I certainly hope I did not offend anyone with my rather lighthearted look at this phenomenon of end-time predictions. Obviously, I was not raptured yesterday… I kind of feel like Charley the Tuna. I was left behind because I wasn’t good enough to be spiritually star-kissed. Apparently I am in the best of company. There have been no news reports of anyone, anywhere on this planet being raptured. Another piece of news might dishearten Harold Camping and his followers… there have been no reports of unusual earthquake activity anywhere on earth.
Of course Camping and others might be a few days off in their predictions. But as far as I am concerned, every minute that goes by after midnight on May 21, 2011 is another nail in the coffin of religious zealousness. The kind of religious zeal exhibited by Camping-like believers causes them to disregard science, reason, and fact. My wife, Carol, likes to say they focus attention on the map instead of the destination.
The map I refer to, of course, is the Bible. According to these neo-Calvinists, the King James Bible is the inerrant word of God. That said, it must be taken literally in some instances, and allegorically in others. Of course only they have the correct key to understanding how to interpret what is literal and what is allegory. Their God put snares and traps in the Bible to throw off people He did not wish to interpret His word correctly. They believe God took nearly a thousand years to dictate the books of the Bible, and that God stopped communicating with us after that. Instead of talking directly to humanity over all this time, God started putting into place a “Salvation Plan”. That plan includes saving just a few people, called “The Elect”, from his wrath. Oh yes, and to add an even stranger twist to the Calvinistic view, God “elected” those he would save before the world was created. As for the rest of us poor creatures, well we are just like vermin that need to suffer in the fires of hell for not believing that particular version of the Gospel.
My opinion is that if the writers of the Bible knew what we know now about our place in this vast universe with its statistically uncounted numbers of other life forms – if they knew about the obvious evolutionary processes in the cosmos, its age and composition, and the quirky realities of the quantum realm – then they would have been inspired to create an entirely different kind of theology. I doubt they would concoct a story that is so earth-centered as to predict the destruction of the entire universe on October 21, 2011 simply because we human beings pissed God off.
Science and fact go right out of the window for the neo-Calvinists. They simply do not believe the earth is more than 13 thousand years old. They scoff at sciences such as carbon dating, geology, and astronomy that prove otherwise, as having no basis in the Bible, and therefore being only conjecture. The fact that neo-Calvinists were so wrong about Judgment day being May 21, 2011 should be a “teachable moment”, but sadly, it will not be because we human beings have a deep psychological need to make predications about our collective demise.
Apocalyptic groups, like Harold Camping’s Family Radio syndicate are not new. Look at the rhetoric of the Millerite movement and of Hal Lindsey, for examples. According to Stephen O’Leary, a researcher on religious communication at the University of Southern California, both of these narratives utilize the “social knowledge base that enables apocalyptic movements to appeal occasionally to a wider audience.” For example, the Millerite movement that drew in thousands of members in the 1830s and 1840s utilized the socially accepted premise that the Bible is divine authority; it needed no additional argument. O’Leary shows how the “Great Disappointment” of October 22, 1844, that occurred when William Miller’s prediction of the end did not occur, and how that contributed to general social knowledge. Following this event groups that predict dates for the apocalypse generally do not appeal to the mainstream public. As a result, the evangelical apocalyptic espoused by Hal Lindsey never actually specified a date for the end. Lindsey only suggested the immanence of the end due to “signs” that cause the public discomfort. What makes Camping so unusual is that he boldly stated a definite date, not once, but twice. Just in case anyone is paying attention, the last time was somewhere between September 15 -17 in 1994.
In an article in the Spring 2010 edition of the Journal of Psychohistory entitled “The Psychology of Apocalypticism”, Katharine Boyd and Charles Strozier wrote, “The apocalyptic is an inherent part of a larger psychological construct, the fundamentalist mindset. This mindset, wherever it occurs, includes, in addition to an apocalyptic orientation, dualistic thinking; paranoia and rage within a group context; a relationship toward charismatic leadership; and a totalized conversion experience.”
Strictly speaking, “apocalypse” is the transliteration of the Greek word apokalypsis meaning “to uncover or disclose.” This is certainly an appropriate term for neo-Calvinists like Camping. He claims to have “uncovered” hidden truths in the Bible that had remained sealed by God until the year 1988, when he claims was the end of the “church age”. He believes that God purposefully confused all others who attempted to understand these deeper meanings and signs in the Bible before that time. Indeed, Family Radio has all the hallmarks of an organization with true apocalyptic fundamentalist mindset. It features the dualistic “we can’t possibly be in error” thinking, paranoia and rage against the sinning non-believers, a charismatic father figure leader in Harold Camping, and the totalized conversion experience that has caused many thousands of people to literally give up their jobs and possessions to travel around in caravans to proclaim the end of the universe. Add to this the heady mix of a religious organization that has 66 radio stations throughout the world, an annual intake of pledges in excess of $100 million per year, a sophisticated ad campaign, a definite date given with the implied authority that the media carries with it, and you have a bunch of people with a whopper of a religious hangover in the coming weeks.
Believe me, I am not wanting to make light of the fact that possibly thousands of people will be experiencing severe emotional and spiritual crisis in the near term, when they come to realize that the basis upon which their deeply held beliefs is plain wrong. Many will simply go into a state of denial and sink deeper into the morass of extreme fundamentalism. Still many others may go into a spiritual free fall. In my mind, that is the saddest outcome of this entire theological debacle.
I consider each second that we are still alive after midnight May 21, 2011, unraptured and not destroyed by a world-wide earthquake as a victory for reason and a vindication of the God that I experience. Let me tell you about that God.
First of all, a disclaimer: when I say the word God, I need you to substitute whatever phrase, concept, or name you may hold for whatever force, personality, or process that seems appropriate to you to describe… God. I use that word as shorthand for all of the above.
I few years ago I wrote a rather heretical religious song called “My God”. In the song I sing the following lyrics, “I know what I have to say may seem to you as odd, but the Christ that you are looking for is the same one Jesus found. And I believe God is great enough she doesn’t mind if we call her a man. And I believe God is so wonderful she doesn’t mind if we think she’s ghost. So, if you need to, then call God Jesus, but please, don’t call Jesus God.”
“The Christ that you are looking for is the same one Jesus found”… so, again, let me tell you about that Christos, that God, that creator and created, which I experience.
My God didn’t create me just to destroy me. My God is not going to make me suffer simply because I am a human being. My God does not condemn me for the actions of my ancestors. My God does not burden me with the insanity of original sin. My God does not trick or deceive me. My God is fairly reasonable. My God knows my heart – she is not threatened by anything I can say, think, believe, or do. The only meaning of sin for my God is the original meaning, which is to miss the mark of the best and highest purposes of my life. My God is not vengeful or hateful. My God is merciful and aches when I do not extend mercy or compassion in kind. My God loves me enough to have caused all the millions of incomprehensible improbabilities to converge in the expression of my mother and father’s love that brought me into existence. I see that God in you and me and all other people who have ever existed on this planet. I feel that God in all the other beings I cannot see, but am statistically certain also exist on other planets and realms of this vast universe.
My God is a God of pure love that extends to every corner of existence. That love hardens as matter and is expressed in every blade of grass. I experience the loving, merciful, laughing, inviting, mysterious force in everything. I feel the warm glow of life when I take a nap with my cats. I feel the joy of music and art, and any other endeavor that brings us into a closer relationship with the divinity within us. I experience the grandeur of creation when I walk in a stand of Redwoods, behold a majestic mountain range, open my arms to a seascape, or look up on a crystal clear night. My God is not a God of destruction, but one that rejoices in life upon life upon life upon life.
So to the Harold Campings of the world I say this… take your God and go away! Get yourself raptured, or whisked away, or twinkled, or better yet, retreat somewhere to a compound and leave the rest of humanity alone.
And to those struggling with spiritual free fall today I say – come join us Unitarian Universalists. Universal salvation is already in our name. We welcome you.
Let’s make today the first birthday when we are freed from the tyranny of an oppressive, vengeful, jealous God. Let us all see that May 21, 2011, was not a countdown to judgment, but instead, it was the beginning of a new era in human spiritual relationship with a loving, merciful, creative universal force that we can call God if we want. Let’s agree that this God doesn’t really care one way or the other what we call her. She just wants to dance with us. And when we’re finished with this dance… she wants us to come home.