Monday, January 3, 2011

New "Great Disappointment" Scheduled for May

I blogged on this topic awhile back, but now that 2011 is here it seems as good a time as any to revisit it. According to radio evangelist Harold Camping, the long-awaited Rapture that heralds the End of Days as described in Christian scriptures will take place on May 21st of this year. I'm hoping that somewhere in the world a large group of Camping's followers will gather in white robes and spend the day trying to fly. If I can get to wherever that happens to be, I'm totally taping it and putting it up on YouTube.

Camping, 89, believes the Bible essentially functions as a cosmic calendar explaining exactly when various prophecies will be fulfilled.

The retired civil engineer said all his calculations come from close readings of the Bible, but that external events like the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 are signs confirming the date.

"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said.

The doctrine known as the Rapture teaches that believers will be taken up to heaven, while everyone else will remain on earth for a period of torment, concluding with the end of time. Camping believes that will happen in October.

Yes, I know, there are folks who sincerely believe in this movement and I'm making fun of it. But seriously, haven't people figured out by now that trying to predict the end of the world has a really bad track record? William Miller's original Great Disappointment happened in 1844. Obviously he was off by a lot, since we're still here over 150 years later. Over that period various religious groups have offered up their own predictions which have come and gone. Scanning the history of these predictions is like watching Bullwinkle Moose try to pull a rabbit out of his hat. "This time, for sure!"

The belief that Christ will return to earth and bring an end to history has been a basic element of Christian belief since the first century. The Book of Revelation, which comes last in the New Testament, describes this conclusion in vivid language that has inspired Christians for centuries.

But few churches are willing to set a date for the end of the world, heeding Jesus' words in the gospels of Mark and Matthew that no one can know the day or hour it will happen. Predictions like Camping's, though, aren't new. One of the most famous in history was by the Baptist leader William Miller, who predicted the end for Oct. 22, 1844, which came to be known as the Great Disappointment among his followers, some of who subsequently founded the Seventh Day Adventist church.

"In the U.S., there is still a significant population, mostly Protestant, who look at the Bible as kind of a puzzle, and the puzzle is God's word and it's predicting when the end times will come," said Catherine Wessinger, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who studies millennialism, the belief in pending apocalypse.

Even ignoring that the whole idea of the Rapture pretty much originated with Miller in the 19th century and is not well-supported in the Bible, shouldn't it be clear by now that making these sorts of predictions is just a bad idea? Either you're right, in which case the world just ends, or you're wrong and are left with a bunch of angry followers. And let's face it, the predictions are always wrong. Except this time, insist believers - like they always do.

Past predictions that failed to come true don't have any bearing on the current calculation, believers maintain.

"It would be like telling the Wright Brothers that every other attempt to fly has failed, so you shouldn't even try," said Chris McCann, who works with eBible Fellowship, one of the groups spreading the message.

Unless, of course, the Wright Brothers had been using the wrong approach all along, like trying to build an airplane out of cement or something ridiculous like that.

As a Thelemite, my interpretation of the "apocalypse" is quite different from that of just about any Christian group, and even among Christians there is considerable debate. I would put forth that interpreting the Bible as some sort of calendar has been proven wrong again and again, whenever some new Bible scholar emerges with their own estimate of the date. That suggests to me that an alternate interpretation of the events described in the Revelation must be in order.

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1 comment:

Pallas Renatus said...

There's something about people that just makes them feed into these things. The panic surrounding Y2K comes to mind. For some reason there are a lot of people who just want to believe they're going to see the world end.