Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's the End of the World, and They Know It

And I feel fine. The other day I was out for a healthy little walk, breathing in the bus and truck fumes of a dull little city just north of Boston. It's a drab, unimaginative place, so any flash of color easily catches my eye. What's this, I say, as I cross the street. Someone has slapped a sticker onto this grimy metal pole. What is it this time? A rock band? A political candidate? Nope, it's the end of the world. Judgment day, it says, is May 21, 2011. Wow. Best get my things together.

Lord, I do love the rapture. The concept that God would call the saved to heaven, leaving the rest of you poor sinning slobs to hell-on-earth, was invented in the 18th century. It was pretty much unknown to Christianity before that fun-loving bunch the Puritans started stirring the theological pot. It was really taken up in the 19th century, of course. What was it about that century? It seemed to be filled with energetic madmen and geniuses, doing wonderful, terrible, creative, destructive, and amazing things.

Take William Miller. His careful study of the Bible revealed that the rapture would occur in 1844. Jesus was coming and you all better get ready, he preached, and a lot of people heard the call. He soon had a national movement of believers, one of the largest Christian sects in American history. The date was finally narrowed down to October 22. And how did that work out? History calls it the “Great Disappointment.”

But that was by no means the end of the end of the world. Careful studies of the Bible has revealed date after date. Do you remember this poster? It was all over the Boston area about 30 years ago.

It's a concept that will never die. And why should it? It's a powerful image, a great motivator, and a real cash cow. It has been the basis of movies, bestselling books, and computer games. But it's all going to end now. After May 21, not even nine months away, things are going to be very different, if you can believe this bumper sticker (and if you can't trust a bumper sticker, what can you trust?).

It turns out the mind behind the sticker is Harold Camping, a radio preacher. His message is that God wants you to quit your church, get ready for the May 21 rapture, and for the rest of us we'll just have to suffer until the end of the world on October 21, 2011 (mercifully short, at least).

Now, you might want to dismiss Mr. Camping, but I'm not so sure. After all, he has a good deal of experience in this predicting business. His original big prediction was that Jesus would return to earth in 1994, on September 6. As far as I can tell, that didn't happen, but he's bound to be right sooner or later. Maybe he's due.

So what can I say? Hope you got your things together. Hope you are quite prepared to die. Looks like we're in for nasty weather. One eye is taken for an eye.

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