Saturday, May 21, 2011

Today is the Day!

This is it, folks. The Rapture is on! You know, unless it isn't.

Harold Camping's latest doomsday prophecy has spawned a media frenzy unlike anything I've seen since the heady days of Y2K. Of course, as a programmer I knew back then that since applications are always designed to fail in the safe state the odds were practically nil that, say, car computers were going to send people hurtling down the freeway with no ability to stop, or that avionic computers were going to drop planes out of the sky, all because they couldn't recognize the date. In fact, on New Years Eve of 1999 I deliberately left my old unpatched Windows 95 machine running all night and checked it in the morning. It was fine, still running as usual, and it even displayed the correct date when I brought up the calendar. So much for the software apocalypse, and I'll never forget the headline that came up on Yahoo News that evening - "Crisis-Free Millennium Spreads Across the Globe."

As I mentioned previously, Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world before, the last time in 1994. Salon has an article up from Thursday by Steve Kornacki describing how he was taken in by Camping's original prediction as a 13-year-old boy. When the last day finally came, he describes how he spent it, along with the eventual realization that the Rapture just wasn't happening.

Sept. 5 -- the day before that particular end of the world -- was a Monday, Labor Day. I was due to start my sophomore year of high school later that week,. On the outside, I seemed calm enough. On the inside, I was petrified. I had long ago perfected this balancing act. That night, as I watched the clock down to midnight with mounting anxiety, I sat down in the living room and turned on Monday Night Football, the 49ers and the Raiders. Somehow, the noise from the crowd gave me comfort. I thought of telling my mother everything -- that I was worried, that I'd been worried for two years -- and that I just wanted to say goodbye to her in case. Instead, I stayed put.

But then, somewhere around halftime, I realized something I'd never actually considered about the Rapture: Logistics. Here it was almost 11 p.m. on Sept. 5 -- but weren't there 24 time zones in the world? Didn't that mean that it was Sept. 6 already in a lot of other places? I'd been counting down to Sept. 6 on Eastern Standard Time, but why would God automatically be doing the same? If there really were something magical about the date Sept. 6, wouldn't there be breaking news reports of doom and gloom elsewhere in the world by now? It had to be getting close to Sept. 7 somewhere. Almost miraculously, I began feeling the relief that had eluded me for nearly two years: The Rapture was here -- and the world wasn't ending.

The logistics of the Rapture do present a possible problem, but the solution is a lot simpler than most people think. It in fact represents the first practical application of Gene Ray's Time Cube hypothesis. You see, since sunrise, noon, sunset, and midnight all represent their own individual days the Rapture will happen in each quadrant of the globe as its particular calendar shifts to the correct date. The reason that, for example, we can't get information about the Rapture from Siberia (where it's been going on for awhile now) here in the United States is because of the immense tidal forces involved when signals pass from one day to the next, in accordance with the theory of general relativity. Don't believe me? Check it out - on the Time Cube Einstein's even got his own quadrant!

Salon also put up another article yesterday by Justin Elliot, in which he reports most of Camping's employees aren't buying it either. One wonders if the guy's just not as persuasive in person. Either that, or he knows enough to hire individuals with critical thinking skills - mostly.

Noticing my notebook, the man looks around to make sure no one else is in the parking lot. He walks over and leans in. "This hasn't come through in the news reports, but I'd say 85 to 90 percent of the staff doesn't believe what Camping says. We're coming to work next week," says the man, who processes mail for Family Radio.

Not only that, the believers gathered outside Camping's headquarters that Elliot was able to interview do not inspire much confidence.

"I think I may well be the messiah," Chris confided to me. "I've been on a journey for several years now." Chris, like several other Camping listeners I encounter, is down on his luck. He's been without a permanent address for five years.

Another listener named Mike came to Family Radio headquarters seven weeks ago, at which point his minivan promptly broke down. He's been sleeping in it ever since. Others say they left their lives behind and came to Oakland this week from as far as Milwaukee and North Carolina, though none wanted to give their names.

Not to be outdone, Slate posted an interactive Choose Your Own Apocalypse tool with 144 different options yesterday. And needless to say the magical blogosphere is all over this, with contributions from Rob, Morgan, FSO, and many others. Robert makes the point that maybe we all should lay off a bit on the grounds that the true believers in this prophecy are already going to be hurting enough come Sunday, but while I see his point I have to admit I'm torn on the issue. Take a look at this article and tell me if you agree that these parents are harming their kids by indulging in their Rapture-beliefs. Maybe if we really make fun of everyone involved this time around, fewer people will be inclined to go along with it next time. And there will be a next time, there always is.

So how am I spending the last day before the faithful disappear, leaving behind a nation of Atheists, Thelemites, Pagans, and of course the vast majority of Christians who don't subscribe to Camping's teachings? Post-rapture looting has been proposed, along with driving around and scattering old clothes on random lawns, but the funniest idea I've seen so far is to fill a bunch of inflatable dolls with helium and launch them into the sky at some strategic moment. Personally I'm taking my own advice and having a party. Because let's face it, this is a win/win. Either nothing will happen, in which case we can make fun of Camping and friends until the cows come home, or all of the most sanctimonious folks out there will just vanish in a puff of holiness, in which case they'll trouble the rest of us no longer.

Of course, all my personal bets are on the former.

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Morgan Drake Eckstein said...

I remember talking to my boss about Y2K and laughing about it, "What do we do if the computer goes down?" and him handing me a pen and piece of paper. We were still going to be in business, even if the worst possible happened. That has been pretty much my attitude for this current fad, I am still going to be here tomorrow and still working.

Scott Stenwick said...

That's pretty much how it was with me too. I probably was able to get a better job than I might have otherwise in the late 1990's thanks to all the work being done for Y2K so I can't really complain, but none of the software professionals I knew and worked with were actually worried about anything catastrophic.

6:17 PM local time - still no earthquake and still no Rapture...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I'll never forget, my dad used to work for a guy who bought an honest-to-god bomb shelter somewhere in the mountains of NC for Y2K. We never did find out if he ever actualized his plans of trading all his cash (he refused to use a bank account for one conspiratorial reason or another) into gold coins or not.

Scott Stenwick said...

One thing I'll say for an underground bomb shelter is it makes a great secret temple, especially if you're of the Lisiewski school of grimoire magick where you have to be in contact with the earth when doing evocations.