was in the business of hiding secret dates and times within the numbers and letters of the Bible and within a secret code language of the Old Testament prophets. The sacred Scriptures are the inspired account of God’s workings in and with his people the Jews–finally culminating in the incarnation of the Word of God. The Scriptures are not a fortune teller’s codebook.
The third alarming thing about Camping an Co. is their lamentable ignorance not only of the whole sweep of Christian history, but their ignorance about their own American Protestant history. Don’t these guys realize that from the year dot American Protestants of all stripes and sects have been interpreting the Bible and coming up with cataclysmic prognostications which always pan out? They should put down their Schofield Reference Bible for once and read the history of the Mormons, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Millerites, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Disciples of Christ, the Jack vanImpe-ists and Tim LaHayes and learn a few lessons. Along with this ignorance of history is an astounding ignorance of human psychology. There is a simple kink in human beings which makes them suckers for the end of the world theories. It’s the fact that there will be an and to the world–especially their world. Usually the end of the world people are simply projecting the fact of their own death. They’re going to die, so they predict the whole world will die instead. It’s a sick kind of twist in the human heart and imagination.
I wish I could just laugh it off, but the worst thing about cranks like Camping and the folks at Westboro Baptist is that they are the ones who make headlines.
No wonder so many young Americans who start to think things through consider Christianity to be a laughable religion for inadequate loonies.