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Sunday, May 22, 2011
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Well, it’s May 22, 2011, the day after Judgment Day. I’m reminded of a scene from the 1983 movie War Games, where US military big-wigs are gathered together watching radar screens showing what might be either a Russian nuclear missile attack on an Air Force base in Maine, or one of Matthew Broderick’s video games gone awry. They get someone from the Maine base on the line and watch the red line converge on him. After the line stops at the base, everyone freezes until the guy up in the boonies shouts out “WERE STILL HERE !!!”.

The END OF DAYS did not come yesterday, despite the famous pronunciations from Christian radio minister Harold Camping and a large group of fundamentalist followers, who were all ready for the rapture. I was rather impressed by the amount of traction and support that Camping gained for his most recent apocalyptic prophecy (he previously forecast that The Big Rapture would happen in September, 1994). I even saw some big ad posters here in northern New Jersey, deep within the most cynical and heathen precincts of the Garden State, warning us that May 21, 2011 was Judgment Day – THE Judgment Day. Whoever put up money to spread the word of Camping’s revelation must believe that there are still some souls here that can be saved. I’m heartened by their faith in us, despite recent shows like Jersey Shore and Mob Wives.

As Biblical history scholar Bard Ehrman says in discussing both ancient and modern apocalyptic movements, “the end keeps coming”. Camping is not the first person to announce a special knowledge of God’s day of Judgment. In Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, Ehrman reviews the popularity of such movements in modern times. In addition to Tim LaHayne’s best-selling Left Behind book series, there was Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and NASA engineer Edgar Whisenet’s 1988 rapture calculation. And back in the 19th Century there was William Miller, a religious farmer from New York State who gained fame by interpreting the Bible to say that the end would come in 1843. There were lots more like him over the centuries, including Joachim of Fiore, a monk from Italy in the late 1100s. Joachim implied that the final year would be 1237, but some of his Franciscan followers later said 1260. Interestingly, Sir Isaac Newton forecast that something apocalyptic could happen in 2060, or maybe 2034. That would give us more breathing room than the Mayan Calendar, with its December 21, 2012 deadline.

So, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it predictions are nothing new. In fact, they go all the way back to the time of Jesus and even before. But of course, Jesus is probably the world’s most famous end-of-the-worlder. Other than the Mayan calendar followers, most modern apocalyptic prophets claim that they are taking care of Jesus’ unfinished business. However, most Christian ministers don’t want anything to do with Judgment Day stuff; here’s an article by the pastor of a 13,000 member Baptist congregation in Dallas saying that “the Doomsday movement harms Christianity”.

I basically agree with Rev. Jeffress contentions, but can’t help note the irony given that eschatological preaching is what put Jesus on the map. Well, that’s my opinion anyway, after reading historical Jesus scholars like Meier, Theissen, Ehrman, Freidriksen, Sanders and Allison. I’m reading a book by Allison right now (Jesus of Nazareth, Millenarian Prophet) that presents a very cogent and detailed case for the apocalyptic Jesus. Ehrman, Allison and other apocalyptic Jesus supporters also make the point that eschatological prophecy becomes more and more popular in times of crisis, change and uncertainty, such as Judea and Galilee experienced under Roman rule in the decades preceding and following Jesus’ life. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that many people in our modern American world, with all its science and heritage of critical thinking, could still swallow the bait put out by the modern rapture prophets. But then again, we are also in very troubled and uncertain times. And when people feel their well-being threatened, the ensuing emotions aren’t all that different from what people of the Nineteenth, Twelfth or First Centuries felt.

Nonetheless, the sun rose today and God has given you and me another day to try to find the truest things in our lives, despite all our fears and uncertainties. If nothing else, I hope that doomsday forecasters like Camping help us all to appreciate the beauty of each day and each moment of life. We’re still here, and it feels good. Let’s try to share the goodness of the moment and make all the world good, regardless of whether the Mayans or Newton or some future Harold Camping are right or not.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:05 am      

  1. Jim, Some years ago there was a movie call “Rapture” (I think that’s the name). It was interesting in that it followed the life of a believer in the “rapture”. People will believe what they believe. Somehow it gives them security? (That’s a question.) It’s also probably comforting to know that one is among those chosen favorites who, for sure, will get into “heaven”, while all the rest of the poor slobs won’t. Did I mention schaudenfreud before?

    I find myself asking the question: What makes people happy at another’s misfortune? Does it make one feel somehow more secure, favored by the universe? Or are people just glad to be mean to one another?

    And then too there are other, less “religious” scares: Remember the 1999 scare of what would happen with all the computers when time “turned over” from 1999 to 2000? Same thing as the “judgment day” thing, only secular.

    Seems to me when my time is up, it’s going to be the “end of the world” for me. And each of us will have our own individual “end of the world.” And perhaps the scholars are right: All this “scare” stuff may be the result of uncertainty in life. But I wonder how really “uncertain” a man who’s 89 can be that his life will end sooner rather than later. I think that’s pretty “certain.” For the rest of us, I guess we will just have to live out our days, however they are numbered. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — May 22, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

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