May 21 Rapture – why is it harmful?
I’ve been asked many times over the last few weeks why I care about the predictions that May 21 is the rapture – after all isn’t it just the claim of a minority of people in the USA? How can it really harm anyone? If it doesn’t happen, why not just let them play out their fantasy and laugh at them after nothing significant comes to pass?
Well, apart from the fun of trolling their posts on Twitter and FaceBook, I worry about this prediction for several reasons.
Firstly, I object to Harold Camping and his supposed calculations based on the Bible. He has been proven in the past to be wrong about the Rapture, all the while amassing a large fortune for his company. His radio station Family Radio is said to be worth over a hundred million dollars (that’s a one with *eight* zeroes) and most of this money has come from the hard earned dollars of his followers. Sure he spent some of this money on billboards and vans proclaiming May 21 as the rapture, but where has the rest gone? And, if (read when) the Rapture doesn’t come to pass, where will all this money go? Back to the donors? I doubt it very much.
Another worry I have about this whole scenario is that some people are so easily manipulated by a charismatic spokesperson such as Camping. He is so sure of himself, so confident and seemingly knowledgeable that people listen to his words and are somehow convinced that what he says is true. I’ve shown in the past that this can be harmful. Blind faith in anything can be harmful, and the blindness is not only in the people’s faith, but in viewing alternatives in the world around them. These people have been convinced that there is NO alternative, and keep repeating that there is no “after” because “it will happen” and “the Bible guarantees it”.
By far my biggest concern, however, is the welfare of those who have been sucked-in by this belief, and by the “teachings” of Camping and his crew.
There are many examples floating around the web of stories from families who have sold everything they own, quit their jobs and devoted their lives to preaching the May 21 message. One example is a man who left his unsympathetic family (unsympathetic as far as the rapture is concerned anyhow) to become a travelling street preacher. Another story is of a young couple with 2 young kids and a third on the way who have calculated their finances to last only until May 21. After that they have nothing except their children. What happens to these people when nothing out of the ordinary comes to pass? What will they do to rebuild their lives after this worldwide nonevent? And these are just the stories I’ve read, I’m sure there are many many more people who have escaped media attention with stories just as troublesome as this one. I wonder what the children of these families must be feeling. Surely they are terrified at the prospect of the rapture, and by no fault of their own. A child can’t help who they are born to or what their parents believe. I worry also that some of these families will take the lives of their children into their own hands once the Rapture doesn’t pan out. I sincerely hope this is not the case.
There is also a fair bit of conversation on Twitter under the hashtags #May21 and #rapture, mostly mocking the prophecies and the idea that the rapture could come as soon as tomorrow, but scattered among them I see people with genuine concerns for their existences. Some are scared, but most of these (alarmingly) are all to willing to believe in this end-of-days scenario. I’ve made it my business to, when I see a concerned person, point them at all the relevant material which exposes the prediction for what it is; hot air, wishful thinking and a last ditch attempt for an ageing “prophet” to garner some attention and money. These people don’t need mocking, they need education. I hope you can help where you can. This is not me getting on a high-horse and claiming authority. The risk to some of these people is real, especially the more vulnerable among them, as you shall see below.
Here is a story of a woman who called into Harold Camping’s family radio show, obviously distraught at the prospect of the Rapture, citing that she knew she wouldn’t be raptured, and asking in earnest whether she should commit suicide or not. According to the story, Camping pretty much cut her off and went to his next caller, saying he didn’t know the answer. I hope for this woman’s sake that she managed to seek out some real and qualified help to ease her worries about the end of the world. (See also this article on WhatsTheHarm.net.)
People can really be hurt by this claim to prophecy, and I see it as our jobs, as those unconvinced by Camping’s smoke and mirror campaign, to help those directly and indirectly affected to pick up their lives, especially the children. Seattle Atheists are holding a fundraising event which pokes fun at the supposed rapture, all the while raising much needed money’s for charities. If the rapture happens, they will use the money for post-rapture support for those left behind. If it doesn’t, the money will go to Camp Quest, a camp which teaches kids to be critical thinkers. This is the kind of thing we should be doing, rather than continually mocking the believers. As I’ve said, there is no “after” according to the believers.
For those of us with enough skepticism to see through this prophecy as the scam it is, we should embrace this as a testament to the gullibility that religious fervour can instill in people. It’s an opportunity to point this event out and say “Remember May 21?” In all reality May 21 should not be forgotten, rather it should be used as an example of why blind faith in anything is bad, and Why we should always question things, especially those with self-proclaimed knowledge and power.
Some of the unraptured may have their eyes opened enough to question their faith, others will continue on blindly, finding excuses for their failed Rapture. In either case it’s an opportunity for rational thought to make some ground worldwide.
If the Rapture does happen this weekend, there’s not really a lot I can do about it, but when nothing out of the ordinary occurs, we should keep in mind that we still have a lot of work to do.