If you’re reading this, we’re all still here

As I write this, the jury’s still out; but if you’re reading this, the Rapture didn’t come on Saturday, and we’re all still here. Another bullet dodged. Phew.

Or, to my eternal surprise, the Rapture did come on Saturday, and you’re not reading this because, although I’m still here, you’re one of the lottery winners, and you’re up in the bleachers watching the show.

You needn’t say a prayer for me, because it’s too late now, isn’t it? Besides, if you’re like many of your uprisen friends, you have no sympathy for me because you told me so, and I wouldn’t listen, so I’m getting what I deserve. Hallelujah, and pass the guacamole.

If we’re all still here, then you may be in full-Festinger free fall, thrashing through your dissonance with whatever means are at your disposal. Unfortunately, unlike Festinger’s original subjects, you can ‘t convince yourself that it’s your steadfast belief that has granted the world a second chance. The whole point of the Rapture, unlike the alien destruction almost visited on us in the 1950’s, is that it’s not to be seen as a pending disaster but as a long-awaited deliverance. It’s hard to do anything twisty and self-congratulatory with this “reprieve.” Festinger’s subjects used the failure of their prophecy as a recruiting tool — the more believers we have, the more chances we’ll get. You can’t do that this time — we all believed, and nothing happened, so you should believe, too.

OK, before anyone cranks out a few hundred choice words of outraged condemnation, I know and freely admit that the number of people who really, truly thought that the Rapture was going to come on Saturday was pretty small, and it didn’t include any of those religionists who expect the End Times but are too smart or too sophisticated to make silly predictions of precise dates. After all, if the foreign policy of the Bush II cohort couldn’t make it happen on command, what chance do we have?

Still, it’s fascinating stuff, this Armageddonizing. To do it successfully, you have to find some way to keep moving the goal posts when your team doesn’t score. It’s like the ID arguments against evolution. Every time something that “could never be explained by science alone” is explained by science alone, creation advocates move their God to the next gap, with nary a “sorry, my mistake.”

“The End Is Nigh” believers have always been easy to parody, as any history of one-panel comics quickly shows. How can one not make fun of such inspired understatement as this observaton by one of the convinced, reported by NPR:  “Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans.” I bet it does, at that! Unfortunately, the young woman who made the comment has recently withdrawn her med school application and given away all of her money — and is spending her last few days handing out rapture pamphlets in Orlando. It’s so tempting to make a joke about rapture pamphleteering in Orlando, of all places!

But it could be worse, as reported in the New York Times on Friday. How would you feel if you were a sixteen-year old girl and your own mother just out and told you, “Sorry, dear, but you’re not going to heaven with your father and me on Saturday. And by the way, we’ve stopped saving for your college fund, since you won’t be needing it”?

“My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven,” Grace Haddad, 16, said. “At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.”

Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months.

The choice of May 21, 2011, comes from an “inspired” interpretation of Holy Scripture, as revealed to Reverend Harold Camping. Camping’s original prediction was that the world would end in 1994, but he’s since recalculated. In other words, he moved the goal posts. Stay tuned for the new date, if needed, to be announced some time after Saturday.

Here’s how Camping calculated the incorrect/correct (you know which one to circle by now!) date of the Second Coming:

Thus Holy God is showing us by the words of 2 Peter 3:8 that He wants us to know that exactly 7,000 years after He destroyed the world with water in Noah’s day, He plans to destroy the entire world forever. Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgmentwhich will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.

Amazingly, May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the 2nd month, in the year 4990 B.C.

That 17th day of the 2nd month bit is pretty amazing, all right. This guy’s not kidding. He really believes this stuff! Of course, like all claims based on revealed text, the case for May 21, 2011,  is entirely gratuitous. First, you have to accept that the Bible is the unerring word of God (except where it errs, in which case you’re showing imperfect faith by noticing). Then, you have to accept that God gave his Word not to the whole world, in plain language, but in coded messages to an enlightened few in the small clans to whom the Bible was revealed. And not even to all of them — it takes wise men to interpret the secrets hidden in the text. Sounds like a pretty cushy gig — where do I sign up?

What’s always struck me as a particularly hard fact to fend off for believers is that their religion, whatever it is, is just one of thousands of religions and creeds and faiths and belief systems, both historical and contemporary. That means that their version of the origins and fate of the world is pretty localized — in time, if not in geography. Even the “great monotheisms” go back only a few thousand years. And the first, Judaism, wasn’t even revealed to the whole world, but only to a small group of semi-nomadic herders in the most rural part of a desert. Not very media savvy for the final word on the final days, if you ask me.

Anyway, to get back to the present point. If you accept all of the requirements to just believe, and damn him who asks for the evidence; and you accept Rev. Camping’s math; and you aren’t uncomfortable with the “little tribe in the desert” problem — you must be pretty disappointed about now. (That, or feeling pretty damn smug, if you took Pascal’s advice, and it worked!)

Still, what do I know? I’m just one of those whose “just desserts” immolation (or stinging torment, or whatever it was I suffered) was a moment’s diversion for the cloud-borne tailgate party. Or was it? What if we’re all still here? I’m not surprised, but you may be very annoyed, after all that hype and anticipation.

But there’s another big fireworks chance coming soon, so don’t lose heart. The Mayans, not Christians but pretty seriously religious in their own right, if their ritual treatment of captured enemies is any indication, apparently pointed the bloody finger to December 21, 2012.

That’s not so very long to wait, now, is it?

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