Monday, May 16, 2011

Camping Out for the Apocalypse

As May ticks by, it must be an exciting time to be Harold Camping.  As a moderately progressive Presbyterian, my exposure to Camping had up until that last month or two been essentially zero.   He's a fundamentalist, King James reading, highly conservative self-trained pastor over a radio ministry, but one who seemed to have had some purchase in the conservative community. 

The past tense there is intentional.  He recently alienated many of his conservative pastorly allies by declaring that no-one should go to church, because time for the church has passed.  Stay home!  Listen to your radio!

Most significantly, Camping's ministry has been focused on the return of Jesus and the beginning of the end times experience, which...from his exhaustive shamanic poring over the monkey entrails of real soon.  Meaning he's called a date, now less than one week away, on May 21, 2011.  At 6:00 PM, exactly.  This is when the Raptcha will occur, and subsequent hilarity will ensue.  Oh, the horrors of that day!

In this, Camping joins a long line of end times prognosticators, for whom the disappointment of seeing the day go by inevitably unapocalypsed seems only to breed more zeal for finding out the "real" date.  The last few months...with immense natural disasters and historic foment in the cradle of monotheistic religion...must have been really exciting for folks who listen to Camping.

Several things strike me about this most recent in the long and storied line of Yeah-Sure-I-Know-The-Day-And-The-Hour End-Times obsessives.

First, and this is likely because Camping has significant media penetration and resources, this whole May 21 thing seems to have become something of a social event, much more so than any "prophecy" I can ever remember.  It hums everywhere in the collective subconscious, and this goes well beyond the realm of churchy life and conversation.  End-Times Parties are planned.  Snarky Facebook pages are joined.   The web-connected world sees the fleets of snappily decorated Doom RVs, giggles, and tweets about it to their friends.

Second, I am as a Jesus person going to be doing some praying at six o'clock this Saturday.   This will be for one of two reasons.  Reason number one, which has a 0.00000000000000000000000314% chance of being true, involves a major Destruction-of-Krypton type earthquake event, during which the Bahais, the Quakers, a handful of Unitarians, and both remaining Jains turn into energy beings.

I'm pretty much up poop creek if that be the case.

Reason number two, which is far more likely, is that Harold Camping and his followers will be facing a major existential crisis.  Camping is utterly wrong, about the Bible and many many other things, but he's not a charlatan or a monster.  I don't find it hard at all to feel compassion for him.  For those who follow him, this could be the thing that shakes them loose from faith not just in Camping's wackadoodle approach to the Bible, but also in the goodness of the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus Christ.

And that, well, that would be worse than the end of the world.