This Could Be the Last Blog You Ever Read …

Laurie and Debbie say:

A preacher in Debbie’s home town of Oakland, California, has done the calculations:

Judgment Day billboard

How often do we get a chance to write a timely analysis of the end of the world?

First of all, end of the world predictions are nothing new. In the Christian framework, they started about 100 years after the death of Jesus, and have reappeared at frequent intervals since then. (More about end times in other monotheistic religions at the link.) For the last few decades, the most popular version has been the Rapture, in which Christian true believers will be bodily translated into heaven, leaving the rest of us to suffer the “Tribulation.”

The current calculation, developed by Harold Camping, is based on extensive numerological calculations, which he corrected after his last prediction in 1994 did not come to pass. We note for the record that Bible Ministries International is announcing the imminence of the moment (including a countdown with a blank “days left”) and is still taking donations. They provide a detailed explanation of why the “no man knows the day or hour” (Matthew 24:36) Bible verse is not applicable.

Two things are especially interesting about the Rapture and the end of the world.

First, for believers, it’s just about the most testable expectation you can commit to. Either the world and you are still around on May 22, and no one has been lifted into Heaven, or things are vastly different. Either way, you’ll know and everyone else around you will know, which isn’t true of most religious and spiritual beliefs. Historically, people who believe in and are expecting the end of the world have been slow to accept that they were wrong. Recalculations, such as this one by Harold Camping, are common. But after a recalculation also fails, the specific movement tends to dissipate, with believers following other paths. It must be extremely painful to devote your life to such a concrete prediction and have it not happen.

The current conception of the Rapture has both Biblical and American colonial roots, but has gained popularity and traction in the U.S. in the last forty years. As many as four in 10 Americans (based on a Pew Charitable Trust survey), whether or not they are expecting to have the world change tomorrow, fully expect to either be lifted into heaven (if they have been faithful enough) or left on Earth for the horrors of the end times within the next fifty years.

As noted by people brought up in Rapture-believing families, this is a terrifying image to a child: an extremely specific and detailed way to codify every child’s fears that their parents and way of life will disappear. One commentator Debbie heard years ago was talking about his every-day worry that he would get home and his parents and all the adults he knew would be Raptured but he–not good enough–would be left completely alone, homeless and without support. Used this way (and of course not all believers use it this way), the Rapture is an abuse theme: a way to frighten and disempower children, and to terrify them into “being good.”

Also, it’s very possible to use the Rapture as a “get out of Earth free” card; the segments of evangelical Christianity who turn a blind eye to climate change and other earthly troubles, who refuse to engage with the day-to-day and year-to-year problems we all face, often either believe that the problems don’t matter because we won’t be around long enough, or welcome them as signs that the Rapture is nearby.

We expect to still be here on Sunday, without any new or increased signs of the Tribulation. If we’re wrong, good luck to all who are raptured and all who are left behind.