Eight rapture pieces and Julia Sweeney. You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
By Maud Newton
As lead-ups to fortieth birthdays go, I recommend steering clear of subway preachers who forecast the Rapture for the very day you’re most dreading. For 18 months now, End-Timers have been gathering daily, at the top of the stairway to the train I take home from work, to press “Judgment Day” tracts on unsuspecting commuters. I’m sure someone else, someone who lacked my fundamentalist baggage, would’ve laughed at the coincidence and shaken it off, but to me it felt personal when the men turned up there, with their pamphlets and placards and dire predictions, as though the God I grew up fearing and eventually turned my back on had orchestrated some final absurd cosmic joke. Of all the dates in all the centuries over more than two millennia, why May 21, 2011?
My mother, a former preacher, would call it a warning. She may not have her own church anymore, but she still believes the Second Coming is nigh. She may, in fact, actually expect to be whisked off to heaven on my birthday. I’m not going to ask. After a six-year break from each other (it’s complicated), we get along really well now that we don’t argue about God anymore; when she alludes to Him or anything else I don’t want to talk about, I change the subject. I’m an increasingly fervent agnostic, if there can be such a thing: compulsively uncertain, committed to doubt. I don’t believe in any deity—and certainly not the Christian one, whose unfairness and sadism are so repellent that even if He did exist I would gladly forgo His company to burn in hell with people I actually like.
The tedium of heaven is obvious, I know, and, having been so roundly mocked by so many, barely merits further remarking upon, but my grandmother, my mom’s mom, once had a near-death experience, dreamed of a lavish mansion reserved for her in heaven and awoke cursing at the prospect of spending eternity there. Is it possible to imagine a more dismal place than one where there is no sex and no joking and everyone sings all the time?
A confession, one sure to enrage fervid atheists: though I don’t expect the End of the World to be set in motion this Saturday night, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it were. Fatalism comes easy when you grew up bracing for the apocalypse, being told that that, sometime very soon, probably next year but possibly tomorrow morning, a fiery mountain would fall into the sea, the oceans would turn to blood and then the moon would, and soon after that a third of all living things on the earth would die. Never mind homework, forget the boy you had a crush on, it would be best to turn down the lead role in the school musical, for there was no time to waste. Jesus could return at any moment, that was the crucial thing, and it was our duty to spread the word. Also, to repent, because if you hadn’t been forgiven for every sin you’d ever committed, no matter how tiny, even if you didn’t know it was a sin, you’d be regrettably yet decisively Left Behind. Rapture Readiness is a hilarious cliche in the popular culture now, but it’s no joke when you live it. I can’t tell you how many nights I lay awake, obsessively begging the Lord for forgiveness, at the age of eight.
You get steeped in this stuff as a kid, even if some part of you was always skeptical, it’s hard to lose the residual sense that everything unfolding in the world—from natural disasters to commerce and geopolitics—signals some approaching doomsday. Or maybe this sort of existential dread is actually just genetic. It seems to run in my mom’s family.
Perhaps you’re gearing up to spend May 21 at a Rapture party or gassing up your car for some post-Rapture looting. Some of you may even expect to end the night seated at the right hand of God. I intend to be touring the bars of Provincetown—”an absolute sink of corruption,” my friend Joan assures me—drunk as a clam at high tide, when the hour arrives.
Obviously, given that it coincides with my fortieth, I’ll have much more on my mind than Jesus’ failure to return. The withering of my body, the decline of my intellect (such as it is), and the rapid approach of the grave, not to mention my continued failure to finish, to my satisfaction, the last two chapters of this godforsaken book I’m writing. Just to offer some highlights.
Compared to the hardcore Rapturites, though, I’m in pretty good shape. Did you hear the interviews on NPR last weekend? “It broke my heart,” my friend D.E. said in email. “There was this one couple with a baby and one on the way and they’d pretty much spent their last dime. You have to just hear the voices of these people. They’re totally lost.” She’s right, it’s tragic.
The architect of this particular Rapture scare is Harold Camping, a former engineer who claims to have found numerical clues in the Bible. He “first predicted the end would come Sept. 6, 1994” but now contends that, as of that date, he simply “had not completed his biblical research. ‘For example, I at that time had not gone through the Book of Jeremiah,’ he explains, ‘which is a big book in the Bible that has a whole lot to say about the end of the world.'” On his blog, Camping writes: “Many of you have contacted me to ask what I will do on May 22, after the May 21 Judgement [sic] Day. I’ve been asked what I will do with my things, and if I will give them away to those who write an entire one line email to me. After the May 21 Rapture, many of us will no longer be here, but this blog will live on. I have scheduled new posts to come out between May 21st and October 21st 2011, that will help those dealing with the End Times of the Apocalypse. [Emphasis mine.] If you do not think you will be saved in the May 21 Judgement [sic] Day Rapture, then please bookmark this page now to visit on May 22.” “Now that’s service,” D.E. said.
“If I’m here on May 22, and I wake up,” Camping told NPR, “I’m going to be in hell.” My favorite rejoinder to his predictions? “After He stood me up on September 6, 1994? He could’ve at least called!”
An unusual aspect of Camping’s Judgment Day catechism is that, like the Puritans’ and the Presbyterians’, but unlike most evangelicals’, it rests on the notion of predestination—that some people, the elect, are chosen by God for salvation, while the rest will perish. I say “unusual” because Rapture-readiness scaremongering originated with Hal Lindsey’s bestselling 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth, which is decidedly not a predestination text. Lindsey, like the Methodists and the Baptists and the Pentecostals, is a big-tent guy. If you ask Jesus to forgive your sins and invite Him into your heart, under the Lindsey doctrine you are guaranteed salvation. This openness, with its emphasis on God’s endless capacity to forgive, has been the emerging trend in Protestantism, so it’s a little surprising to see Camping’s date—and far more restrictive vision of Eternal Life—getting so much attention.
For his part, on his own website, Lindsey—who once wrote, “the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it”—offers the following wisdom: “I want all of my friends to know that I AM AGAINST any form of predicting a specific day that the end of this age and the Rapture will occur. I am well aware that a Christian teacher has predicted that the end of this age will occur on May 21st 2011. When this fails, it will be used by our enemies to discredit the expectation that the Rapture could take place at any-moment.”
All of which is to say that the End Times fables of fundamentalist Protestants are multitudinous and fractious; minor denominations have actually splintered over them. A popular wall poster in the 1980s—one forever selling out of stock and being reordered at my mother’s storefront church/bookstore—depicted cars and planes crashing as their righteous drivers rose, ethereal and glowing, into the sky. Jesus would whisk the believers up to Heaven, my mother explained, and the heathens remaining would have to endure not just the aftermath of a million fiery collisions but the rest of the Tribulation. You could still be saved if you weren’t Raptured up, but it would be difficult. I’d go over the details, but it seems wrong to lead you any further into this doctrinal thicket.
Suffice it to say that there are a thousand iterations, at least, of the Rapture story, each with its own creative, deeply punitive twist. If you’re looking for confirmation in the plain language of the scriptures, however, you won’t find much. John Nelson Darby invented the pre-tribulation Rapture doctrine in the 19th century by stitching together verses from various parts of the Bible.
Mark Twain once wrote about the trouble he had gathering material for his childhood biography of Satan. “There were only five or six [facts],” he recalled. “You could set them all down on a visiting-card.” With the help of his Sunday school teacher, “on fifteen hundred other pieces of paper we set down the ‘conjectures,’ and ‘suppositions,’ and ‘maybes,’ and ‘perhapses,’ and ‘doubtlesses,’ and ‘rumors,’ and ‘guesses,’ and ‘probabilities,’ and ‘likelihoods,’ and ‘we are permitted to thinks,’ and ‘we are warranted in believings,’ and ‘might have beens,’ and ‘could have beens,’ and ‘must have beens,’ and ‘unquestionablys,’ and ‘without a shadow of doubts.’” Predictions of the impending apocalypse have about the same level of textual support. “What God lacks is convictions — stability of character,” Twain quipped. “He ought to be a Presbyterian or a Catholic or something — not try to be everything.”
My mother was raised an atheist by an atheist Texan mother who herself had a stridently atheist Texan father. As far as I know, Mom remained contentedly godless through college. When I was three or four, she and my dad became Presbyterians, but she soon started reading the Bible for herself and questioning the catechism and she ultimately left the flock in fury over predestination after the minister told the parents of a boy killed by a speeding car that his death had been God’s will. My parents’ attempts to compromise on other denominations didn’t go so well; Mom argued with the pastors and the Sunday school teachers; the Baptists actually asked us to leave. Soon she had her own Bible study, and was speaking in tongues and laying hands on the sick and casting out demons, and eventually, first in our living room and finally in a warehouse, she had her own church. People were scandalized; a woman preaching was an aggressive act.
What’s most remarkable to me now about her sudden religiosity is that the zeal and the leadership impulses that seemed in my childhood to spring up out of nowhere have forerunners she was barely, if at all, aware of. One of her grandmothers was a “devoted Pentecostal ‘holy roller'” (my mother’s words) who not only donated her son’s insurance proceeds (from an accident that left him a paraplegic) to the church but, at some point at least, actually lived in it. Mom knew this growing up, but vaguely; her dad’s family was something of an abstraction. Then, a few years ago, long after her own place of worship was shuttered, she learned that her maternal grandmother’s sister and niece had joined together and “voluntarily started and pastored the only church in Stockard for many years until they finally got a man to come in from somewhere and take over.”
Okay, it’s not as if religious fervor was scarce in 20th-Century Texas. But recently I discovered that Mary Bliss Parsons, my ninth great-grandmother and my mom’s eighth, beat witchcraft charges—twice—in Northampton, Massachusetts, where her husband Joseph moved the family because Mary couldn’t get along with the people of Springfield. She was beautiful and opinionated, with a “harsh,” “often accusatory” manner, and she was given to “fits” that incited Joseph to lock her in the basement. According to the authors of Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England:
She and her husband were frequently and notoriously at odds with one another. During part of their time at Springfield he had sought to confine her to their house. (Otherwise, he said, “she would go out in the night … and when she went out a woman went with her and came in with her.”) When this tactic failed, he locked her in the basement. It was then, she claimed later on, that she had first encountered her “spirits.” There was at least one quite public episode — again at Springfield — that amounted to a family free-for-all. Joseph was “beating one of his little children, for losing its shoe,” when Mary came running “to save it, because she had beaten it before as she said.” Whereupon Joseph thrust her away, and the two of them continued to struggle until he “had in a sort beaten [her].”
Witchcraft accusations surfaced soon after the family settled in Northampton. Mary gave birth to a healthy baby boy—her fifth child—and the following year a neighbor’s newborn died. When the grieving mother claimed Mary had cursed the baby, Joseph tried to protect the family’s good(?) name by going on the offensive. No stranger to the courtroom, he initiated a defamation suit against the neighbor who’d started the rumors. This approach was tricky, and fraught; while the “immediate outcome of [slander] actions was usually favorable to the plaintiff,” the “long-range effects were mixed.”
Sure enough, Joseph prevailed, but suspicion and ill-feeling roiled until new witchcraft claims landed Mary in court again 18 years later. This time she was the defendant. Most of the evidence from the criminal trial has been lost, but the indictment remains:
Mary Parsons, the wife of Joseph Parsons, … being instigated by the Devil, hath … entered into familiarity with the Devil, and committed several acts of witchcraft on the person or persons of one or more.
Ultimately the jury acquitted her, but Mary’s case is seen as a precursor to the Salem Witch Hysteria of 1692.
It’s interesting, to me at least, to ponder the parallels between her story and my mother’s life. Both women were difficult and nonconforming and, by some accounts, mad; both purported to encounter spirits; both were accused of Devil Worship. When I was a child, the Presbyterians and Baptists all but called Mom a Satanist as they showed us the door. The legacy of loudmouthed, intractable women might run back in the other direction, too. By all accounts Mary’s mother Margaret was prickly and litigious, a force among Puritans.
I can’t speak for the rest of the gene pool, but the women in my branch of Mary’s tree are basically all, in different ways, misfits. Eccentricities and diagnosable mental illnesses vary, but the common theme is an unwillingness to bend to the expectations of polite society, a.k.a. a need to pursue our weird interests and passions whenever, wherever, and however we want.
When my incomparable stepdaughter, now 17, was visiting recently, I told her how pathetic I always found it at her age when adults would say, “Can you believe I’m 40? I don’t feel 40! I still feel 22!” And I would look at their eye wrinkles and their dull hair and mom jeans and I would think, Well, you sure do look 40, so suck it up. Jeez. Knowing how obnoxious I was to my mother in my teenage years, I wouldn’t be surprised if I actually said those words to her. I said far worse, that I do know.
Obviously I don’t think 40 is the end of the road—some of my favorite people are closer to twice that. It’s just that some of us age more naturally, more gracefully, more normally than others. I think a lot these days about the fact that I haven’t had children; it’s not that I regret the decision, just that it sets me apart, defines me in some way I’m not sure I was prepared to commit to. I’m a reluctant New Yorker, a loving but irregular wife, a refugee from the practice of law, a blogger who’s lost interest in regular blogging, a critic who never planned to be one and a supposed writer who’s only now finishing her first novel. What the hell, in other words, am I doing with my life?
Before my mom turned 70 last June, we had gone six years without speaking. When I called to wish her a happy birthday, though, we started talking and didn’t want to stop. Her passions are as extreme and unpredictable as always, and sometimes have unfortunate consequences—she sleeps with a shower curtain between her sheets and bedspread so that she doesn’t have to get up in the night if one of her ten dogs has an accident—but they are never boring.
Mom has been a cat hoarder, a bird breeder, a dog rescuer and, of course, a preacher. Nowadays she has turned her attention to fruit trees. My stepfather jokes that she confuses them with sofas because she’s always wanting him to uproot them and move them around. She has 20 apple trees, four apricot, five nectarine, six peach, three cherry, one mulberry, five pear (of four varieties), one plum, a dwarf lemon or two, and four or five elderberry bushes. No doubt this is a sad statement on what one finds interesting at midlife, but I love to hear her talk about them. In fact, at first, my joy at being back in touch with her was so extreme that I would often sit at my computer for the duration of our conversations, quietly typing up everything she said.
“I hit the jackpot last year, as I usually do,” Mom told me last summer. “I went to Kmart in, oh, I guess May or June, and I spied these wonderful dwarf trees that grow to be about six or seven feet tall. They were $50 apiece. I wasn’t about to pay that, but I kept looking at them and looking at them, and they didn’t sell any, so they marked them down to $25, and I bought three, and then they went to $18 and I bought three more, and then they eventually dropped down to $8 and I bought the rest. They don’t give you as much fruit as a great big tree would, but you can’t get the fruit up at the top of a great big tree.” Later, the unseasonable heat had her worried. “I have a whole bunch of grapes. I’ve got thousands of grapes out there, but the leaves that shelter the grapes from the sun are starting to look kind of brown and downcast.” Downcast leaves! This is the way she speaks, bluntly, rhythmically, sometimes poetically. I needed the time away from her, but I also really missed her.
So, does my mother expect to be Raptured up on my fortieth birthday? Does she see me as her wayward lamb, a child out of touch with Jesus who will be Left Behind to endure the Tribulation? Is she, even now, jarring and canning food so that my sister and I will have plenty of pickles, prunes and jams if we can make it down to her house in the midst of the apocalypse? I don’t know.
I do know that she has 40 fruit trees, is obsessed with demons, lives in surroundings more characteristic of Hoarders than Good Housekeeping, is completely self-reliant and seems remarkably happy. Whatever else she is, my mother is living proof that getting older doesn’t predestine anything. And on May 22, 2011, when I awake in Cape Cod with a colossal hangover, all the wrinkles on my face cast into full relief by dehydration, I’m sure that will serve, if not as inspiration exactly, as some sort of consolation.
The Haddad children of Middletown, Md., have a lot on their minds: school projects, SATs, weekend parties. And parents who believe the earth will begin to self-destruct on Saturday.
The three teenagers have been struggling to make sense of their shifting world, which started changing nearly two years ago when their mother, Abby Haddad Carson, left her job as a nurse to “sound the trumpet” on mission trips with her husband, Robert, handing out tracts. They stopped working on their house and saving for college.
Last weekend, the family traveled to New York, the parents dragging their reluctant children through a Manhattan street fair in a final effort to spread the word.
“My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven,” Grace Haddad, 16, said. “At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.”
Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months.
With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.
Kino Douglas, 31, a self-described agnostic, said it was hard to be with his sister Stacey, 33, who “doesn’t want to talk about anything else.”
“I’ll say, ‘Oh, what are we going to do this summer?’ She’s going to say, ‘The world is going to end on May 21, so I don’t know why you’re planning for summer,’ and then everyone goes, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” he said.
The Douglas siblings live near each other in Brooklyn, and Mr. Douglas said he could not wait until Sunday — “I’m going to show up at her house so we can have that conversation that’s been years in coming.”
Ms. Douglas, who has a 7-year-old, said that while her family did not see the future the way she did, her mother did allow her to put a Judgment Day sign up on her house. “I never thought I’d be doing this,” said Ms. Douglas, who took vacation from her nanny job this week but did not quit. “I was in an abusive relationship. One day, my son was playing with the remote and Mr. Camping was on TV. I thought, This guy is crazy. But I kept thinking about it and something told me to go back.”
Ms. Douglas and other believers subscribe to the prophecy of Harold Camping, a civil engineer turned self-taught biblical scholar whose doomsday scenario — broadcast on his Family Radio network — predicts a May 21, 2011, Judgment Day. On that day, arrived at through a series of Bible-based calculations that assume the world will end exactly 7,000 years after Noah’s flood, believers are to be transported up to heaven as a worldwide earthquake strikes. Nonbelievers will endure five months of plagues, quakes, wars, famine and general torment before the planet’s total destruction in October. In 1992 Mr. Camping said the rapture would probably be in 1994, but he now says newer evidence makes the prophecy for this year certain.
Kevin Brown, a Family Radio representative, said conflict with other family members was part of the test of whether a person truly believed. “They’re going through the fiery trial each day,” he said.
Gary Daniels, 27, said he planned to spend Saturday like other believers, “glued to our TV sets, waiting for the Resurrection and earthquake from nation to nation.” But he acknowledged that his family was not entirely behind him.
“At first there was a bit of anger and tension, not really listening to one another and just shouting out ideas,” Mr. Daniels said.
But his family has come around to respect — if not endorse — his views, and he drove from his home in Newark, Del., on Monday night in a van covered in Judgment Day messages to say goodbye to relatives in Brooklyn. “I know I’m not going to see them again, but they are very certain they are going to see me, and that’s where I feel so sad,” he said. “I weep to know that they don’t have any idea that this overwhelming thing is coming right at them, pummeling toward them like a meteor.”
Courtney Campbell, a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University, said “end times” movements were often tied to significant date changes, like Jan. 1, 2000, or times of acute social crises.
“Ultimately we’re looking for some authoritative answers in an era of great social, political, economic, as well as natural, upheaval,” Professor Campbell said. “Right now there are lots of natural disasters occurring that will get people worried, whether it’s tornadoes in the South or earthquakes and tsunamis. The United States is now involved in three wars. We’re still in a period of economic uncertainty.”
While Ms. Haddad Carson has quit her job, her husband still works as an engineer for the federal Energy Department. But the children worry that there may not be enough money for college. They also have typical teenage angst — embarrassing parents — only amplified.
“People look at my family and think I’m like that,” said Joseph, their 14-year-old, as his parents walked through the street fair on Ninth Avenue, giving out Bibles. “I keep my friends as far away from them as possible.”
“I don’t really have any motivation to try to figure out what I want to do anymore,” he said, “because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.”
His mother said she accepted that believers “lose friends and you lose family members in the process.”
“I have mixed feelings,” Ms. Haddad Carson said. “I’m very excited about the Lord’s return, but I’m fearful that my children might get left behind. But you have to accept God’s will.”
The children, however, have found something to giggle over. “She’ll say, ‘You need to clean up your room,’ ” Grace said. “And I’ll say, ‘Mom, it doesn’t matter, if the world’s going to end!’ ”
She and her twin, Faith, have a friend’s birthday party Saturday night, around the time their parents believe the rapture will occur.
“So if the world doesn’t end, I’d really like to attend,” Grace said before adding, “Though I don’t know how emotionally able my family will be at that time.”
The Reverend Camping of Family Radio explains how you can survive the May 21 Judgement Day.
According to Reverend Camping of California, we need to pick which way we want to go before The Rapture: either profess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, or suffer in agony until October 21, when you will die.
By now, you’ve probably heard about what’s going to happen on May 21st, according to Dr. Camping. If you don’t know, you can get the information here.
According to Reverend Camping, as each part of the world reaches 6 p.m., there will be a tremendous earthquake, like you’ve never seen before, and the earth will open, and allow the dead to rise from their graves. The saved dead along with the saved living will rise into the heavens. The rest of the world will be in agony. There will be more dead than living. Everything will shut down. People will live in terrible conditions until October 21 when God will destroy the Earth. (Putting us all out of our misery) It’s all a bit hard to swallow, but this group is adamant and are spreading the word everywhere. They are not afraid of being ridiculed, they are not just a small cult of people, they are all over the globe.
Bomb shelters won’t help because they’ll probably sink into the Earth, storing supplies might help, if your house is not destroyed in the earthquake. Many people of the world will be gone; doctors, pharmacists, teachers, bus drivers, bankers, grocers, people we rely on could be gone. This will leave the rest of us in a very vulnerable place.
Want to make sure you’re included in the group that gets raptured on May 21 Judgement Day? Reverend Camping says you need to pray hard. Pray for forgiveness, and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Reverend Camping says the Jews won’t be saved, because believing in Jesus is of utmost importance.
If you think you’ll be leaving on May 21, this group will care for your pets while you’re gone.
There will be no rapture on Saturday, May 21st.
And I can’t wait to see how Harold Camping reacts on Sunday when he’s still alive, on this Earth, and in this human body.
That said, let’s talk about a method of persuasion called “social proof.” In Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini describes social proof as follows:
“In general, when we are unsure of ourselves, when the situation is unclear or ambiguous, when uncertainty reigns, we are most likely to look to and accept the actions of others as correct” (p. 129).
We’re familiar with this concept. Should I laugh at this joke? Better wait and see if anyone else laughs first. Should I join a sorority? Better wait and see if one of my friends joins first. Should I subscribe to Belief XYZ? Better wait and see if anyone else subscribes to that belief first.
In one chapter of his book, Cialdini recounts the story of three scientists who joined a doomsday cult (incognito, of course) to study its inner workings back in the 1950′s.
The cult was led by two people: a college physician who was fascinated by UFO and mysticism, and a woman (the researchers’ pseudonym for her was Mrs. Keech) who claimed to be receiving messages from aliens called “The Guardians” via automatic writing. The duo’s teachings, according to Cialdini, were “loosely linked to traditional Christian thought” — especially after one of the aliens revealed itself to Mrs. Keech as the current embodiment of Jesus.
Then, a horrific transmission from one of the aliens: a giant flood was coming to the Earth! Of course, The Guardians had good news as well: they wanted to save the true believers by whisking them away to safety via a flying saucer.
Many of the members were so committed to the cult and to this “end times” scenario that they quit their jobs, gave away their belongings, dropped out of school, and severed connections with non-believers. They informed the public about the impending disaster, but they didn’t actively seek new converts. The press was hard on them; the media mocked their beliefs.
See any similarities here?
When it came time for the UFO to arrive, the three undercover scientists sat with the rest of the cult members waiting for the clock to strike midnight. Everyone sat around quietly with their coats on their laps. They waited. And waited.
And then the clock struck midnight. And absolutely nothing happened.
No UFO had come to save them. No “rapture,” so to speak, before the impending flood. (No flood ever came, either.)
A bit dismayed, the group then went through the following four stages:
1. They examined the prediction again.
2. The leaders “re-iterated their faith” to the group.
3. Everyone contemplated the predicament.
4. One of the leaders broke down & cried.
It seemed as if the group were about to dissolve into embarrassed disbelievers. But that’s not at all what happened.
Mrs. Keech then received another alien transmission and wrote it down on paper: “The little group, sitting alone all night long, had spread so much light that God saved the world from destruction.”
This sentiment placated a few of the cult members, but they needed something else to rationalize the fact that the doomsday scenario for which they’d given up their lives, belongings, and jobs didn’t pan out. So, they went to the media…and sought publicity. Each cult member took turns calling a different media outlet to share the good news: their little group, sitting alone all night long, had spread so much light that God saved the world from destruction!
Why were they suddenly seeking publicity after such an awful failure of prediction? To obtain social proof, Cialdini argues.
“Oddly, it was not their prior certainty that drove the members to propagate the faith; it was an encroaching sense of uncertainty. It was the dawning realization that if the spaceship and flood predictions were wrong, so might be the entire belief system on which they rested…[t]he group members had gone too far, given up too much for their beliefs to see them destroyed; the shame, the economic cost, the mockery would be too great to bear” (p. 127).
Lacking physical proof for their beliefs (in this case, a UFO landing followed by a great flood), the cult’s only remaining hope was to establish social proof for their beliefs. The more people who believed their story of having prevented a great flood, the more validated the cult members would feel about their efforts — and their faulty prediction.
“The greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more the idea will be correct,” Cialdini wrote. That’s the principle of social proof: if so many people believe it, it must be true. Right?
So, back to Harold Camping and the folks who believe in his doomsday scenario: what will he do when the rapture doesn’t happen? How will he (and his followers) rationalize the fact that they’re still alive, on this Earth, and in their human bodies?
Drawing from the cult story above, my predictions are as follows:
1. After the rapture doesn’t happen, Camping and the populace of rapture-ready folks will go through a similar series of four stages: they’ll examine the prediction again (whoops, wrong date?), re-iterate their faith in the rapture, take time to contemplate, and become emotionally distressed.
2. After the rapture doesn’t happen, Camping (or another opinion leader on the subject) will put out a statement that essentially paraphrases what Mrs. Keech had written after the UFO didn’t arrive: “The little group, sitting alone all night long, had spread so much light that God saved the world from destruction”.
3. After the rapture doesn’t happen, Camping and his followers will be strengthened in their beliefs — especially those who gave up their livelihood or property in anticipation of the end. They won’t admit that Harold’s prediction was incorrect — the burden of admitting this will be too much to bear — so they’ll begin to believe more deeply in order to avoid a sense of shame.
4. After the rapture doesn’t happen, Camping and his followers will begin to proselytize more strongly. The social proof that they receive by doing this will make them feel validated and fuel further recruitment.
Only the coming days and weeks will tell, but I can’t be too far off in my predictions. (After all, I’m basing my predictions on science and history, not numerology.)
It’s also worth noting that Harold Camping had previously calculated a definite doomsday for the year 1994, so he’s already used up the “wrong date” excuse before.
Fool me once.
From the beginning of the Christian era until the Protestant Reformation, only one person, Ephraem of Nisibis, in 373 AD preached in one known sermon that,
“For all the saints and Elect of God are gathered, prior to the tribulation that is to come, and are taken to the Lord lest they see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of our sins.”
The doctrine of the Rapture was not heard of again until the Protestant Reformation and the rise of Dispensationalism. In fact, some people believe that the Rapture doctrine was developed to help alleviate some the the problems associated with Dispensationalism, specifically the belief that God deals with Israel and Christians in different ways.
Then 1400 years after Ephraem, there appeared an allusion to the Rapture in a book written in 1788 by a Catholic priest named Emmanuel Lacunza and published in Spain in 1812. John Darby, a Brethren preacher, taught the Rapture doctrine in 1827. The evangelist, William Blackstone popularized Rapture doctrine in his best seller, “Jesus is Coming.” The Rapture doctrine entered mainstream Christianity with its inclusion in the Scofield Reference Bible. There is no real history to the Rapture doctrine until the 1800’s. Is it a newly discovered truth or new error?
How do the most popular Rapture proof texts stand to reason?
37 But as the days of Noe [were], so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,
39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
41 Two [women shall be] grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
This verse emphasizes the unreadiness of the people and the unexpectedness of the Lord’s return. It does not say the the Coming will be quiet, but unexpected. Comparing this verse to the parable of the ten virgins, the five who were unready had the door closed upon them. There was no second chance.
One psychological issue is the deep and understandable desire that all loved ones will be united in heaven. The Rapture doctrine promises a second chance at salvation for those who are left behind. The New Testament, taken as whole, teaches we have only one chance to be saved. Is it possible that “being taken” is the undesirable option, that at the Second Coming, the wicked will be taken and cast into that place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth?” Some may argue that Matthew 13:30, 49 implies the wicked are taken first and righteous are left behind.
I Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
This famous Rapture scripture does not speak of a silent rapture, but a very noisy one. The point of the Thief in the Night parable is that the Lord’s coming is unexpected, not that it would be silent. What does Scripture exactly say about the “thief in the night” analogy?
2 Peter 3:9-12
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives
12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, not quietly but unexpectedly, at which time everything will be destroyed. If everything is gone, how can there be seven more years of life on Earth?
Some Christians believe that Christians need to “speed its coming.” One of the problems with the Fundamentalist interpretation of verses such as this, especially references to the destruction of the earth, is that some believe Jesus will come back when as a certain former Secretary of Agriculture famously said, “The last tree is destroyed.” There are Christians who believe the earth was given to humans for humans to use as they please and even destroy. Such a philosophy totally contradicts the charge of stewardship God gave and changes the connotation of the word “dominion” from “responsible” to “rapacious.”
1 Corinthians 15:52
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
“(Christ) shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.”
In some sermons these are Rapture verses, and in other sermons, even by the same preacher, they are Second Coming verses. It is not possible for verses to interchangeably support different doctrines depending on the purposes of the preacher. It is also not necessary for there to be a Rapture to fulfill these verses. It is quite possible that we will be changed at one Second Coming independent of a Rapture.
27 For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.
28 For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
How does this verse describe the Rapture? It is impossible to reconcile this description with the notion of a silent coming to gather the elect. In fact, the Rapture doctrine has so many contradictions that it is necessary to imagine two Second Comings in an effort to reconcile the obvious problems. In almost 2000 years of diligent Bible study nearly no one has detected the Rapture doctrine and no one read into Scripture two Second Comings. Because the Rapture theory requires belief that Christ will visit the Earth not once more — but twice — it’s important to note that the New Testament speaks of Christ’s return in the singular only. Those scriptures offered in support of the Rapture do not require a rapture for their fulfillment.
The Rapture doctrine is popular in the United States, but is not nearly so emphasized in other parts of the world. Why would this be so? Do other churches lack teaching? Or perhaps in the prosperous United States, Americans crave the comfort of the Rapture doctrine. It may be significant to note that the 19th century was America’s “gilded age” when Americans believed the US was on the verge of creating a scientific and technological paradise on earth.
David B. Currie, in his book, Rapture: The End-Times Error That Leaves the Bible Behind summarizes the psychological danger of rapture theology.
“the belief system of rapturists allows them to take a certain comfort in the face of evil. For when things really deteriorate into chaos, they expect to be
safely tucked away in Heaven. There is a problem with this approach to life, however. It may comfort the person witnessing suffering, but it does absolutely nothing positive for the person experiencing the suffering. This theology is appealing only as long as the pain is someone else’s.”
He summarizes this criticism with the strong, but warranted, assertion: “Quite simply, the rapturist system contains no Cross.” He also points out that rapturists largely (if not completely) ignore the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., an event so significant that to ignore it is to guarantee incorrect interpretations of vital Scripture passages. “These rapturists refuse to even consider the events of 70 A.D. as a key to understanding any prophecies of the Bible because the events themselves are not enumerated in Scripture,”
Currie points out. “It is almost as though these events did not even occur. Therefore, they are left grasping for a still-future fulfillment.”
Another observer notes, “The Rapture relieves humans of thinking about more than themselves. If one does some particular thing (a good work, something opposed to Martin Luther’s thinking) like believing a particular thing, that person will be swept harmlessly away from all difficulty. Clearly this isn’t Luther’s theology of the cross. ”
The Rapture doctrine is likely not correct. Proponents of the Rapture doctrine, in the face of criticism, often fall back on circular reasoning such as, “I believe in the Rapture because it is what I want to believe.” So we must consider the next question; Is the Rapture doctrine dangerous? Some say No, because as long as we conduct our lives with trust in and obedience to the Lord, even if the Rapture doctrine is wrong, we will be on the right side at the end. Others say the Rapture doctrine is quite dangerous as it encourages some to hasten the Day of the Lord by promoting certain policies such as:
1. We don’t need to take care of the earth since it won’t be around much longer anyway.
2. Going to war in the Middle East is a good thing if it helps bring on Armageddon sooner.
3. We don’t really need to educate our children since they won’t be around to benefit from that education.
4. We don’t have to take care of the poor since the end is near anyway.
People who thought this way were once dismissed as being part of the lunatic fringe. But today, these people can be found among NeoCons influencing public policy.
Why are so many people who believe in the Rapture so unwilling to consider that such a belief might be false? Why the psychological investment in a belief that has nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation?
One of today’s most prevalent end-times beliefs surrounds the idea of the “rapture” — but is it actually biblical?
Ever since the end of the American Civil War, a large portion of American Christians have grabbed hold of John Nelson Darby’s idea of the “rapture,” where true believing Christians will simply disappear from this earth while the rest of humanity undergoes a time of great tribulation under the rule of the anti-Christ. Understandably, this idea of “escapism” was extremely appealing after a nation had just undergone four years of the worst bloodshed and death in American history. Yet, the biblical support for this idea is somewhat shaky.
The Rapture is in Revelation, Right?
Wrong. There is no mention of the rapture anywhere in the book of Revelation. Author Hal Lindsey (Late Great Planet Earth) suggests that the rapture occurs when the angelic guide says “Come!” to John and whisks him through the heavenly door to witness “what must soon take place.” Lindsey backs up this theory by pointing out that the word “church” never again appears in the rest of Revelation—hence, the church must no longer be present. While this is certainly one theory, there are also many theological problems with this assertion.
The first one is simple common sense. Why would God remove his witnesses from the earth at a time when their testimony and witness is needed the most? Christian witness in the face of trial is how God spreads the Gospel of Christ to create faith in those who hear it.
Second, regarding Lindsey’s assertion that the church is not mentioned again, the “saints” are still quite prevalent. Additionally, churches are referred to as “lampstands” in the first chapter, and lampstands are referenced later on in Revelation in the form of “two witnesses” (Rev. 11) Given Revelation is a book that is filled with symbolic imagery, these two witnesses are no different. Two is the number necessary for a claim in court to be considered truthful (Deut. 19:15). Since the “church” is Christ’s witness here are on earth, it seems logical that the lampstands/witnesses are the people of God bearing witness to the power of Christ in the manner of the prophets of old.
So Where Does This Idea of the Rapture Come From?
It’s pulled from two texts in the New Testament: Matthew 24:30, 36-44 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16. In Matthew 24:36-44, it speaks of two people working side-by-side, one is taken the other is not. This has been interpreted to mean that people will literally just vanish into thin air. However, when we think about what Jesus’ original hearers would have thought when he said this, this interpretation seems less likely. In Jesus’ day, people who were “taken” by the Romans were usually taken to be interrogated, imprisoned, judged, and/or executed (similar to Nazi Germany where people just “vanished” because they were taken by the Gestapo). Plus, the context of this passage is in reference to it being like the flood, where people were swept away, or taken, by the flood. Thus, Jesus’ hearers would have seen the one left standing as the more preferable of the two.
Yet, even if the intent is that being taken is the more preferable, the point of the story is about the “coming of the son of man” does not suggest that the people will first disappear for seven years prior to that coming. As for 1 Thessalonians (similar to Matt. 24:30) which talks of the great trumpet blast, all the dead being raised, and those who are still living being caught up in the air with Christ, Paul makes no reference to there being people who are “left” to suffer a time of tribulation. This statement was made to a group of Christians who were beginning to worry that some were dying, and Christ had not yet returned. Paul was giving them edification that they should not worry, for the dead would actually precede them in joining Christ upon his return. In Revelation, the raising of the dead does not occur until after the “time of tribulation” that all the world will suffer (Rev. 20). Thus, the “rapture” is when Christ returns, raises the dead and puts an end to evil in our world.
Isn’t the Promise to the Church in Philadelphia Proof that the Church will be Raptured and Spared?
The problem with encompassing the entire breadth of God’s faithful people under the church of Philadelphia can be summed up in one word: Smyrna. The church at Smyrna was also a very faithful congregation that Christ held nothing against, yet, they are told they will still suffer at the hands of the ungodly. Throughout the church’s history, this has always been the case—some suffer persecution while others are spared. This is true today as well. Americans have the luxury of not facing death and suffering because of their faith. However, other churches throughout the world are not so lucky. Thus, rather than a rapture that takes a portion of God’s people, it seems more likely that when the tribulation that comes “upon the whole world,” there will still be groups that are protected from the worst of these trials, while others will face the brunt of it.
Revelation is, and always has been, a book that asks the question: who do you belong to? The beastly systems of this world that seek to oppress and distract from God, or to the lamb who was slain in order to set us free? In both John’s day and today, the distinction between the two is not always clear. We need scripture, like Revelation, to open our eyes to the differences so we can clearly discern who it is that we truly belong to.
It is vital that Christians address apocalyptic questions and the proper handling of scriptural texts because there is a powerful sense of ‘an end’ right now in our culture, declared the Rev Dr Barbara R. Rossing
A leading scholar has said that the end-times rapture theology propagated by many fundamentalist Christian groups, and said to be an influence within the Bush White House, is unbiblical and basically “nuts”.
It is vital that Christians address apocalyptic questions and the proper handling of scriptural texts because there is a powerful sense of ‘an end’ right now in our culture, declared the Rev Dr Barbara R. Rossing at the Trinity Institute’s 37th national theological conference on 23 January 2007.
Dr Rossing, who is professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, is the author of ‘The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in The Book of Revelation.’ She has lectured, preached, and published widely.
This year’s gathering, offered by Trinity Church in Wall Street, New York, concludes on 24 January.
In her presentation, Rossing said that the “whole notion of apocalypse, of catastrophic future scenarios and end times is so prominent on our culture radar screen these days.”
The controversial new Christian video game, ‘Left Behind: Eternal Forces,’ invites players to “command your forces through intense battles across a breathtaking authentic depiction of New York City; recover ancient scriptures and witness spectacular angelic and demonic activity as a direct consequence of your choices,” she said.
Professor Rossing added: “Ads for the game online show gun-wielding soldiers marching here in New York City, helicopters floating overhead and people being killed all accompanied by the music of ‘Amazing Grace’.”
She asked, “is this how ‘God’s Unfinished Future’ is about to end – right here in New York as ancient scriptures come to life? No, I think this theology is nuts and that we must say no to the ‘Left Behind’ fictional version.”
However, faced with global climate change, depletion of the supply of oil, escalating violence from wars around the world, the threat of nuclear weapons, and the pain of those who are being left behind in today’s globalize economy, Professor Rossing said saying “no” was not enough.
She continued: “If apocalypse means revealing, then the question for us today is what curtain did Hurricane Katrina pull back? What does it reveal? What do other events unveil for us?” she asked. “Whether the accelerating melting of Greenland’s ice, the war in Iraq, or 9/11 and its aftermath, how do we read these signs of the times?”
Professor Rossing quoted at length an October 2005 column by Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, entitled ‘A Separate Peace.’
The column suggested that the world’s people may be living at the end of something. In the article Noonan said that she and some friends were discussing the sheer number of things that parents buy for teenage girls – bags, earrings, and shoes. Some describe it as affluence, but Noonan said “it’s also the fear that parents have that we are at the end of something and that they want their kids to have good memories.”
Noonan wrote that there’s an unspoken subtext in national culture right now; a subtext to society. People are carrying around in their heads an unarticulated and, in some cases, unnoticed sense that the “wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is coming off the tracks and it won’t be fixed anytime soon.”
Noonan asked: if this sense is correct, how are people dealing with it on a daily basis? She surmised that those who hadn’t a clue just kept life moving but those who realized that something was askew, maintained the line of thinking of “I’ve got mine, you get yours.”
“As Christians, that cannot be our message,” said Professor Rossing.
“We need to read the Bible for the future; for the end of the world, said the New Testament scholar. We can learn from early Christians and New Testament communities about how to live in hope for the future.”
Not about the Rapture, but I love this Julia Sweeney one-woman show:
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 1-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 2-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 3-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 4-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 5-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 6-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 7-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 8-13
Julia Sweeney – Letting Go of God Part 9-13