Atheism / Kookiness / religion · July 9, 2008

Harold Camping and the End of the World

I was sitting in the covered dining area, outside of a Sonic a few weeks ago, eating a burger. For those of you who may not be familiar with Sonic, their gimmick is that they are supposed to be a traditional 1950’s drive-in burger and malt shop, with servers who deliver food to your car. It’s not the best burger in the world, but hey, they serve banana-chocolate malt shakes, so I’m good.

My meal was interrupted when this old woman with a cane walked up to me. She must have been close to 70 years old, with white hair, wrinkled apple cheeks, a slow walk and a very big purse.

“Excuse me, can I talk to you about God?” she asked sweetly.

“No thanks,” I answered, “I’m not interested.”

“You’re not interested in your salvation? This is important.” She said something in this vein… I don’t know the words she used exactly.

“Really. Thank you, but no thanks,” I said firmly. I went back to what I was doing.

“Well,” she said as she started to turn away from me, “You’re really going to be sorry when the world ends in 3 years.”

That stopped me. “Right. The world’s going to end? When?”

She turned back and pulled out a pamphlet. “It’s explained here. The rapture will happen on May 21, 2011.”

I didn’t take the pamphlet. I was just sort of taken off guard. Most religious people wouldn’t dare to set a date. When they are wrong, (and they are ALWAYS wrong) it makes them look foolish and they lose followers.

“Oookaay… well I guess we will see what happens on the 22nd. I’ll see you then.” Yes, I was being glib. And she got ticked off!

“No you won’t!” She wasn’t so sweet now! That grandmotherly wrinkled-apple face turned very dark and scowl-y!

“Sure I will. We could meet here on the 22nd!”

“No you won’t, because you’ll be in Hell.”

With that, the conversation was over, and she started walking away. I goggled at her a bit, then realized she still had the pamphlet! I HAD to have that pamphlet! Food forgotten, I jumped up and ran over to where she was proselytizing a car-hop.

“Excuse me,” I said in my most polite, contrite voice. I pointed at the pamphlet in her hand, “could I please have one of those?” Wordlessly she handed it over.

Oooh boy. The pamphlet was a tri-fold type on standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper, with the words “Does God Love You?” in big block letters on top. The rest of the pamphlet was closely written, 10 point font, with very little whitespace. Its densely packed words contained one of those internally-consistent and biblically referenced fake dialogs between two hypothetical people that Christians constructing strawmen will so often use.

It seems to have been published by Family Radio, and if the text wasn’t written by Harold Camping, then it was written in accordance with his teachings. You can read it for yourself online here.

This tract puts a firm date on the Rapture, which is supposed to happen May 21, 2011. The end of the world, when, “…this world will cease to exist…” happens on October 21, 2011. I guess we non-believers get 4 months to get right with God huh? Except, if you read further, you’ll find out it doesn’t quite work that way.

I listen to Family Radio almost every week. Harold Camping has a rich, senorous voice that would be fascinating to hear if it weren’t taking us all to task for being in sin. His words will often falter as he hunts for the exact word he wants, but his train of thought is never disturbed by this.

One of the reasons why I love to listen to Brother Camping is because he teaches a heretical version of Christianity on the Family Radio network of radio stations. Family radio has programming in over 30 languages, and is heard world-wide. You’ve probably listened to Family Radio (or skipped over them) without realizing it.

This massive Christian public radio station was founded by Harold Camping, and it teaches Camping’s beliefs mixed in with Christian hymnals and gospel music.

Besides the end of the world, Harold Camping believes that all Christian churches are currently ruled by Satan. The era of the Christian church, according to Camping, has come to an end. He calls this the “end of the church age”, and firmly asserts that no one has been saved through the church during this period.

All of you Christians going to church every Sunday? Not only are you wasting your time, according to Camping, but you are endangering your soul by associating in a house ruled by Satan. You would be better off staying home, praying, and reading the bible. In fact, that is your only path to salvation these days.

Camping has a call-in radio show every day that is great to listen to. He gets all sorts of calls, from adoring fans to indignant preachers. He gets Atheists too. Every call in is treated well, with a sort of quiet dignity. The caller is allowed his or her say, and then Camping responds with either teaching, or gentle chiding. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, and will quote chapter and verse from memory. He spends a lot of time interpreting what God meant when the bible says something obscure.

Something that I find very interesting is Camping’s theology on salvation. He doesn’t believe that there is anything a person can to to achieve salvation – including the more mainstream Christian belief of accepting Jesus as a ‘personal savior’. This is spelled out in the “Does God Love You?” tract, where it’s written:

Q. Now I am desperate. I do not want to be destroyed. What can I do to become saved?

A. There is nothing you can do to get yourself saved. The Bible tells us that only God can save you. God performs the mighty miracle of salvation by applying the Word of God (the Bible) to the hearts and lives of those He plans to save. The effect of this miracle of salvation on the saved person’s life is that now he has a love for God and the Bible. He now is happiest when he is obeying God’s Law book, the Bible. Thus if a person truly desires to become saved, he should spend much time carefully reading or listening to the Bible.

Q. Can I pray that God might be merciful and save me?

A. Absolutely YES! God is very merciful. Therefore, the Bible tells us that we can and should pray to Him, begging and pleading for mercy, for salvation, admitting that we are sinners who deserve the wrath of God. This will not get us saved, but we will have the assurance that God knows of our intense desire to become saved.

In other words, if you’re not on God’s list, you can just whistle. It doesn’t matter how sincere you are, if God doesn’t like the cut of your sail, he won’t toss you the life-preserver.

It’s no wonder that a large part of the call-ins to his show are indignant preachers. Camping soundly whups their tails, in a friendly voice while quoting wide areas of the bible as he delivers the whupping.

But Harold Camping has been wrong in the past. He once wrote a book where he said that the world would end in 1994. (Spoiler: it didn’t) He’s since justified his miscalculation in his publication “We are Almost There“, where he says that 1994 is actually the beginning of the Tribulation.

Still, even with being wrong, even with a method of date setting that pulls information from all over the bible in ways that are probably not meaningful, in ways where Camping is probably seeing patterns that are not really there – even with his stance on the Church and it’s preachers… Harold Camping still has devoted follwers here in Fresno.

Two weeks after the sweet-faced granny tried to give me a pamphlet, I was on my bike waiting for the light to change when an old gentleman came up to me on the corner and gave me an identical pamphlet. Perhaps he was her husband? I dunno. It was in a different part of town.

And finally, this makes me very sad. These people are going to have a major problem the day after the world doesn’t end. When there is no rapture on May 21st, when the world doesn’t end on October 21st of 2011, there will be a lot of very bewildered, unhappy people who will need our support.

It would be easy to laugh at them. But I think they would be better off getting kindness from us.

So when the world doesn’t end… send me an email and we will talk. I’m looking forward to seeing you then.