Harold Camping of Oakland is at it again. The 90-year-old minister predicited that the world would end on October 21, 2011. This is the same prophet that predicted that the world was to have ended on May 21st of this year. Amazingly--or perhaps not--he made the same prediction in 1994.
Camping raised millions of dollars from his followers after he made the prediction for May 21st. However, according to religious scholar Jason Bruner, there is an ugly side to Camping's otherwise hilarious proclamations.
Slightly prior to May 21, 2011, Hmong Christians that followed Camping's pronouncements via short wave radio broadcasts gathered at a hilltop in Dien Bien, Vietnam to await the apocalypse, and to be rewarded with their own land.
The Hmong have long been persecuted as a despised minority in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. As they gathered for the expected Good News, they became involved in a violent confrontation with Vietnamese troops, and some believers were detained by the Vietnamese government. (For more information, see Bruner's piece, "The Other Forgotten Apocalypse of 2011," at http://www.religiondispatches.org/atheologies/5035/)
Though the Bible teaches that no one knows the day or the hour that the world will end, religious fanatics continue to insist otherwise. The Y2K hysteria near the turn of the century led up to the biggest non-event of all time. Computers were supposed to malfunction, water, food, and other resources were to supposed to be scarce, etc. Y2K enthusiasts were hoarding food, bottled water, matches, flashlights, guns, ammunition, etc. It was all for nothing.
Did religious fanatics finally learn their lesson? Of course not! Like Camping, many thought their calculations were simply off. They said that perhaps 2007 would be the actual year of the end times. Others believe that 2030 will be the actual date.
That raises the question: What does "near" mean? The Nation of Islam has been predicting "the coming destruction of America" since 1930. Many Jehovah's Witnesses claim that we have been living in the end times since World War I.
Jesus taught that the end was near during his lifetime. He said that there were people to whom he spoke that would not taste death before the events leading up to the end times would occur. The biblical Jesus made such statements as "give no care for the morrow," and "let the dead bury the dead." Such statements make no sense whatsoever unless considered from the viewpoint of someone who believed that the end of the world was coming soon.
Rather than concede that this is obviously the granddaddy of all failed biblical prophecies, most Christians simply believe that the end is coming one day. It has been over 2,000 years, but that's no problem. God has a different sense of time than do we mere mortals. And what if two million years pass and Jesus still does not show? Just refer to that deep time thingy.
A belief in the rapture isn't just foolish. It thwarts genuine human progress. Imagine if the great reformers and transformers of the world had embraced this kind of quietistic eschatology. Chattel slavery would have never been abolished. The civil rights movement would have never taken place. Civil liberties would not exist. After all is said and done, end times theology seems to have no redeeming value whatsoever. On the contrary, it seems to be the most useless idea to have ever emanated from the God delusion. Yet it persists.
The idealistic dreamers have much more to offer the world than do the gloom-and-doom naysayers peddling their theologies of despair. The former are concerned with improving life in the here and now. They are striving for social and economic justice, freedom and equality. Even if their schemes are not entirely successful, some of their ideas have practical value. The eight-hour workday, paid vacations, health care, retirement benefits, anti-discrimination laws, literacy for the masses, voting rights for women, etc. were all radical ideas when they were first proposed.
It is indeed true that no one knows the day or the hour when the rapture will occur. That is because it is not going to happen. It is time that humanity kicked this utterly useless fantasy to the curb and get on with the business of improving life in the here and now.