Monday, May 23, 2011

Great Disappointment 2011: What Have We Learned?

As everyone has heard by now the predicted Rapture came and went without so much as a whimper. The massive earthquake that was supposed to herald the faithful being taken up into Heaven never struck, and the closest thing to unusual geological activity on May 21st was the eruption of Iceland's Grimsvoetn volcano, pictured above. Yesterday Jason Miller offered a prayer for those who waited for the Rapture accompanied by a photo of what has to be one of the Best Billboards Ever, and let me declare right now that I'm totally on board with making fun of the 2012 doomsayers when their apocalypse rolls around as well. I'm an equal opportunity offender, after all.

One thing I will thank Harold Camping for is that it gave me a great party theme. Since my birthday is May 18th I was probably going to have a party this weekend anyway and Saturday was the most logical day, but the fact that it coincided with Camping's Rapture made it extra fun. I also think that we got more people over with the Rapture theme than we would have otherwise, including several friends I hadn't seen in a long time. So it worked out well for me, though I'm imagining that the Rapture believers are considerably less happy with the weekend's events. The thing is, as I've mentioned before the Rapture is fundamentally a silly idea, wasn't part of Christian belief until the 19th century, and likely is based at least in part on the mistranslation of "spirit" as "air" in the New Testament because Greek, like Hebrew, apparently uses the same word for both.

While some have argued that all this is just a matter of religious belief that should be respected, to me Rapture-believers fall into the same camp as Young-Earth Creationists, and in fact Dispensationalists like Camping fall into that group as well because their chronologies are based on a creation date within the last ten thousand years or so. Both of these worldviews suffer from the problem that they fundamentally contradict known scientific principles. As I pointed out in my article on Creationism, science and religion don't necessarily have to be at odds but as soon as you start talking about events that take place in physical reality you have to take into account physical laws and tailor your interpretations to those conditions. That's what I do with my magical research and I don't think it's too much to ask that others do the same with their own spiritual systems.

Here are a few questions about the Rapture. (1) Even if you know the date, what time zone do you use? The logical one would be Israel's, but it seems that Camping's folks were saying that it would be at 6 PM local time. Why? It's not as if the authors of the Bible knew anything about time zones. (2) If people are indeed supposed to just vanish where does all the energy go? E=MC^2 means that if just person's body were converted from matter to energy the resulting explosion would make a hydrogen bomb look like a firecracker. I suppose this technically only contradicts the "pre-tribulation" Rapture believers like Camping, since one could argue that the explosions as people are taken up into Heaven in fact destroy the world necessitating "a new Heaven and a new Earth" as predicted in the Book of Revelation, but still. (3) When the Bible tells us that the only people taken up into Heaven are the 144,000 elders why do "literalist" Dispensationalists claim that this in fact means everyone who believes? Similarly, the Book of Revelation says nothing about believers being taken up prior to the calamities that befall the world in the End Times, so how do the "pre-tribulation" folks arrive at this idea that Rapture comes first?

(1) is logistical, (2) is scientific, and (3) is scriptural. But all of them point to specific problems with the whole Rapture idea. In religious terms (3) is the worst, for the simple reason that it replaces the declarations of scripture at odds with the Just-World Assumption and chooses the latter as its source of spiritual authority, giving it no authority whatsoever in the context of literalist Christianity. Anybody who thinks that God has an interest in sparing believers from the events of the Apocalypse by disintegrating them ahead of time should read their Bible more closely. In the Book of Revelation believers play an important role in the end times - if they all are spirited away, for example, who's going to do battle with the Beast at Armageddon? I suppose Jesus could take of it on his own, but that's not what the scripture says. It's only after the Beast is defeated that even the 144,000 are taken up into Heaven.

At the 325 AD Council of Nicea the Book of Revelation was not accepted as Biblical canon. It was included amidst controversy at the Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

In the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus and other bishops argued against including Revelation because of the difficulties of interpreting it and the risk of abuse. In the 16th century, Martin Luther initially considered it to be "neither apostolic nor prophetic" and stated that "Christ is neither taught nor known in it", and placed it in his Antilegomena, i.e. his list of questionable documents, though he did retract this view in later life. In the same century, John Calvin believed the book to be canonical, yet it was the only New Testament book on which he did not write a commentary. It remains the only book of the New Testament that is not read within the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is included in Catholic and Protestant liturgies.

One wonders how different Christianity would be today had Gregory won that argument with his completely reasonable assertion that the book was ripe for abuse, or if Martin Luther had eliminated it from the Protestant canon. I don't think it's much a stretch to posit that a world without Dispensationalism would be a much saner one, especially since extreme modern Christian ideologies like Dominionism evolved out of it.

Going back to the title of this article, what indeed have we learned? Hopefully these events shed more light on the fact that "Left Behind" is fiction rather than fact, that so far every doomsayer that's arisen has been proven wrong, and that betting on some sort of magical end of the world is not only a sure loser but invites mockery. And no, people aren't making of you because God is testing you, they're making fun of you because what you're suggesting is simply ridiculous. It's better to live your life as well as you can rather than relying on the hope that all your flaws and failures will be washed away by the End Times.

UPDATE: Harold Camping has issued a statement doubling down on his original End-Of-The-World date, October 21st. It's a Friday, so you know what that means - party at my place!

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble


Hypnovatos said...

No man, you got it wrong... Camping was right... he Vanished :D

Scott Stenwick said...

You know, it could be. Perhaps Camping was indeed the only one God decided to save out of his entire flock.

He was supposedly going to give a statement regarding his failed prophecy sometime today, though as of 5 PM CST it has yet to materialize.

Maybe that's because the satellite reception in Heaven is lousy.

Hypnovatos said...

Nope... hes still here... apparently he misunderstood the meaning of may 21st, it was the day that Jesus descended in spirit and God Laid Judgement on the world. However, Oct 21st is still the end of the universe O.o