Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 21: The Aftermath

Gaze upon the destructive force
of the apocalypse! Oh wait.
I sit typing these words within the rubble that was once my home, following one of countless devastating earthqu—oh, wait a second. That didn't happen. That was what Harold Camping and his followers predicted would happen. The prophecy of a May 21, 2011, rapture will be remembered only as yet another instance of a testable religious prediction that failed miserably and spectacularly.

It was very interesting to watch the initial reactions on Twitter: some people simply fell silent, while others spouted Bible verses, some of which had no apparent connection to the situation at hand. A few of the less-indoctrinated were merely disappointed but emphasized their continued faith in God, while still more insisted on waiting until midnight in the very last time zone, even though judgment was supposed to spread across the globe an hour at a time as each area reached 6 pm. In this video, devout follower Robert Fitzpatrick expresses utter bewilderment in front of reporters and onlookers.

So what will the May Twenty-firsters do now that Jesus has failed to whisk them away into paradise? It's hard to say. As of this writing, Camping himself has been strangely (or not-so-strangely) silent on the matter—in fact, he's nowhere to be found. My hope is that at least some will be so disillusioned with the whole thing that they'll become skeptical of Christianity as a whole. But I suspect that most will either come up with some rationalization for pushing back the date or assimilate back into the mainstream. What's unfortunate is that many people gave up their whole lives—monetarily, socially, and otherwise—buying into this absurdity.

The other sad thing is that those Christians who didn't believe the prediction will see its failure as a validation of their own views. "Jesus said that 'no one knows the day or hour' of judgment, and he was right," they'll boast. Of course, it's not as though Camping's teachings are much more extreme than theirs: according to one poll, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus will return by the year 2050. The only difference is that Camping picked a specific date. If Christians would only realize how easily they criticize beliefs that are nearly identical to their own, they might start to question their own beliefs without their biases getting in the way.

Update 1: At least a few people have apologized for their errors, but some are already proclaiming October 21 as the new date for judgment. Meanwhile, Camping is trying to "think it out" and plans to make a statement on the 23rd.

Update 2: Just listened to part of Camping's radio address. He "explained" that the God's judgment began on 5/21, but that it was spiritual rather than physical due to His love and mercy. He's predicting that earthquakes, rapture, and the end of the world will occur all at once on October 21 (he had originally thought that only the latter would occur on that date). Looks like we'll have to wait another five months for the next falsification.


  1. There are always people who either mistakenly or purposefully twist the scriptures for there own use. Just as a dirty cop does not mean all cops are dirty the same goes for preachers and teachers of Christianity. If the media and the world where to report all the good things that Christians do for the world, they would scarce have time to do anything else.

    The media loves a train wreck I guess is the bottom line, but there aren't many reports about just plain trains.

  2. As I said in the post, I don't think mainstream Christians fare much better than Camping's group when it comes to eschatology.

    I agree that Christians do a lot of good. But there's a lot of bad wrapped up in there as well: a mistrust of evolution, discouragement of condom usage in AIDS-riddled Africa, discrimination against women and gays, promotion of faith over logic and critical thinking, and so on.

    I also don't think any of the good that religion encourages is intrinsic to religion itself. Ultimately, I would like society to be able to hold onto the good that religion promotes—community, charity, etc.—while removing the rest. It will take a long time, but I think it's an achievable goal.