The Rapture Trap

Well it’s Monday and it looks like we’re all still here.  The predicted Rapture event failed to occur, and now Harold Camping is scrambling to come up with an excuse.  While it’s tempting to revel in this man’s exposure as a con artist, we should temper our enthusiasm just a little bit.

For one thing, though we all knew that the rapture would not be occurring because, well, there won‘t be a rapture (also see Carl Olson’s excellent book on the topic), there will be a final day of judgment.  It could very well have happened on Saturday, and it may happen next week.  Or next year.  Or a billion years from now.  We simply don’t know when the final hour will be at hand, and if nothing else maybe this story can remind us to live our lives in anticipation for Christ’s second coming.

Moreover, though Camping deserves much of the scorn heaped upon him, we should remember that there are people who were taken in by this fraudster and who gave up everything because they truly believed that the end was nigh.  Writing at The New Republic, Tiffany Stanley explains why we should not be overly gleeful about this past weekend’s non event.

Here at TNR, we thought about joining the circus. Last week, when we learned that Camping was predicting the apocalypse, I was tasked with spending May 21—the day of the Rapture—with a few of his true-believing followers, who have been filling websites, billboards, and city squares, handing out pamphlets, and generally warning the world to repent. What an amazing story, I thought. I’ll spend time with people who believe the world is going to end, and then be able to watch their reactions when it doesn’t.

But before long, I had second thoughts. First, I ran into some accessibility snags. While the media-friendly end-timers wanted to warn heathens beforehand, they really just wanted to spend their last day on earth surrounded by loved ones, in quiet preparation. Their response to me was something like: Why would you want to follow us around on Saturday? We’re not going to be here anymore. Yes, there was a certain humor to this. But the more I looked into the story, the more it began to turn my stomach to think of spending my Saturday evening in someone’s living room, waiting for that gotcha moment when they realized it was all a lie—leaving me to file a story the next day, poking fun at their gullibility. I decided I couldn’t do it.

She reminds us that there were real people taken in by this scam.

Do the end-timers seem ignorant? Yes. Are they insane? Possibly. But should our reaction to them be chuckling glee or something more like sadness? Pay attention to their individual stories—their willingness to sacrifice everything in anticipation that their earthly lives are over—and I dare you not to feel the latter. Ashley Parker of The New York Times writes about a mom who stopped working, and stopped saving for college for her three teenaged children. One of the kids admitted, “I don’t really have motivation to try to figure out what I want to do anymore because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.” At NPR, Barbara Brown Haggerty reports on a young couple, with a toddler and a baby on the way, who are spending the last of the savings. The wife says, “We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.”

Of course they did all this willingly, and they aren’t completely off the hook for their own gullibility.  But what of the children who must suffer through no fault of their own?

There is one thing in this column that I take just slight issue with.  Stanley writes:

Laughing at religious fanatics is nothing new. And, at some level, there’s nothing wrong with it. But this story didn’t just take off in popularity because people wanted a quick laugh or some insight into a quirky subset of our country. There’s a cruelty underlying our desire to laugh at this story—a desire to see people humiliated and to revel in our own superiority and rationality—even though the people in question are pretty tragic characters, who either have serious problems themselves or perhaps are being taken advantage of, or both.

In a sense she is right.  There’s definitely an element of schadenfreude at work in the reaction to this story, but that’s not the entire explanation.  I believe that there’s a tinge of anti-Christianity in some of the revelry we have seen.  To some, Camping was more than a fringe cultist – he was a typical Christian spreading a crazy belief to his followers.  And if you think I’m exaggerating, you only have to scroll down to the third comment on the story to see what I am talking about.

Yes, yes, it’s my own fault for reading the comments.  It’s TNR – I should know better.  Aside from the general anti-Christian attitude that seeped through more than a few of the comments, there was this gem by “rayward”:

If today’s end-timers are insane, then so are all Christians, for it’s fundamental for a believing Christian that Jesus will return and the elect will rise up to be with the Lord while those left behind will suffer a horrible fate. For a non-Christian, this may seem, well, insane. There is a simple explanation. Paul and the early followers of Jesus (the “Brothers”) had the difficult task of creating a “religion” from the teachings of Jesus, an extremely difficult task since those teachings were not written and He was dead. Thus Paul’s emphasis in his letters (Paul’s letters, not the four Gospels, are the oldest account of Jesus, though Paul never actually met Jesus) on the divinity of Jesus rather than His teachings. And what better proof of His divinity than He would come again on Judgment Day. Paul’s method obviously worked. The emphasis on the divinity of Jesus has ebbed and flowed over time. The Founders for the most part emphasized the teachings of Jesus, not His divinity. Thomas Jefferson consolidated the four Gospels in chronological order and excised all such divine references, leaving the teachings of Jesus as the “Jefferson Bible”, a copy of which was given to new Congressmen and Senators until some time in the 20th century; one can buy a copy of the Jefferson Bible from Amazon, which is where I purchased mine. Of course, the Jefferson Bible, and Mr. Jefferson himself, has no place in today’s evangelical Christian churches. For some Christians today, it’s the teachings of Jesus that are central to our (yes, including me) faith. Sure, we believe in the divinity of Jesus (the church is always looking for signs of such blasphemy), but we also believe that He was sent for the primary purpose of teaching us how to live a better and more rewarding life. Indeed, some of us believe that basing one’s Christian faith on fear of the rapture isn’t faith at all.

One is tempted to respond thusly:

But I suppose it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the arguments.  Let’s look at his very first sentence:

If today’s end-timers are insane, then so are all Christians, for it’s fundamental for a believing Christian that Jesus will return and the elect will rise up to be with the Lord while those left behind will suffer a horrible fate.

Bzzzt.  Wrong, try again.  Well, technically the part about it being a fundamental belief for Christians that Jesus will return is true, but the second part is only accurate for a small number of Christians.  The rapture is not at all dogmatic for Catholics and most mainline Protestants.  The idea is essentially confined to Evangelical Christians.

Ray Ward’s (I’m assuming that is his name) “explanation” as to how this belief came about is remarkably muddled.  You see, the idea of a second coming was the only way to convince those early Christian rubes about the divinity of Christ.  Silly old me, I thought that whole rising from the dead thing would have been enough to convince most people of Christ’s divinity.  Luckily Ray here has figured out Paul’s game for us.

The emphasis on the divinity of Jesus has ebbed and flowed over time.

Really?  Seems like it’s been pretty central for roughly 2,000 years, at least among us Catholics.  I don’t think there was a time when we stopped distributing Communion at Mass.

The Founders for the most part emphasized the teachings of Jesus, not His divinity.

This is what’s called a non sequiter.  What do the beliefs of some of our Founders have to do with the overall course of Christian belief in God’s divinity?  I guess Ray was eager to show off his appreciation for Thomas Jefferson, but all he has really accomplished is to demonstrate further why much of what Jefferson ever said or wrote, especially with regards to religion, should be taken with heaping tablespoons of salt.  Sure the Jefferson “Bible” is impressive from a purely historical and perhaps artistic standpoint.  I had the honor of seeing the book at the Smithsonian recently as they worked on preparing it for exhibit, and it’s actually pretty cool.  Jefferson cut out portions of the bible in four different languages and pasted them into a notebook.  It was a remarkable bit of craftsmanship and patience. Of course Jefferson didn’t include all the miracles and all that supernatural stuff, so  Jefferson essentially turned Jesus into a sort of Deepak Chopra for his time, therefore missing the entire point of Christ’s mission.  This is all to say that TJ is to be pitied, not admired for his beliefs.

Of course, the Jefferson Bible, and Mr. Jefferson himself, has no place in today’s evangelical Christian churches.

Once again, that’s to their credit considering that it eliminates the central reason why they (and we) come together and worship on Sunday.  I’m sorry, but I’d have a difficult time giving up my Sundays and all the other time that I devote in the interest of my faith if this was all for some really smart preacher.  Without the Resurrection there is no point to what we do, and therefore Mr. Jefferson’s neat little book should have no place in any of our Churches.

but we also believe that He was sent for the primary purpose of teaching us how to live a better and more rewarding life

So God sent his only begotten Son to be a glorified self-help guide?  This is the central tenet of your faith?

It looks like the rapture enthusiasts aren’t the only one deserving of our pity and prayers.

22 Responses to The Rapture Trap

  • “The Founders for the most part emphasized the teachings of Jesus, not His divinity.”

    Actually no, most of the Founders were conventional Christians. Mr. Ward’s comment was as ignorant on American history as it was on Christianity. Jefferson was attacked as an infidel in the 1800 election because his adversaries realized that was an effective line of attack with the American people although not effective enough to re-elect the dour and charismaless John Adams. Jefferson took care throughout his administration to attend the religious services held each Sunday in the House of Representatives as a result, and kept his religious opinions private while he was President.

  • The Rapture happened all right. Just that no one was up to snuff.

  • It’s funny watching progressive Christians strain mightily to distinguish themselves from those embarrassing orthodox types they refuse to call brethren. You see it a lot over at the Reporter, with one confused columnist insisting on jettisoning the empty tomb to avoid being confused with an evangelical artist who had painted a mural of the Resurrection.

    “Please understand, Fellow Liberal Peers Whose Esteem I Value More Than Faith Itself–I’m not like those folks. I don’t believe in that s–t.”

    Given the rest of his letter, I’m sure [W]ayward’s take on Jesus’ divinity is equally…interesting.

  • Re: “… there won‘t be a rapture …”

    The coming of the Son of man, as referred to in Matthew 24:30, will not be a coming as a thief, as referred to in Revelation 16:15, because of all of the preceding signs in Matthew 24:5-29.

    The “rapture” is mostly defined as referring to 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Is Paul Zummo claiming that 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 will not occur?

  • Face it, for 2,000 years, no one has been able to decipher Revelation, much less the rest of the cryptic passages in the Bible, many filled with ambiguity or mis-translated. The Bible: An old fiddle on which to play any tune. This rapture nonsense, pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib and fun and games with eschatology is further undermining Christianity, which needs no further undermining.

    The Church (Catholic and otherwise) can’t stand too many more bad headlines. Agnostics like me would like to see you guys win one once in awhile. Tell the truth, I was disappointed the rapture, if there is one to be, didn’t occur. It’s time for a do-over.

  • Face it, for 2,000 years, no one has been able to decipher Revelation,

    Actually many smart biblical scholars have been able to offer meaningful insights into Revelation. You just have to read them.

    The Church (Catholic and otherwise) can’t stand too many more bad headline

    Since the Church had nothing to do with this ridiculous tomfoolery, and has been pretty consistent for 2,000 years on its end time theology, I don’t really see why it should be lumped in with people like Camping.

  • “Agnostics like me would like to see you guys win one once in awhile.”

    The victory was won a very long time ago Joe on the cross. As for your agnosticism, a hot house plant historically speaking, derived from the Enlightenment skepticism in Western Europe in the 18th Century, get back to us after it has been around for 2000 years like the Church.

  • Don, I still have hope you believers are right. Here’s what Evelyn Waugh wrote, which haunts me every day:

    “The Roman Catholic Church has the unique power of keeping remote control over human souls which have once been part of her. G.K. Chesterton has compared this to the fisherman’s line, which allows the fish the illusion of free play in the water and yet has him by the hook; in his own time the fisherman by a ‘twitch upon the thread’ draws the fish to land.”

  • Since the Church had nothing to do with this ridiculous tomfoolery, and has been pretty consistent for 2,000 years on its end time theology, I don’t really see why it should be lumped in with people like Camping.
    ==================================
    Paul, I realize Catholics in the main have nothing to do with Camping and his ilk. I was referring in a larger sense to the sex scandals and other internecine feuds harming the Church’s image in recent decades. I agree with Don that any institution that survives for 2,000 years must have some cred, and that the Founder remains the centerpiece of much of the human race is in itself a miracle.

  • Once a Catholic always a Catholic Joe. The late comedian Jackie Gleason when asked his religion would always say “Bad Catholic”. He once stunned the audience in a light-hearted talk show in the Seventies by responding to the question what he wanted more than anything else by saying “Eternal Salvation”. The host was taken aback by this and asked him, “Really?” Gleason said he couldn’t understand anyone wanting anything more than that. Gleason and most of the Ten Commandments were not on friendly terms during his life, to say the least, but he received the Last Rites on his deathbed, and I am sure he got what he wanted more than anything else.

  • Don, I still watch Bishop Sheen on EWTN regularly and have most of his old tapes and he was on the other night talking about “the ages of man.” He talked about how everything in the world has a purpose or goal, except that man sometimes cannot figure out what his is. He told a parable, which he was so good at, at seeing a worm in the mud and a bird with a broken wing in the mud. He said he didn’t feel sorry for the worm because that was its destiny; but for the bird, he felt sorry because the bird’s purpose in life is to fly. This struck me as quite profound.

    One thing that I keep going back to is Jesus washing the feet of his disciple as an act of humility. How is it that the God of the universe could stoop so low? To me this is the most profound act in all of history, and I ponder it constantly without understanding.

  • Joe,

    The answer is Love.

    Stop trying to figure out mysteries and simply talk to the Author Himself and ask Him for understanding.

    The end of the world is coming so get ready. Soon, whether alone or with the whole world we will face our Judge. It is better to beg for His Mercy now, tomorrow may not come. That is about all anyone needs to know about the end.

  • Knight, I have but get no answers after nearly 70 years of asking. My last words, if I get a chance to say them, will be: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.”

  • I have to say that among the non-religious I have encountered on the internet, Joe is the most sincere in seeking to find God. My prayer is that you find Him, Joe.

  • Joe,
    Every night as I lay down to sleep I recite the Act of Contrition — short version. “Jesus, mercy.”

  • Thanks, Paul. I appreciate support from any and all quarters.

  • I feel very sad for these people.

    I suspect that those who are nourished, whose relationships are good, whose career is satisfying, whose spiritual life is alive and genuine, who have enough money to pay the bills with a bit left over for modest treats and charities, did not fall for this snake oil.

    Life is hard for many. When someone like Camping promises that soon the suffering flock will be lifted into heaven to be forever with The Lord, leaving all that other crap behind, the lure is too tempting.

    And now they also must live with disappointment. Pray for them.

  • Author: Joe Green
    Comment:
    Knight, I have but get no answers after nearly 70 years of asking. My last words, if I get a chance to say them, will be: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.”

    Joe, you are wiser and closer to the Truth than you know. God always answers, even when He is silent. The miscommunication is ours, not His. I know where you are – I was there for a very long time. I thought God did not exist and that Jesus was a nice, social reformer. Yet Jesus was always attractive and one day I asked Who He really was and He told me – I AM. I began to realize that He talks, I don’t listen. The problem is knowing how to listen to Jesus, to actually hear God speak to your heart. Even when I came back to the Church, I came to understand so that I can believe. Jesus told me just as He told St. Thomas, blessed are those who believe without seeing.

    Once I gave Him my assent of faith, He began to give me understanding, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I used to think, in materialist temporal mode, that understanding preceded belief. In reality, faith precedes understanding. Even now, my understanding is limited, but when I allow the Spirit to speak to me, I gain more understanding. The scales do not fall from us in an instant, God works with us, where we are – He is patient and will not give us or ask from us more than we can handle. He is Mercy.

    Before I realized that I was Catholic, I was fascinated with the Apocalypse and became enthralled with the cutesy, superstitious end times ideas of evangelicals. The Book of Apocalypse was especially fascinating. Kind of odd for an unbeliever. Now that I look back, I realized that God was speaking to me where I was and drew me forth. Now I understand that the Apocalypse describes the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, among other things. I went from thinking it was comic book about the end of the world, to knowing that it is the rubrics of the highest form of human worship of the Almighty. God is speaking to you now, try to listen to Him and open your heart so He can fill you.

    I am sure you are in all of our prayers.

  • Joe,

    I suspected it all along. You are a better man than I.

    That includes everyone else here. I have more cause for contrition than any one of you.

    I have until next Wednesday to do my Easter Duty.

  • Knight, Shaw & All Catholics: I’m glad that God has answered your prayers and that you have found peace and certainty. I cannot yet find that place though, Lord knows, I have tried.

    Remembering the Parable of the Sower, Who dropped seed on the path and it fell on rocky, thorny ground (me) and not the good earth (you) where it grows and yields much fruit. Because I cannot “truly understand,” the seed will not take hold.

    Now, also recalling Pascal’s Wager, I will bet there is a God, having a 50-50 chance, which at this point is the extent of my “faith.” A poor substitute for the real thing, but it’s at least something to cling to.

  • Joe that is a pretty big mustard seed you’ve got there.

Follow TAC by Clicking on the Buttons Below
Bookmark and Share
Subscribe by eMail

Enter your email:

Recent Comments
Archives
Our Visitors. . .
Our Subscribers. . .