Gee, I’m so surprised. I’m still here. According to a well-fueled media wave, the Biblical Rapture was supposed to happen at 6:00 p.m. yesterday, May 21.
Jesus was supposed to come back and spirit away a few million of the most faithful and thus signal the beginning of Armageddon, which was to culminate in Doomsday on Oct. 21 this year.
Well, I’m still here, so I guess that means I’m not one of the “faithful.” That’s a big “duh,” I suppose. We’ll all have a lot more fun with those people gone. You suppose there’s going to be a wave of missing persons reports? Somehow, I think not.
Since I don’t subscribe to the Religious Wacko Newsletter, I had no idea that the End Times were upon us yet again until a few days ago, when I saw some stories in the media.
So where did all this come from? From an ex-civil-engineer named Harold Camping, president of the Family Radio Christian network. He of course claimed the Bible as his source, saying that “beyond the shadow of a doubt” May 21 would be the Day of Judgment. It was to begin at 6 p.m. New Zealand local time, with the Rapture sweeping the globe time zone by time zone. Approximately 3% of the world’s population would be ‘Raptured’. (In all fairness, I’m sure there are plenty of Christian groups who thought he was a whackjob too. Maybe because he made the same prediction in 1994. )
So what happened to kick off the Last Hurrah? What catastrophic events launched the Great Cataclysm?
A volcano erupted.
So what makes this different from all the other Doomsday cults? The fact that it’s based in Christian mythology? What’s the difference between saying “The aliens are coming to take us to the Mothership” and “Jesus is coming to take us home”?
Because more people believe in Jesus as their personal imaginary friend? He can’t be your personal savior. Don’t you all know that Jesus is alive and back on Earth, and running a church in Florida? Oh, and he’s Cuban.
I suppose since Mr. Camping has been wrong twice, he’ll once again rationalize that he must have done the math wrong (as if there can be any math at all associated with the Bible), so if he lives long enough maybe he’ll come up with another date 16 years from now. He’s 89 now. I should point out that his organization’s tax returns indicate the radio ministry raised a staggering $100 million dollars over the past seven years. The ministry also owns 66 radio stations worldwide valued at $72 million in 2009. Donations have soared as well.
Apparently Doomsday is a lucrative business.
My ridiculously jaded cynicism of religion’s altruism aside, what if all this belief in the End Days actually helps bring them about? (But not in the way they think it will happen.) What if all these thousands of people steeped in religion and the Bible (or the Quran as the case may be) believe every single day that, well, Judgment Day could be right around the corner and won’t that be glorious we get to see Grandpa again and we’re all going to go off to Heaven and leave all the pain of this world behind and won’t that be such a welcome relief? What is the result of all this “faith”?
Abrogation of responsibility. We don’t have to worry about the environment if God is going to destroy the world in six months anyway. We don’t have to worry about what we’re going to do with our nuclear weapons, since those nuclear materials (not to mention radioactive waste from our power plants) are going to remain dangerous for several dozen millennia. We don’t have to worry about helping Japan rebuild after the tsunami, since they’re all heathens, and they’re all going to Hell in six months anyway. We don’t have to worry about the mess we’ve left in Iraq, or the fact that a bunch of people in the Middle East still hate the West (exemplified by the U.S.) and everything it stands for. We don’t have to worry about developing new sustainable sources of energy. We don’t have to worry about teaching our kids about anything but the Bible (in spite of all its glaring contradictions), because science is too hard (oh, and conflicts with the Bible) and the overwhelming observable evidence is too difficult to understand.
What if we’re so sure that Jesus is coming that we don’t have to worry about any problems here and now? If huge chunks of our population believe safeguarding the environment is a waste of time, might this not help bring about a different kind of apocalypse?
Apparently taking responsibility for our own actions is too hard.
It’s too hard to think about those things, so we leave it all up to Jesus, and He’ll help me because I have a personal relationship with him.
He’s a mighty powerful imaginary friend.
And because the human brain is somehow constructed to look for narrative, for significance, for meaning, everything, no matter how small, from weather patterns in Tibet to a volcano in Iceland to a few cryptic words in the Bible, which wasn’t even written originally in English, everything looks like a sign from above. All part of God’s grand plan that we are helpless to understand.
I have come to despise the phrase: “Everything happens for a reason.”
On one hand, it’s true. There is a cause and effect and relationship for every single smallest occurrence. A finger pulled the trigger that set off the IED. A negligent driver was busy writing a text that led her to miss that car pulling out and T-boning the car, and killing the mother of three, which traumatized the kids, set the father into a downward spiral of alcoholism that led him to the nice woman he started dating six years later who saved him from suicidal depression but hated the youngest child because he was a brat, and because of the abuse she heaped upon him, the boy did too many drugs, played too much Halo and went into his high school with his pockets full of pistols and pipe bombs, and killed a few classmates, but one courageous young man saved several of his friends by sneaking them out the back door while the gunman wasn’t looking.
Endless chains of invisible cause and unpredictable effect spiraling through every human life.
But that’s not what people mean when they say, “Everything happens for a reason.” What they mean is to ascribe the Hand of God to every event that doesn’t fit the narrative that they believe they see. “Everything happens for a reason,” because that’s the only way their minds than process such traumatic causal dead ends. When that courageous high school hero dies of leukemia in his second year of college, they say, “Huh?” Scratching their heads. “Well, I guess everything happens for a reason.” And then they’ll look for narrative clues everywhere that help their minds explain the reason for that young man’s death.
Because here’s the thing that they can’t face. That it happened because there was a random microscopic flaw in that young man’s DNA, possibly triggered by some random environmental stimulus, which led him to contract leukemia, which ultimately killed him. That’s it.
And that none of the narrative construct, into which we try to shoehorn the random or traumatic events of our lives, has any real meaning at all, except to the inventor of his own narrative.
Here’s what it means: Not A Damn Thing.
Yes, everything does happen for a reason, but it’s not the Hand of God. He doesn’t care who wins football games (or wars, for that matter), or who gets sick and dies, or who loses his/her job. There are reasons for those things, but those reasons usually have little to do with us as individuals or the grand narratives we think we see.
We are in an enormous random system in which Shit Happens (and that’s just with respect to this planet). And we can either get pinged around like a golf ball by random events–blaming God for the bad stuff and praising God for the good stuff, taking no responsibility for ourselves–or we can go about our lives with integrity and purpose, making meaning from our own actions. Not looking for it in the randomness of life. Maybe we should take responsibility for ourselves, and guide our headings with purpose and intent.
Or maybe the Mayans were right, and the world will end next year.