Christian Marketing Sucks: Rapture Scare Edition.

Christian Marketing Sucks: Rapture Scare Edition. September 25, 2015

Well! The end of the world is coming (again) this week.

Do you know where your Christians are?

Yes indeed, because you see, the very last deadline for the very last bit of the Blood Moon Rapture Scare (sometimes called “Four Moons”) is upon us. Orchestrated largely by professional false prophet and bloviating loudmouth John Hagee, the Blood Moon Rapture Scare posits that because lunar eclipses are occurring around the dates of four important Jewish holidays between 2014 and 2015, the Rapture is going to happen before they’re all done. A bunch of people who actually understand anything about astronomy in general and lunar eclipses in particular are now head-desking repeatedly, but it only gets worse from here–sorry, gang.

Today we’ll be talking about why these Rapture scares are, increasingly, bad ideas for Christianity.

There isn't much new under the sun. (Credit: Dennis Jarvis, CC license.)
There isn’t much new under the sun. (Credit: Dennis Jarvis, CC license.)

The last date for the Rapture is going to be on September 28, which is the date of the last of the four supposedly hugely-important lunar eclipses.

Mr. Hagee’s had a tough time selling this scare to outsiders. Outside of fundagelical Christianity and its observers, most people don’t even know about it (whereas most folks knew of Harold Camping’s 2011 and 2012 predictions, especially since it coincided with the supposed Mayan apocalypse prediction and therefore got nationwide and near-constant media coverage). Even within the RWNJ-o-sphere he can’t count on his tribemates’ cooperation with his showboating, as evidenced by this hilarious little story from April wherein a Creationist astronomer totally debunked the idea in most humiliating fashion on a show devoted to the topic and organized by Mr. Hagee, to the false prophet’s blustering discomfort.

So he sells the scare to those already in the tribe, and he finds fertile soil there for some very malignant seeds indeed.

I don’t know what fundagelicals would even do with themselves if they didn’t have a Rapture scare hanging over their heads at any given time. After Harold Camping’s scare failed to materialize, I imagine they felt adrift until John Hagee came along with this new one shortly afterward.

We Shall Know Rapture Theology by Its Fruits.

If nothing else, one would expect Christians to notice that the results of their constant stream of conspiracy theories is anything but desirable. They call results like these “fruits,” like the fruit from a tree, because one can tell what kind of tree one has by what kind of fruit it bears. A bad tree can’t bear good fruit, and a good tree can’t bear bad fruit. (I know, I know: it sure as hell can. But they’re referring to a Bible verse here.) The problem is, Rapture scares bear nothing but bad fruit. Here’s how:

1. People don’t miss the distinct flavor of “fuck all y’all, I’ma get mine” selfishness inherent in Rapture theology.

Even as a Christian myself, I had a lot of trouble with this mindset. As flattering as it was to imagine that I would escape those terrible days by being smart and discerning enough to “get right with God” before the deadline, I felt very troubled by knowing that everybody else was facing the foretold events of the Tribulation coming after the Rapture.  It troubled me greatly, as well, to see people whose intelligence I respected not agreeing with my interpretations of current events and the Bible’s prophecies. Both implicitly and explicitly they called my own intelligence and judgment into question. I found comfort in my church peers and leaders, who drilled down harder and harder on the need to be the ones to escape the horrible future that was sure to come. We had to escape, even if our loved ones didn’t. To Hell–literally–with them, because we were getting ours.

With the Jesus Party Republican Party moving further and further in the direction of exactly that mindset, though, we can expect right-wing Christians to be more and more forthcoming about the difference between smart them and dumb everyone else. There’s a certain repulsive narcissism and selfishness inherent in the Rapture mindset: kiss the ass of this horrible bully friend of ours, and he’ll let you escape the terrible events he’s about to allow to happen to everyone else! Refuse, and be tortured to death after we’re all gone and then tortured for all eternity while we watch and cheer from our party van! Little wonder that the people who tend to convert to a religion like that are either scared out of their wits or else are the sorts of assholes who think that threats and violence are acceptable ways to sell one’s religious ideas.

The question never seems to be addressed: why would anybody loving or sane want to be trapped for eternity among the sort of people who’d be okay with their loved ones being tortured even for one second, or even the sort who’d be okay with being without their loved ones for eternity? Who but the thoughtless or the sociopathic could ever accept the ghastly situation that Christians rejoice about experiencing? It shames me still that I found some way to reconcile myself with this immediate and inevitable fallout of Rapture theology–the sort of shame that makes you grimace and whimper in your almost-sleep when you get hit in the night with the sudden sharp memory of it, decades later. At least that shame has kept me from falling for for anything like Rapture theology ever again.

For those who don’t need lessons from the “School of Hard Knocks,” every Rapture scare brings more people closer and closer to the realization of the mindset required to accept this doctrine. And that is really bad news for Christianity.

2. Rapture fraudsters rely upon classic “sales” techniques: manipulation, fear and terror, distortion, and threats.

All that “Boyfriend Jesus” stuff flies out the window when the Rapture gets involved. Any semblance of love for one’s fellow human does as well. There’s not any other way this situation can work out: “I get to escape all the terrible stuff coming because I chose well because I’m smart/obedient/open-minded, but you’ll have to cope with it all because you chose poorly because you’re dumb/rebellious/close-minded.” For all the crocodile tears Christians shed over those who will be slaughtered in the Tribulation following the Rapture,* one cannot miss that the predictions get more and more lurid with every scare that comes and goes–and that these predictions center around a world that patently does not exist except in fundagelicals’ fevered imaginations.

Simply put, a world that truly values religious freedom–like ours does, increasingly–wouldn’t ever put Christians to death simply for being Christian. But this exact conceit is central to Rapture theology. Without a world capable of persecuting decent people for no good reason, the Rapture and Tribulation can’t really happen at all.

But here Christians eagerly write their own prophecies into being as best they can. If they weren’t interfering with other people’s civil and human rights, there’d be no reason for any of us to care at all what they do or want. Indeed, most non-believers simply want Christians to leave them alone and quit trying to control their lives. Increasingly, civilized people are merely apathetic regarding Christianity’s claims, threats, and demands–only pushing back hard against fanatics’ overreach, but otherwise not caring one way or the other what they do. Christianity is not some firebrand igniting the world in controversy, but rather a withering, dwindling religion heading the way of Mithraism more with every passing year because of its insistence on outdated, regressive, mean-spirited, barbaric, and largely erroneous and mistaken ideologies and dogmas.

The Rapture depends upon Christians being some kind of hugely controversial group of people–so controversial that the Antichrist must fight against them and do whatever he can to eliminate and eradicate them, even to the extent of criminalizing their whole faith system (much like how a recent poll indicates that Christians would like to eliminate and eradicate people belonging to religions they don’t like and criminalize faiths they fear–whoops, did I find another projection that evangelicals are guilty of making?). The Tribulation depends upon Christians being the underdog good guys in the story, heroes who are chased and hounded and persecuted by the ghastly forces of darkness. It’s all about as realistic as the quaint “French” village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast–and the rest of us are getting more and more impatient about that totally ludicrous “persecuted underdog heroes” narrative they keep trying to push.

Between this huge distortion of reality and the vast numbers of threats Christians make to sell their fever-dream to others, it’s hard to imagine a sales campaign that fails harder than Rapture scares do. It depends on a hugely distorted worldview, copious amounts of threats and fear-based marketing tactics, a completely manufactured and non-credible threat, and other forms of emotional manipulation–capped off by failed specific predictions every time they’re foolish enough to make any specific predictions. That sort of campaign might have worked some years back, but folks today are growing more and more savvy about marketing–and that goes double for younger folks, who have arguably faced the most concentrated, knowledgeable, sustained, and dedicated marketing that any demographic ever has. They’ve got bullshit detectors like I’ve never seen–and that is really bad news for any flavors of Christianity that rely upon bullshit to sell their delusions.

3. Rapture scares, like many right-wing Christian delusions, only highlight the stark differences of opinion existing within Christianity.

The other day, an indignant Christian demanded to know exactly why I did not consider there to be any evidence supporting Christianity’s claims. It was almost funny to see how much his demand betrayed about his own worldview. Without knowing exactly what his particular claims are, it isn’t easy to answer his question–which I think is why he asked it. Different flavors of the religion have completely different claims. The Rapture itself is not a claim that every flavor of Christianity makes, though almost half of Christians believe that the end of the world is coming their lifetimes. Christians like my indignant acquaintance may pride themselves on not believing some of the out-there doctrines like Rapture or Creationism, but that doesn’t mean their own doctrines are foolproof. I mentioned that I thought it was hilarious that with the 30,000+ denominations of Christianity, they couldn’t even come up with a completely universal set of credible, testable, verifiable claims in the first place.

Indeed, as time goes on, the religion only splinters further and further into sects that can sometimes be completely unintelligible to each other. An accent becomes a creole that becomes a dialect that becomes its own language, and it happens without Christians’ even seeing the progression. With each new splintering, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that one of these bewildering hosts of opinions is correct, but it becomes easier and easier to imagine that they are in fact all incorrect.

I realize that Christian leaders want to differentiate their brand from every other group’s brand, but the doing only makes people more aware of how impossible it is to use the Bible to create a consistent, unified theology. As one of my dear friends has so ably discussed, Christians themselves do most of the work for outsiders in tearing down each others’ doctrines and claims:

Want to blow molinistic excuses for the problem of evil out of the water? Calvinists have already done the work. Want to undercut Sola Scriptura? Catholics have that covered. Want to illustrate the absurdity of the Trinity? Ask those Jehovah’s Witnesses that come to your door next Saturday. Want to show how evolutionary theory isn’t compatible with Christianity? Look no further than Answers in Genesis. What do all of these groups have in common? They all use the Bible to knock down each other’s theological systems. Not all of the arguments are that great, mind you, but my point still stands. They all show that the Bible can be an effective weapon against nearly every form of Christianity.

And I think it’s lunacy for Christian leaders to make that truth so painfully obvious by trying so hard to market Rapture scares and other wacky doctrines to make themselves look more correct than all the other kids in the lunchroom. It’d be smart for Christians to figure out some universal set of doctrines for themselves to present a consistent face to the world, but it’ll never happen–that would require conceding that some of their own doctrines are incorrect, and without serious motivation to change they are too proud to admit that could ever happen, much less that it does.

Plus, I think they really get off on the infighting and drama that is caused by disagreeing with their tribemates.

4. Every failed prediction is another reason to see right-wing Christianity as nothing but a series of stacked lies–and worse, to wonder what else it’s wrong about.

For all the diagrams we had and all the many ways that we could shoehorn current events into the prophecies we (mistakenly) thought we had, I knew deep down that what we had to say wasn’t really very compelling to others. I could see that my predictions were all but laughed at by my friends and family. There were only so many times I could chalk that reaction up to demonic oppression before I had to wonder why they didn’t take the Rapture as seriously as I did and what they knew that I very clearly did not.

Worse, the day after the last deadline had failed to happen, I had to go back home and back to school, where I would face my loved ones. I was humiliated to think that I’d been so wrong. I began to look back at my own behavior and see just how undignified I’d behaved, and I began to wince internally at the memory of what I’d said and done while terrorized. Unsurprisingly, I drifted out of the denomination shortly thereafter–and in so doing, I joined most of the young people who’d been roped in along with me in the first place. When I finally realized that Christianity as a whole made nothing but failed promises, I finally left the religion for good.

Years later, when I met up with tons of other ex-Christians, I realized how common that story is. The more right-wing the Christian, the more likely that person is to make assertions about how their religion should show its validity in the real world: prayers answered, miracles done, addictions and unpleasant personalities changed by magic, etc. Liberal Christians don’t make as many of these assertions, but even they tend to make some. Every one of these assertions should be considered and handled like a ticking hand-grenade–with the full understanding that every failure adds to the list of other failures that Christians carry around in the backs of their heads. Even if those failures are on the “deal with it later” pile and only dimly seen, they’re still there.

The simple truth is that if I hadn’t seen so many places where my religion’s claims simply didn’t work out in reality the way my religious leaders and the Bible both said they should, I wouldn’t ever have had reason to question my indoctrination. Though every Christian may have a slightly different point where the failures add up to “too much,” Christian leaders would do well to understand that their flocks do in fact have that point and will eventually, with enough failures, start to question their own indoctrination like I did once.

Previous Rapture scares sold because there were always lots of people who’d never heard about earlier scares and as a society we weren’t very well-versed in resisting that kind of marketing. But at this point, how many Westerners have heard of a failed Rapture prediction? Probably most of us, thanks to global communications and media networks. Rapture salespeople are by now largely talking to themselves and that tight core of existing True Believers–and the world they envision looks less and less like the real one with every passing day. Worse, every failed prediction means another True Believer reaches that limit and starts to wonder.

It’s a huge mistake for Christian leaders to willingly, eagerly, voluntarily do stuff that adds to that pile. The religion as a whole already is set up in a way that ensures it will hit that limit of failures eventually, but adding to the list with superfluous doctrines like Rapture is only going to reach their flocks’ limit faster. It’s downright mind-blowing to me that Christians seem so eager to go there.

In the end, Rapture scares are not only a symptom of Christianity’s big problem, but also, in a funny sort of way, the solution to that problem.

Either Christian leaders will figure out what a huge mistake it is to make these predictions or they won’t, and either way, humanity wins.


* The exact sequence of events varies, incidentally, but most modern Rapture enthusiasts go this route: first there will be a Rapture where all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ will be magicked up to Heaven, leaving all their clothes on the ground and cars and planes crashing everywhere followed by riots and pandemonium. After the magicking, there will be a period of Tribulation where the mean ole atheists and Muslims, under the direction of a charismatic (but totally evil and depraved) global ruler referred to as “the Antichrist,” murder and torture everyone who doesn’t follow their rules. At the end of that period, Jesus will return with all the angels for the final battle of Armageddon, and after he totally wins that fight, because of course he will win, he’ll incinerate the whole planet and start over with a perfect Heaven populated by all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™, and it won’t even be one little tiny bit like a hellish totalitarian dictatorship because it’ll be “God” in charge.

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