Rapture May 17, 2011

By now everyone who’s paying attention knows that a small group of fundamentalist Christians led by one Harold Camping is predicting the Rapture – the return of Christ to take the saved to Heaven and leave the rest behind to face the Tribulation – will occur this Saturday at 6:00 PM.

The responses have been predictable. A good many atheists, Pagans, UUs and others who are certain to be “left behind” if this prophecy come true are laughing it up with Rapture parties and plans for post-Rapture looting. Others are pointing out some of the many dates that have been wrongly predicted in the past, most notably the Great Disappointment of 1844. Some are claiming the prophecies are right, but no one can know when they’ll happen.

I have a hard time laughing at this.

I grew up in small fundamentalist Baptist church, where they preached the Bible was the literal and inerrant Word of God. A premillennialist interpretation of the Book of Revelation was assumed, complete with visions of Christians suddenly disappearing from the Earth – and with them, all hope of avoiding eternity in Hell for those left behind.

For a child who was prone to literal thinking, who didn’t yet have the breadth of experience to question what he was taught even if it didn’t seem right, and whose lack of confidence verged on paranoia at times, tales of the Rapture were more terrifying than any horror movie ever made.

If I came home from school and my parents weren’t there, had the Rapture happened? This was before cell phones, the internet and CNN – I had no way to know. Was I really not saved? You were supposed to be able to know you were saved, and I couldn’t know. Was I going to suffer through the Tribulation and then burn in Hell forever and ever?

I can’t tell you how many times the sight of my mother’s car coming up the driveway was the most wonderful thing in the world.

Even after I rejected fundamentalist Christianity, even after I became a universalist, the fears remained. Oh, I believed what I believed… but what if I was wrong? The concept of the Rapture had been planted in my mind early enough and strongly enough and I had fed it enough with fear that it wasn’t going away just because my rational self declared it false.

Here’s a link to a sermon by Rev. Victoria Weinstein (aka “PeaceBang”). I can’t embed it and it takes a bit to load, but it’s well worth your time to listen. It’s a serious, compassionate, honest, Christian look at the Book of Revelation and the prophecies in it. If you know anybody who takes the concept of a literal Rapture seriously – even if they aren’t expecting to disappear this weekend – send it to them.

Or maybe you need to listen to it. I wish I could have heard this sermon about 40 years ago.

I don’t worry about the Rapture any more. Learning the roots of Christianity helped. Learning that other Christians had different interpretations of Revelation helped. Learning the true origins of the Bible helped. In the end, though, no amount of reason could erase these deep-seated fears. But when I began to experience the old gods and goddesses, when I met them in meditation and in ritual, when I experienced Unity for a fleeting moment, then the fears were crowded out.

It took a good religious experience to counteract a bad religious experience.

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