Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture, Camping, and Atheists

By now we all know Harold Camping’s failed prophecy concerning the May 21 Rapture (and subsequent world destruction by October 21, 2011) did not come true. This came as no shock to the vast majority of Christians, cultists, other world religious followers and atheists. Pretty much, this came as a shock to no one but Camping’s followers.

On the one hand, we may mock, poke fun, and otherwise crack jokes about the failed prophecy. I admit freely that I have and that the jokes themselves are truly funny. But what is not funny is the aftereffects of this failed prophecy. I do not know Camping, and so I do not know if he is merely delusional or a false prophet (however, the fact he’s done this before makes me lean towards the latter). These aftereffects, and how to combat them, should be discussed.

First, one of the major aftereffects is the one coming from general society. The simple fact is that this failed prophecy concerning Christ’s return reflects badly on all orthodox Christians. Fair or not, we are all lumped together with this man. How do we rectify this? First, it should be pointed out most Christians simply do not believe in the failed prediction that was made. This, however, is only partly helpful. Why? Because once it is revealed that one does in fact believe in a personal return of Jesus Christ, the mocking freely continues. All we have done is remove ourselves from the false prophet. But therein lies the benefit. We need not concern ourselves with looking good for the lost world. The apostle John said, “Marvel not . . . if the world hate you.” (1 John 3:13)

Next, another effect is that we receive mocking from atheists themselves. This may seem identical to the first point above. However, it differs in a major aspect. It lends credence (again, fairly or not) to the idea that believers are, well, raving lunatics, and atheists by comparison are pillars of logic and reason. It robs us of credibility with them. How do we deal with this? The best idea is to demonstrate simply because someone associated with us in some way does some certain action X, it does not follow that I am responsible for X, or bear the implications of X upon my life or beliefs. In short, we call them out for the guilt by association fallacy.[1]

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Camping’s followers themselves experienced great loss. Reports have been made concerning millions donated to Camping and his non-profit to spread the word. Where do you think that came from? Hard-working, otherwise mostly rational people. Some of these people quit their jobs, racked up debt, stopped paying bills, sold their houses and cars, and otherwise made poor decisions with the rationale that they would soon be gone.

But their loss is more than just purely financial. After all that these people have sacrificed, it is almost inevitable some will turn to agnosticism, atheism, bitterness, or some other combination. These people should be warmly accepted into our church families provided: they are truly saved, they understand what they believed was a lie, and they are ready to renounce it in the name of biblical truth.

We should be compassionate and loving. We should be harmless as doves and wise as serpents. While the jokes being made are funny, we should remember there is nothing funny about an all-too-real false prophet, and the damage he has done—both physical and spiritual.

                [1] Note also that it will not work to claim we are not deluded, but Christianity nonetheless is—for that is pushing the guilt by association back one step. Further, if we are not deluded, and we hold to Christianity, it cannot follow that the latter is delusional but the former is not.

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