When The Rapture Fails

Well, the rapture failed to happen and we all had a good laugh. There’s been some pushback against the laughter and some calls for mutual understanding and so forth. But while it’s true that it’s not nice to laugh at the misfortunes and humiliation of others, I think it’s a reasonable substitute for what we might otherwise feel: unadulterated rage.

Why? Consider this article from the NYT:

With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.

Kino Douglas, 31, a self-described agnostic, said it was hard to be with his sister Stacey, 33, who “doesn’t want to talk about anything else.”

While Ms. Haddad Carson has quit her job, her husband still works as an engineer for the federal Energy Department. But the children worry that there may not be enough money for college. They also have typical teenage angst — embarrassing parents — only amplified.

“People look at my family and think I’m like that,” said Joseph, their 14-year-old, as his parents walked through the street fair on Ninth Avenue, giving out Bibles. “I keep my friends as far away from them as possible.”

The NYT (and other stories) talk about children pressured to spread the word, about family members not talking to each other, about college savings being burned. If these are the people who will talk to the Times, you can imagine how much worse it is out there for families who won’t. Growing up in the Bible Belt, I’ve seen friends wounded in the battle between True Believer parents and Heathen children. It’s only made worse when the end of the world is at stake. Imagine all the small children — 10 or under — who’ve been hearing about this for months. As a kid, I sometimes had nightmares about a nuclear war. Can you imagine what it’s like when your grandmother is talking about the End Times every damned day?

That’s not to mention the clearly mentally ill people this tipped over the edge, like the woman who tried to kill herself and murder her daughters to avoid the tribulations. Or those who ruined themselves financially:

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.

Others had risked a lot more on Camping’s prediction, quitting jobs, abandoning relationships, volunteering months of their time to spread the word. Matt Tuter, the longtime producer of Camping’s radio and television call-in show, said Saturday that he expected there to be “a lot of angry people” as reality proved Camping wrong.

Another man blew $140,000 of his own savings spreading the good word.

Now we might be happy to say, “Hey, these gullible idiots got what they deserved”. After all, we’d never follow a doomsday cult and ruin our lives. Only, as — of all places — Cracked pointed out:

Studies show cult members are just as intelligent, if not more so, than the general public. And around 95 percent of cult members are perfectly sane (when they join up, anyway), with no history at all of real psychological problems. They’re not stupid, and they’re not crazy.

As social animals we are hard-wired to want to belong to a group. It’s a need as basic and real as hunger or sex. When we get cut off from our group–say we lose a job, or move to a new city, or break up with our girlfriend–we go a little crazy. Cults are very, very good at finding people in that exact moment of weakness, and saying exactly the right things. Those pamphlets that sound so corny and transparent to you, read like a glorious breath of fresh air to somebody caught in one of those rough spots.

So sure, when we’re in our normal, stable state of affairs we like to imagine ourselves coolly shooting down all of the charismatic cult leader’s stupid-ass claims with the power of pure critical thinking. But remember that the next time you’re drunk dialing your ex-girlfriend in the middle of the night, or stalking her new boyfriend, sneaking into the parking lot where he works and pooping on the hood of his car.

It’s no accident that televangelists target lonely seniors or that weirdo cults target young people in the early and difficult phases of their careers. In times of stress — and if you hadn’t noticed, our times are pretty stressful even for those of us with families, jobs and houses — there’s comfort in hearing that it all makes sense; that it’s all part of a plan.

So when I laugh a the rapturists, it’s because it’s the only thing keeping me from punching Harold Camping and his fellows in the face. At best, they are charismatic lunatics who got people to act stupidly. At worst, they’re cynical charlatans who got decent but vulnerable people to turn their lives upside down.

So no, I’m not prepared to be understanding about this. And I’m not prepared to be understanding about the next End of the World panic — this one coming mostly from the non-religious — about 2012. You can bet that the above stories will be repeated all over again in about 2 years.

Comments are closed.

  1. Poosh

    That aside… it does make you think and stuff. I mean, the world WILL end one day. That is a fact. Just kinda be shitty if it happened in our life time. Think I’ve been at the Watchmen comic a little too much…

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  2. InsipiD

    I think this story was blown way out of proportion. How many of you knew a single person who believed this guy’s rapture prediction? Did anyone spend last week worrying about the money wasted on green bananas?

    Pretending like this was a common belief is just as silly as pretending the Catholic Church and Dutch government are in cahoots to promote pedophilia. I heard a recording last friday where Camping was pretending to not understand what a caller meant when they were asking him what he’d do when he’s proven wrong. Will he give back donated money? No. This guy is no more representative of mainstream American Christians than Westboro is.

    Honestly, it seems that Camping and the like somehow have a strong and reliable friend in the media. Since Camping’s followers are so rare, I doubt any of us would’ve heard about it if it weren’t so fun for the media to bring it up. His explosive visibility worked, but I don’t understand why he’d come out and say something like that when the Bible makes it quite clear that people won’t know when the world is ending. There are some unclear passages in the Bible, and some metaphors, but the language about predicting the end of days isn’t really ambiguous.

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  3. richtaylor365

    This guy is no more representative of mainstream American Christians than Westboro is.


    The simple fact that Camping committed himself to a specific date labels him as a whackjob. If people want to spend their days passing out bibles, what’s the big whoop? They aren’t hurting anyone.

    I’m not surprised that the NYT would run a story like this, the MSM loves to caricature Republicans, conservatives, Tea Party folks, and Christians, so they will run stories like this that target the lunatic fringe (Phelps, Camping, Terry Jones, et al) and play that out like they are somehow reflective of all or even most Christians, horse shit.

    There are tens of millions of Christians in America, 99.999% are law abiding citizens who pay their taxes and donate more time and money to charities and good causes then you will know, they take the words of Jesus literally, that all are God’s children, to love your fellow man, and do good in his name.

    I probably know more “religious folks” then any one here and no one that I know thought the world was coming to an end on Saturday. Are there charlatans out there? of course, people that prey on the ignorant or innocent is nothing new, and we can all laugh our asses off at Camping (Phelps I don’t laugh at, he is beyond evil) but let’s just say that crazy comes in all colors and not make any sweeping pronouncements that this somehow reflects the collective attitudes of Christians as a whole.

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  4. Rann

    I will say that supposedly the guy is sincere. I saw one story that said bookkeeping showed that for all the money his organization gets in donations, he draws no paycheck for them and works at the station as a volunteer. I don’t know how much of that is bullshit, but the article posting it was blatantly critical of him so there’s a decent chance.

    Apparently most of his own employees don’t believe him either, and out of his entire family only his wife does.

    But anyway. I saw this posted elsewhere before the weekend, and I thought it was pretty on-the-mark:


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  5. Seattle Outcast

    If people want to spend their days passing out bibles, what’s the big whoop? They aren’t hurting anyone.

    When they knock on my door to do it, that’s the problem. I’ve had to escort these turds out of my home at gunpoint before – they are not harmless.

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  6. Miguelito

    Yeah, I found the hypocrisy of many about this annoying. The same people that are always telling us not to judge Islam due to a few crazy practitioners had no problem whatsoever pretending that this prediction was somehow an indictment of basically all christians. Or at the very least, were very openly just cold and rude about the whole thing. Yes, a few selfish whackos took advantage of a lot (well really, barely any when it comes right down to it) of people who were essentially in a weak state of mind one way or another. Rather then feel sorry for them though (or finding excuses like they love to do for any similar group that’s basically anti-US/anti-captialism), they were openly mocked. Yay understanding and compassion.

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  7. Miguelito

    Out of? Did they worm their way in or you mean just off the premisis/yard?

    I’ve never had any that bad, I usually just tell them (forcefully if needed) that I’m not interested, and if they have a pamphlet just take it and they’re on their way.

    One of the reasons I love the layout of my home and front yard is I can avoid them the vast majority of the time. I have a front gate that keeps them from getting to my door and I can peer out and see who’s there to decide if I want to go out and talk or not. That, and a dog in the front yard on nice days when I’m home and the door’s open help me avoid a lot of annoyances.

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  8. Monolith

    Are there charlatans out there? of course, people that prey on the ignorant or innocent is nothing new,

    I believe there’s a group just like this that have been at it for a long time. It’s called the Democratic Party.

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  9. InsipiD

    Ok, so he’s not like some of the thieving televangelists (who I don’t think are believers, but opportunists), and may be sincere instead of criminal. He can be sincerely wrong, but I think that the guy who was taking him to task about his donors’ money was spot on. If you can convince people that there’s no day after Saturday, so they might as well give you all their money, you sure better be willing to give their money back when you’re wrong.

    People can believe a lot of strange things, but one thing that almost everybody believes is that they will be here tomorrow. You pay your rent, keep your bills up, buy food, and even refill the stapler at work. You do these things because you’ll need them tomorrow, or the day after, and so on. As soon as someone who isn’t terminally ill stops believing in tomorrow, they’ve probably got a problem. When they’re trying to convince you that you should stop preparing for tomorrow, then you should really worry. If you were listening to them before, stop.

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  10. Kimpost

    The world coming to an end was a story in Sweden too (they always are). But as an amusement, nothing more. I have never seen it portrayed as a Christian story, not even in US. Same with Westboro. Nobody regards them as representatives for Christianity. They are just fringe nuts. Extreme views always makes for a good story, though. That’s what this is.

    The Mayan end of the world is the same. A fun story, but not an attack on mayanism (is there such a thing?).

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  11. CM

    Who exactly are you talking about here? Who used this to indict all Christians? It was a story here (in NZ), but nobody took it seriously, or used it to bash all Christians.

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  12. AlexInCT

    I can guarantee you that in a billion years it will be swallowed up by our sun as it goes nova. Until then life on the planet might be wiped out or some other catastrophe may befall us, but the world, the chunk of rock in space, will go on.

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  13. AlexInCT

    I think this story was blown way out of proportion. How many of you knew a single person who believed this guy’s rapture prediction? Did anyone spend last week worrying about the money wasted on green bananas?

    Considering how many in the media, especially the religion haters in the MSM that love to take a poke at those easy Christians, carried the story, I am surprised how few people knew or cared. And I only wish these morons in the MSM that have all this time to rightfully make fun of this guy and his stupid predictions would take up and make fun of Keynesian economics, considering how often we have been told they will work, and they have not. These idiot Keynesians have a worst track record than the apocalypse predictors IMO.

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  14. Seattle Outcast

    They forced their way into my home – it was about the 3rd time this particular group of whackjobs had shown up on my doorstep, each time more determined to “save me”.

    They did the old “foot in the door” routine and then forced the door open (the dude had a LOT of weight to lean with) while I was telling them to get lost. I don’t think they planned on my having a .357 mag in easy reach of the door – they took off pretty quick when I cocked it, pointed it at his head, and started counting down from 5.

    I contacted the police shortly thereafter. It was Colorado, so I could have just killed them and not worried about it.

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  15. JimK

    JFC! Never had that. The ones around here just completely ignore the “No Soliciting” sign that is two inches from the doorbell. My new move is to open the door, see that they have pamphlets or a clipboard, silently reach over and tape the big red sign, then close the door as they continue to talk.

    Also, unless I’m expecting someone, I generally answer the door with the Kel-Tec in my back and a hand behind me. So if you ever come to my door and notice you can’t see my right hand? Don’t make a lot of sudden moves.

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  16. JimK


    In the last five years, the city of New Haven has pushed deeper into my “suburb.” Two days ago three youths held up a couple walking down the street that crosses mine just 5 houses away. We’ve had home invasions in all the surrounding blocks. Shit, the sex offender registry is like a mailing list for the 10 square blocks of which we are square in the middle.

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  17. CM

    Fucking hell, that IS a bad neighbourhood. So you’re an unpopular man (amongst nutters) in a bad neighbourhood….sheesh, that’s a shitty combo.

    Yeah, I was aware of the situation with Moore and your wife…..but as I never frequented the front page of MW (I was firmly stuck in the forums) I didn’t know you actually feared for your safety, and even at home. That’s just ridiculous.

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  18. AlexInCT

    I think our species is going to be a mere blip in the Earth’s history. We’re not doing anything sustainably.

    You must not be very familiar with most of the heardiest and hard to kill orgnaisms in nature CM, because none of them do anything sustainable. The idea that the instinct to survive and propagate also is accompanied by one to only do things that sustain the ecosystem is laughable at best. Viruses, bacteria, insects, and many other life forms come to mind. In fact, come to think of it, no lifeform does anything sustainable. Mother nature regulates that sustainability the harsh way.

    When the any life form get too big or powerful she removes their food soruces, tampers with their environment, and they come back into balance by dying in droves. Man seems to be the only one to have gotten smart enough to twart mother nature at that game, and for that the Gaia worshippers now want to throw us under the bus.

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  19. CM

    I certainly wouldn’t agree that we’re ‘thwarting’ mother nature. The evidence of that is clear, and mounting all the time (yeah yeah, I know, you don’t believe in climate change, it’s all a massive fraud/conspiracy).

    Fact is, we do need to act sustainably, because we’ve only got one planet, and many of the resources we rely on are also finite.

    What happens to Earth in a million years (let alone a billion) isn’t relevant to humans. I reckon we’ll be well gone by then.

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  20. JimK

    It’s not bad, just…sketchy. Another few years and I think you will be able to call it bad. There are signs that property owners and landlords are starting to care though, so it may not go badly. Just hoping to be able to do minimum fixes to the house and sell it for a decent profit. We got in before the bubble, and believe it or not, urban push is keeping housing prices here in some kind of reasonable order.

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  21. CM

    Nice. Yeah we bought in 2002 before prices went nuts. Auckland’s property prices have held up nicely because of a lack of building and an influx of people (lately from Christchurch). If we wanted to sell, we’d get over twice as much as we paid in 2002. The neighbourhood has improved slightly too. Loads of houses have been repainted and repaired in that time. Quite a few additions too (we’ve done additions, repairs, AND repainting).

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