The story of Harold Camping’s 2011 Rapture campaign is growing cold in the public’s imagination, but we had no want for coverage on May 21st, when the prophecy that Camping’s prophecies were false came true. That was a bad day for the Electronic Bible Fellowship. But the media swarm on Camping when he resurfaced days later to offer his explanations was practically the last that was heard of him.
The five months of global catastrophe, death and abomination he predicted leading up to the end of the world on October 21st were anything but. The world is in some turmoil, definitely, but when is it not? We had famine in Somalia, flooding in Pakistan, Cambodia and Thailand. There was a Volcanic eruption in Chile. There was the terrible massacre in Sweden by Anders Breivik. The financial crisis has rolled on, as have the various wars and terrorist attrocities we’ve endured with such intensity for the last decade or more.
That still didn’t add up to the kind of apocalyptic scenario that Camping’s Electronic Bible Fellowship CD led me to expect. I sent for my copy of the CD at the start of this year. I’ve had it now for about seven months, but I’m still a long way from getting through all the tracts and sermons included. It’s tough work to put yourself through. Each sermon is an hour or more of monotone drivel. I listened to about 10 hours of it in the first week after it arrived, looking for soundbites for a YouTube video I wanted to put together for May 21st. It was very hard to sit through. It was repetitive and tiresome and it can be reasonably broken down into a few key points.
There is the explanation of how the bible was interpreted to calculate the dates. Which involved a lot of elaborate wrangling to get around those parts of scripture that state very clearly that it is not possible for any human to determine ‘the day or the hour’.
Then there were the descriptions of what is going to happen on Rapture day after the faithful had disappeared. These amounted to little more than glee at the fate of the faithless. There were endless, and bizarrely specific details such as it would be very difficult to have a shower or take a bath after the Rapture. Well, it would be, as the earth was to be buckled my thousands of earthquakes that would dislodge all the pipes. Chris McCann, the pastor whose voice is heard on most of the sermons had a never ending stream of such trivial details. The product of an feverishly over-active imagination.
His foresight into the state of life on Earth in the five months leading up to October 21st was astounding in it’s inaccuracy. This last decade has given eschatalogical preachers a gold mine of topics to lend credibility to their nonsense. Wars, terrorism and financial collapse, political shenanigans, natural disasters, gay rights and marriage, sex scandals, and all the other things that indicate a broken world ready for Jesus to call judgement on. The same troubling times make certain people vulnerable to charlatans like Harold Camping.
But the last five months have seen some great things happen. Some hopeful, inspiring and wonderful things. The Arab Spring has moved through the Arab world as the population of one oppressed nation after another rose up against tyrrany. Ratko Mladić, the Bosnian Serb butcher was finally arrested for genocidal war crimes. India and Bangladesh ended their four decade old border dispute. Muamar Gaddafi was finally killed. ETA, the Basque seperatist movement of northern Spain officially ended it’s 43 year-old campaign of terror and political violence.
Science too has ignored the warnings of apocalypse, and Camping’s rebuke of those who were making plans for anything past May 21st. The first artificial human organ transplant took place in Sweden in June. A 3D computer model of 36-year-old African patient, Andemariam Teklesenbet Beyene’s own windpipe was used to create a glass replica. This was then soaked in the patients own stem cells, and nanotechnological processes constructed the replica organ. Because it was a replica of his own, and constructed from his own cells there was no need for the drug treatment normally needed to control the bodies rejection of foreign material. This technology will soon be adapted to create a number of different organs for transplant, removing the need for waiting lists and the possibility of organ rejection by patients bodies.
The Space Shuttle program ended on July 21st, with Atlantis’ safe return. Far from being an end to space exploration, this paves the way from an entirely different space program. More use of robotics will be the key to the next phase as new technologies are tried out. The first solar powered spacecraft was launched on August 5th, and is now on it’s way to Jupiter. On that same day NASA announced that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter had photographic evidence of possible liquid water on Mars, giving new impetus to the search for life there and also making Mars even better suited to human exploration.
And around the world the Occupy movement had seen ordinary people speak out and protest the scandalous situation where those who shaped the financial meltdown are being assisted back to prosperity, while their victims are being asked to pay the bill.
These are all hopefull signs for what is to come. Just because terrible things have been happening, that doesn’t mean that we won’t find a better way. We may always have wars and terror and exploitation and deprevation to deal with, but the true human response to that is to keep on looking for that better way. We keep looking to make those small steps forward that will make life better for us all. Where there is oppression, we oppose it. Where there is hypocrisy, we expose it.
What troubled me most about this year’s Rapture nonsense was the lack of faith such people have in humanity. How their beliefs closed off for them even the possibility that in our own hands we could make good on all that is bad. Or that we should even try. It is this fatalism that troubles me most about religion. Camping and his followers are only a small part of the lunatic fringe, there are many others like him. But they are only the fringe to a wider swathe of believers in similarly unfounded claims. They all hold the ultimate belief that life on earth is doomed to ultimate judgement. The notion that no matter how far we progress will will always fall short of some creators ideals.
So I don’t want Camping to slip off quietly into the night. I’m not satisfied to hold him up for ridicule as an example of religion gone wrong. To me, he is an example of religion as it really is. The belief that we are imperfect from birth, need to apologise for this until we die and then spend eternity thanking God for the opportunity. This belief that we are destined to fail is the strongest resistance to any kind of social, cultural and scientific change aimed at improving our finite lives, and the countless lives to come. We can help safeguard future life on this planet, and potentially on other planets besides or own. That is an actual possibility these days. We can conceivably do things that not even the wildest dreaming religious zealot has ever dared to claim that their god could do. Please don’t ask me to ignore that.
Here are a few Rapture related videos I posted on YouTube.
This first one was my contribution to a collaboration that was called The Day After The Rapture. The collaboration video was released on May 22nd, and was addressed to the disappointed members of Camping’s cult.
If you are a member of the of the electronic bible fellowship and you find yourself today, the 22nd of May Dejected, rejected, denied your rapturous trip Then take some solace from these comforting words I'll say God has not denied you a place at his side And Jesus has not neglected his most faithful pride You were not forsaken, but your pastors mistaken There never was a plan for you to be taken There is no God in Heaven, no everlasting realm No self replicating son, born of a virgin at the helm No purposefully created demonic gaoler in Hell Just this beautiful assemblage of atoms on which we all dwell There is no pre-ordained ending of days No immortal soul, no creator to praise There is no heavenly host to battle ultimate evil You are no more likely that the lowliest weevil But take some comfort in the unlikeliness of your birth Of your extraordinary existence on this island Earth Don't let a day pass without valuing your worth For the atoms of dead stars that are temporarily You Will all too soon be recycled, giving sustenance to dirt. But if you believe in Rapture, and you consider me to be the loon Don't be too downhearted, there's bound to be another one soon.
The full collaboration can be found here.
This next one contains the excerpts I had taken from my ten hour sermon-a-thon.
This final one was a quick before, during and after montage of Camping as he looked forward to the Rapture, his response on the day and his press conference in the aftermath of his failure.
I decided not to make a video about the October 21st end of the world deadline. I think there have been enough videos made about Camping this year, and they weren’t really serving any great purpose. I have been making and posting videos about religion and atheism for about a year now, and I’m starting to loose some interest. My opinions are unchanged, but I’ve been feeling lately that most atheist videos are just variations on each other. There are very few fresh ideas, and the more variations on those fresh ideas that get added, the more watered down becomes the message.
This is part of a broader issue I have with YouTube right now, and I think it’s something I’ll save for another post. So for now, I’ll put Mr. Camping to bed for a while. I think I’ll revisit him sometime, but only as part of the rise of end time religious fervour that is a long way from ending yet.