Is this the face of rapture? One look at a photo of radio preacher Harold Camping and it’s easy to see why, at 90, he thinks the end of the world is nigh. Very nigh. In eight days time, to be precise: May 21. At 6 pm. (That’s local time wherever you are, which I guess means we’re in for a kind of rolling wave of rapture).
We’re talking the fundamentalist Christian ‘Rapture’ — a best-selling concept that has all true believers eagerly anticipating a kind of orgasmic savedness in which they’ll be physically transported into realms of heavenly ecstasy.
The logo of Camping’s Rapture campaign, as enthusiastically demonstrated by the woman to the left, is “Save the Date!” Which I must say, does have a certain naive charm. Imagine writing “End of the world” in your calendar. Or “Rapture today.” It beats “Take Johnny to soccer practice” any time.
She’ll be one of the the 3% of the world’s population, per Camping, who’ll be “raptured” on May 21. You might think this would be cause for celebration for the remaining 97% of us, since we’d be rid of a bunch of nutcases. But no, if we insist on staying rooted to earth, Camping has blithely doomed us to get clobbered by six solid months of war, pestilence (lovely biblical word, that), and a motley variety of specified and unspecified chaos.
The theology of this is, ah, complex. You see, Jesus has returned while all those believers are busily rapturing, though what exactly he does during the next six months is unclear. I mean, it doesn’t seem very Christian of him to revel in the misery of all us unbelievers, but then, it’ll be in a good cause, because it leads up, you see, to Judgment Day (make a note to save that date too: October 21), which is when, as though six months of mayhem weren’t enough already, we all get sentenced to an infinity of the stuff.
But here’s the catch — or maybe an unconscious touch of what real Christians might call grace: the Rapture may be postponed. After all, it was already postponed once. Originally Camping-scheduled for September 6, 1994, it… well, it didn’t happen. The preacher was forced to announce that he’d got his calculations wrong, but of course kept the biblical flood of donations he’d received to get the word out.
All those billboards, decals, licensing deals, and nice suits are expensive, and Camping’s followers, knowing they’ll have no need of their life savings in heaven, have generously donated them through his website, where a careful surfer might discover ominous omens of another postponement.
Parts of the website are no longer operative, as one might expect — I mean, with only eight days to go, who’s got time to mess around with requests for information? Thus:
Christ Returns May 21, 2011
Sorry, we are no longer accepting requests for free materials. With our Lord’s Return such a short time away, we are no longer offering free printed materials since there is not enough time remaining for us to effectively produce and distribute them.
But then I clicked onto the donations page and found out that there’s still plenty of time:
Did you know that the ministries featured on this website are listener-supported? Did you know that you can earmark your donation for particular uses? Help to proclaim the Gospel by sending a donation. Choose to donate to the general fund or earmark funds for mission trips or free Bible distribution.
Maybe the Apocalypse isn’t quite as Now as it appears. Maybe Camping’s hedging his bets, and waiting for December 21, 2012. That’s the next end-of-the-world date: the end of the Mayan Calendar. Though the ayahuasca-addled neo-Mayans are still out on what that means. It may mean the end of the world, or it may mean the birth of a new one. Or maybe the Mayans simply ran out of ink. I guess there’s nothing to do but hang around and find out.
Meanwhile, a bunch of entrepreneurial atheists have stepped up to the rapture plate, offering (for a price, of course) to adopt and find good homes for the pets of those due to rise to heaven and leave their immortal-soul-deprived four-legged friends behind. No reports have surfaced on similarly good-natured realtors or mortgage companies, but who knows? It’s never too late to cash in on the end of the world.