All of this talk about the end of the world coming on May 21, 2011 is so silly. When everybody knows that's going to happen on December 21, 2012. Right?The 2012 date, some say, was predicted by the Mayans. The more contemporary prediction is being made on radio and on billboards all around the country by Harold Camping, the 89-year old president of the Family Radio Network, based in Oakland. (You can listen to the station here.)
Camping and his prediction have been all over the news, more so as we hurtle headlong toward the fateful day. Camping doesn't foresee the end of the world, per se; he believes what we're actually going to experience is The Rapture, a central event in Christian eschatology supposedly heralding the return of Jesus Christ.
This belief generally holds that those who have been "saved" will be swept up to Heaven, as unbelievers are left on earth to suffer a cataclysmic period known as the Tribulation. The wildly popular Left Behind book series deals with these events, and many Christian broadcasters reference them constantly, though very few, if any, have ventured exact dates. (Camping once before went out on a limb, predicting the end would come Sept. 4, 1994. That prognostication, as one newspaper put it, was "erroneous.")
Family Radio, apparently, has been profiting from Camping's warning. From the Contra Costa Times:
Judgment Day is fabulous for business. Just ask Family Radio, the evangelical nonprofit that has plastered billboards and driven vans across the Bay Area and the world proclaiming the end of the world will be Saturday. The Oakland-based nonprofit has raised more than $100 million over the past seven years, according to tax returns. It owns 66 radio stations across the globe and was worth more than $72 million in 2009. As The End nears, donations have spiked, a board member says, enabling Family Radio to spend millions of dollars on more than 5,000 billboards.
Meanwhile, reports abound of people who have been seriously preparing for the End, giving away their worldly possessions, taking to the road to spread the word.
KQED's Stephanie Martin yesterday talked to Pastor Jacob Denys of Calvary Bible Church in Milpitas. Denys says the true believers he's talked to won't even entertain the possibility that May 22 will arrive as usual. He says members of his congregation will spend May 21 outside Camping's headquarters, in order to tend to those of his followers who might feel disappointed or distraught. Listen below:
If members of Calvary Bible show up outside Family Radio, they may run into a group of folks who not necessarily concerned with the welfare of Camping's adherents. Ed Holmes of the muckraking San Francisco Mime Troupe is a longtime political satirist whom I know personally as a fierce critic of all things religious. Holmes, who presides over the annual "Saint Stupid's Day" parade, is planning on spending May 21 outside Camping HQ with a group of like-minded religious critics. Holmes says he wants to release balloons during a "mock the prophet" party, a spoof of the belief that true Christians will ascend to heaven on the day of the Rapture. Listen below:
I asked Holmes if he had any concern about the mental welfare of those who might feel disappointed when Camping's prediction flops. Holmes says those who feel disillusioned will do so regardless of his actions, and that he is using humor as a weapon against those who have taken on a "self-imposed authority."
The group American Atheists is also planning to rub it in, it seems. It's planning a rapture party at Oakland's Masonic Temple on May 21, and, God willing, May 22.
If you find yourself caught between mockery, compassion, and even belief, perhaps you'll find this opinion by Rev. Ben Daniel of San Jose useful. It was broadcast on a KQED Radio Perspectives' segment.
At my house, on May 21st, we will we will drink champagne, toasting the world that won't end and the future that probably won't be as bad as the newspapers suggest. I hope you'll do the same. Maybe you don't like champagne or you cannot drink the stuff. That's OK. Celebrate in some other way: make cupcakes and eat them off fine china, drink lemonade from heirloom crystal. Put on a tuxedo and dance, wear a ballroom gown and cowgirl boots and go fly a kite at the beach. Do whatever works. Just have fun because life will go on.
And if for some wacky reason Judgment Day does come to pass on the 21st of May, you will be in a state of grace, entirely prepared to stand before your God.
Listen to the entire segment below: