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Saturday, May 28, 2011

The World's End Reimagined

First off, I imagine everyone’s happy that I was able to celebrate my 24th birthday. But it’s been a week since Harold Camping’s failed prediction of the beginning of the end, and he’s already long since initiated his contingency plan, now saying the world will end in October, even though the catastrophic earthquake he said would happen May 21 didn’t occur anywhere in the world. In his own words, it was an “error of interpretation, not of fact,” In short he’s bought himself about 5 months to gather as much profit as he can to spread his Christian message in the meantime. He qualified, however, that his ministry won’t use their time to change their message and warn people that the end is coming conclusively at the new date. Instead, they’re doing everything else to spread the gospel across the U.S., or whatever else they’re doing with what amounts to about 18 million dollars just from 2009 in earnings Some have said Camping is just using these people to amass all this money and it wouldn’t surprise me, though people can do very disturbing and unsympathetic things in the name of some greater good. In the case of our elderly preacher here, he thinks gathering all this money is to a greater good of spreading God’s word, even at the cost of people putting themselves into bankruptcy because they trust in his charismatic teachings about biblical eschatology. It’s that charisma that can make people think Camping might just be a sociopath feigning his religious beliefs in order to manipulate people into giving him money and praise and then just abandoning them to their own devices when things go bad.

He tried to soften the blow of disappointment to his followers by saying that God decided not to make the world suffer with 5 months of tribulation, which is an odd amount of time compared to what seems to be a much longer stretch in Revelation, where he’s no doubt drawing some of his inspiration about Armageddon from. Of course, this could just be more psychological tactics to keep the people following him in spite of such despair. A lot of the followers were apparently not in a huge panic over this, but merely humbled by their own human arrogance to even think that they could predict the end of the world at all. But I wonder if everyone that followed Camping before will continue to do so when he hasn’t exactly succeeded in his message the last time in 1994 and now he has a second failure under his belt. If it were me, I’d probably have developed some stronger skepticism, but then, my mind might be wired differently enough that I wouldn’t have ever conceivably been sucked into this conspiracy. The combination of saying God is merciful and that God is faithful is probably what’s keeping these people from falling into utter despondency after many of them have sold a great deal of their belongings and devoted a good portion of their lives this year with energy that could have been directed towards their families and other more practical affairs compared to this fiasco of biblical numerological superstition. Not to mention there’s the whole reinforcement that your faith must be strong in times of trouble, so people will persist even after bankrupting themselves at times, having isolated themselves from their families for months or more and otherwise wasting their life hoping for the afterlife to come.

Lorenzo DiTommaso, associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Canada, who’s writing a book titled The Architecture of Apocalypticism, says this change in plans for Camping’s warning of God’s impending judgment is not unusual, especially when you consider it’s observable across history that these sorts of movements have caught themselves before they completely crash and reinterpret things as spiritual instead of physical, such as what happened with certain groups that split off from the Millerites after the Great Disappointment of 1844, saying Jesus returned spiritually instead of physically in a flash of clouds and light. I’m curious on that one though, because wasn’t Jesus already in heaven and the spiritual realm by association? So how did he spiritually return, unless you’re referring to the spiritual realm on earth? Maybe they thought Jesus would do some great revival? That technically could be argued to have happened about 40 years or so after the Great Disappointment, called the Third Great Awakening. Resulting denominations from this period included Christian Science and the Holiness movements. This period was at the very least a likely response to the failure of the Millerites and a reinterpretation of Jesus’ second coming to require that people reform the entire earth, which of course meant people had to spread the Gospel with more vigor than they had before. DiTomasso also notes that in these kinds of movements, faith supersedes theory and theory serves only to interpret the evidence. To simplify this, it means that your belief that the end is coming will always override the failures of predictions based on “human” methods, like mathematics and such. And any theory, or model if you will, only serves to reinterpret the evidence as is necessary, such as Camping now saying that his May 21st date was seemingly superfluous or incorrect to begin with and that October 21st is the real final date. The general message seems to be that the spiritual end of the earth was May 21 and that the physical end of the earth is October 21. So if this is indeed Camping’s beliefs, he’s following neatly along with post-Millerite reactions over a century ago; what a concept!

Overall, this doesn’t surprise me, and yet, I wonder what will happen in the far future when October comes and goes and nothing happens at all; no earthquakes, no firestorms, no meteors, nothing at all. Will the date be recalculated a third time or will it just be surrendered to God’s plan and forgiveness will be begged for, because he’s only a lowly human? Either way, I won’t bother myself the least over it, except of course in this brief article. I’d much rather expend my energy on fruitful pursuits instead of worrying about the end of the world creeping up on us slowly over the next billion years or so. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

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