The internet has lit up in the wake of the weekend’s failure to deliver the end of all things as predicted by the now suitably subdued Harold Camping.
Well actually, it was pretty lively in the run up to the weekend for that matter. And understandably so. It’s not every weekend you get to watch a bunch of people wait for the beginning of the end of the world.
That’s good entertainment.
Helping boost the media value of the event were people like Robert Fitzpatrick, the man who spent $140 000 – his life savings – plastering Staten Island NY with doomsday warnings and then chose a main street as his departure point from this earth, surrounded by media and scorning crowds.
And perhaps that’s what has set this particular ‘end of the world’ aside from other recent ones – its high profile. Harold Camping obliged the media with interviews yielding many memorable sound bites and his independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions on broadcasts, billboards and campaign vehicles to publicise the prediction.
The internet has been flooded with stories, social media turned it into a global party, now the merchandise is available, and on it goes. It’s been a hoot.
What I find interesting is the reaction of other religious streams to the whole thing, and the way it exposes perceptions of ‘religion’ in general.
For instance, one person I know remarked that the ‘Catholics’ who were expecting the world to end must be disappointed.
Then there was the intro to the TV One News piece on Robert Fitzpatrick:
“Well it wasn’t what some evangelical Christians were hoping for, and a day on from their ‘great disappointment’ those who believed the world would end in the weekend are now trying to explain themselves.”
The ‘evangelical Christian’ gaffe (whether deliberate or a case of genuine ignorance) is revealing. Your average evangelical (and many other flavours of Christian) would be unlikely to extend the hand of fellowship to HC who, despite his own denials is viewed as a ‘sect’ type figure. Why? Well for one, the self-styled ‘biblical scholar’ has chosen to ignore prominent New Testament texts such as Matthew 24.36-44 which state that no one will actually know the time of Jesus’ return.
So many evangelicals are having a good laugh along with their atheist/agnostic/post-modern/’spiritual’ neighbours and workmates, distancing themselves from that kind of ‘crazy fundamentalism.’
Some of them may also be dealing with the uncomfortable notion that aside from the date issue, they share some beliefs strikingly similar to those proclaimed by Camping; the return of Jesus, a rapture and a final judgement.
Uncomfortable, not because they fear they will be ‘left behind’, but because of the unpopularity of such ideas with those on the ‘other side’ of the religious fence.
Such can be the confusion amongst the general public and the media, that for many, “Christian” religion be it Catholic, evangelical or whatever, is all rolled into one homogeneous group that is far easier to handle than a complex reality requiring time and effort to understand.
It seems though that ‘religion’ continues to be a central facet of the cultural and political matrix of the 21st century and those who choose to ignore that fact will struggle to understand the world they are a part of.
Wherever one stands on the spectrum of religious belief, it’s an interesting time to ponder some of the themes raised by this spectacle. Why is apocalyptic thought so entrenched in Western culture, both religious and secular? Is it because humanity seems to be on a hell bent path to destruction anyway? How many more false predictions will it take for people to learn that obsession with the end of the world, never works out well on a practical level? Why does ‘religion’ seem to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons? What’s God up to anyway? If he’s got people working for him, what are they up to and how are they recognisable? Will we be reunited with our pets in heaven?
We have a few more months to ponder these and other questions before the next ‘end’ comes on October 21.
The NZ Herald Online: Rapture predictor ready to speak