Like many people, I’ve missed a few deadlines; and as a result, I’ve been left behind a few times in my life. I’ve normally tried to credit these unintentional mistakes with aging brain cells. Fortunately, and to the best of my memory–remember, we’re talking aging brain cells here–none of those missed deadlines have been crucial or caused undue stress or harm to other people.
Unlike Harold Camping…
Camping, you may remember, has predicted the rapture numerous times–at least 12 dating back to 1978, according to an October 22nd, 2011 ABC News blog post. The latest doomsday deadline was October 21st, 2011,updated from Camping’s previously missed deadline of May 21st, 2011.
The May deadline caused the most public uproar. Millions of dollars were spent advertising the end of the world as we know it. These dollars came from contributions to Camping’s radio ministry. There were stories of people quitting their jobs to spread the word about the coming Armageddon, giving away their retirement funds, and so on.
On the weekend of May 21st, I was in Austin, Texas, enjoying pre-graduation festivities at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I was scheduled to receive my Doctor of Ministry on the afternoon of May 22nd. While I don’t believe in a literal rapture and second coming of Jesus scenario as taught in some Christian traditions, I have to admit I thought it would be a real kick in the head if Camping was right. Let’s face it, the rapture could put a serious damper on the graduation ceremonies. Then again, maybe not, since Camping’s followers believe liberals like myself are destined to be “left behind,” anyway–and in Austin I was in some amazing liberal–and faithful–company.
On one hand I feel sorry for Camping and his followers. I want to believe they were–and perhaps still are–sincere in their beliefs and desires to help people avoid eternal damnation. And as someone who has been ridiculed for his beliefs before, I know the unkind comments and jokes have to hurt. Still, predictions like Camping’s are nothing new and the results are always the same. So why do people keep taking these predictions so seriously–especially when words attributed to Jesus in the bible say no one knows when these events are supposed to happen–and many of these folks claim to closely follow the bible’s teachings?
Perhaps all we have to do is take a quick look at the world around us. Economic instability, violence, greed, natural disasters, disease and so on are enough for some people to throw up their hands in resignation. So if you believe this world is screwed up beyond any hope for repair and restoration, then a literal rapture theology just might be for you. Get your ticket punched for sweet seats in the afterlife by saying the right things about Jesus–and Jesus only–then sit back, stay pure, and wait.
Of course by doing so, we essentially guarantee the eventual annihilation of the planet because we have absolved ourselves of any responsibility for caring for the planet, for the “widows and orphans,” and for engaging the other challenges of our time. You know, like the bible and other sacred religious writings and their prophets–including Jesus–instructed humanity to do. Seriously, I find it hard to believe that any religious system based on an eternal rewards and punishments system would actually reward adherents for ignoring its basic teachings on communal responsibility and social justice.
Again, while I don’t believe in a literal second coming of Jesus and rapture as interpreted by some traditional Christian groups, I think it’s possible Jesus actually returns daily. For me, Jesus “comes back” every time we do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do–and not to upgrade our seating arrangements in the afterlife. The kindom of Universal Life, Love, and Being comes into sight when we feed hungry people, house homeless folk, provide much-needed medical care to people who cannot afford it and address the systemic issues that allow these and other injustices to occur on a daily basis.
Who knows? In the end, maybe we’re really “left behind” when we refuse to respond to and act upon the best that is within us–a best that some of us call “God.” And the good news is, this “best” is within and accessible by each and every one of us, so none of us need fear being “left behind” ever again.
Blessings on your journeys!