May 21st has come and gone, and I’m experiencing a mix of different emotions towards those believers who thought that the end would arrive this past Saturday. As a Christian, I admire their conviction and willingness to surrender all earthly things in the pursuit of something better. But as a regular human being, I’m horrified by their recklessness and general inability to conceive of alternative viewpoints.
This brief, unplanned discussion with my brother about the topic helps to sum up some of my viewpoints:
I’ve been reading a lot of stories about the rapture that never was. The NYTimes has a nice catch-all piece about those whose lives have been affected by years of false prophesying. New York magazine has a heartbreaking story about a marriage on the rocks due to the end times that never came. Many pieces also dealt with the aftermath, such as the LATimes, which wrote about a rapture-believer named Keith Bauer:
Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country. If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.
Slate wrote about what happens to doomsday cults when the world doesn’t end. Answer: they slightly modify their beliefs to overcome the cognitive dissonance of having devoted their lives to spreading the word about one rapture end-date. And sure enough, rapture-proponent Harold Camping has since come out and said that his original prediction was off by six months, and that the rapture will in fact be happening on November 21, 2011.
Perhaps my favorite piece about the whole topic is this letter to Harold Camping’s followers, about what to do now that Judgment Day missed its mark. It addresses those who were wrong with grace, forgiveness, and encouragement:
When you want to believe something, and someone you respect tells you to believe something, and everyone around you also believes and wants to believe the same thing, those are extraordinarily powerful forces. I wish that you had not believed in the May 21st prediction, because I fear that it damaged the credibility of Christians in the eyes of some. But I see no reason now to belabor that point. Rather, I hope you have grace with yourselves.