A rupture in the rapture

The World was supposed to end just the other Saturday, according to a religious crank in America. Most of us never noticed, nor even paused to check our watches. We didn't cancel our subscriptions or ask for refunds.

Someone, understandably anxious, wrote to me on the Cybershrink Forum, asking for advice about the fear she felt arising from this prediction, even though it didn't seem rational to her.

I have written before about Doomsday Cults and end-of-the-world prophecies (cross-reference), and here we go again. Unless I was being unusually unobservant, I seem to have missed the rapture. There should have been dramatic special effects, and the fairly obvious sight of the Chosen Ones rising into the clouds. Maybe there are just no chosen ones in my neighbourhood, so our clouds remained undisturbed.

I waited these few days before commenting publicly, in case I had overlooked the proclamation of a postponement, rather than a cancellation.

For months, Harold Camping of the Family Radio network has been announcing that the end would come on Saturday, May 21, at 6pm. "The Bible Guarantees it" said their website. I checked the website today. It's still there, with the count-down clock stopped at 0 days to go. There is a note: "Please note: We are no longer accepting applications for Project Jonah." Understandably.

They point out that there is no specific biblical passage that says we cannot accurately and precisely foretell the judgement day. Of course, neither is there any specific biblical passage I can find predicting the success of Justin Bieber, or the results of the local Government elections. That needn't make us question reality. It still insists they have "proofs" which "absolutely guarantee" that it will all start on May 21. And that this is "the date Christ will return for his people and begin a period of the final destruction of the world." The actual end of the End, in a global fireball, was apparently due on October 21 this year.

But this should still have been a busy week for us, starting with a major earthquake that would throw open all graves, then a world of horror and chaos until that total destruction in October. The Rapture would begin, with all born-again believers rising into the clouds with Christ, leaving the unbelievers to damnation. It would, seemingly, happen rather suddenly, with the good guys scooped up in the middle of whatever they were doing. You had to hope that your pilot, surgeon or bus driver was not one of the chosen.

The website has a response to the question "what if nothing happens", beginning: "The Biblical evidence is too overwhelming and specific to be wrong." "There is no longer any question". They unconvincingly explain why all previous predictions have been wrong:  apparently new information has been discovered since then.

They also explain that Mr Camping's previous false prediction of The End in 1994, even though he presumably had the new information, was due to a maths error. Well, that could happen to anyone.  

According to a CNN report, a wide variety of people got caught up in this latest daft prediction. "They walked away from work, families and communities in places as far-flung as California, Kansas, Utah and New Jersey. Among them were an electrician, a TV satellite dish installer, a former chef, an international IT consultant and a man who had worked with the developmentally disabled."

There was even, inevitably, an i-phone app, a Rapture Detector, which claimed it'd give you 10 minutes warning (I'm not sure whether it advised how best to spend those minutes ). Perhaps playing a celestial version of Angry Birds?

I was wondering whether I had mistaken which time zone's 6 pm would signal the kickoff, but then found Mr Camping said it would be a sort of rolling End, starting at precisely 6 pm local time, wherever you were. I suppose a staggered Rapture would avoid clumping and crowding in the clouds.

Maybe I shouldn't have expected all my expectations to be met.

It'll be interesting to see how believers respond to the non-event. Early reports are that they feel there was a slight miscalculation somewhere, but that they still expect an imminent Rapture. And predictably, as in all other false alarms, some said this was a postponement meant to test their faith, and perhaps the delay was even caused by their degree of faith.

Already there are a number of other eager seers announcing alternative dates. Those of us who prefer to believe rather than to be right, may seize on any of these which suit us.

Family Radio had reportedly been receiving tens of millions in donations, to add to their over 100 million dollar endowment. If they truly believed the End was so nigh, I really wonder why they would have bothered to gather so much loot. Unless their bank has a special celestial branch office. Such are the false profits of false seers.

Of course we took some precautions. I further delayed migrating to Windows 7. And postponed starting my latest diet. For some tasks, any excuse will do.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, Health24, May 2011)

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