Sunday, March 11, 2012

From Apocalypse to Spin Cycle

You remember when people started disappearing on May 21, 2011 for the Rapture, right?  Or how about when God divided all of us as either sheep or goats, as either the citizens of Heaven or the denizens of Hell, back on October 21, 2011?  These were the prophetic dates given by Harold Camping, the leader of a Christian ministry which is broadcast through Family Radio.

Prior to these dates, Camping explained how God had given us many infallible(!) proofs from His word that those days would be the markers of the ends of human history as we know it.  When May 21 came and went without any divinely driven exodus, Camping admitted that he didn't know why there was no Rapture, expressed that it was God's prerogative to alter plans as He saw fit, and held fast to the October 21 date as being Judgement Day.  Then October 21 passed into history like any other day...

From that failed prophesy, there are essentially only two paths such a believer can go down:

One path is to renounce the faith completely.  If the proofs of the prophetic dates were infallible and Bible based, then obviously the Bible is wrong.  If the Bible is wrong, then faith in the Bible is not justified.  Psychologically speaking, this is an extremely difficult path.  It involves admitting you are wrong, admitting that you were fooled, and admitting that you have wasted time, money, and effort on something that had false value.

The other path is similar to the first, but different in a critical way, and that makes all the difference in preference of the options.  If you don't renounce the faith, you still can't avoid admitting that you were wrong and that you had been fooled.  Harold Camping has come to terms with this, and posted an open letter on the Family Radio website this month (it took a while to come to terms, obviously) stating among other things:

"... In Romans 3:4 God declares: "Let God be true but every man a liar." Events within the last year have proven that no man can be fully trusted. Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken. 
We must also openly acknowledge that we have no new evidence pointing to another date for the end of the world. Though many dates are circulating, Family Radio has no interest in even considering another date. God has humbled us through the events of May 21, to continue to even more fervently search the Scriptures (the Bible), not to find dates, but to be more faithful in our understanding. 
We have learned the very painful lesson that all of creation is in God’s hands and He will end time in His time, not ours!"
So you see the humble recognition that Camping had gotten it all wrong, trusting more in the wisdom of himself than the wisdom of God.  He is OK with being wrong, because that is the lot of all humanity.  He has also learned his lesson, and will not be claiming any new dates for the End.

But that's not all that he said.  By choosing this path, he did not have to admit that he had wasted time, money, and effort on something that had false value.  In fact, he is quite certain that it did have value:

"Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.
Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible."

And so you see how even the most grand of follies is "spun" into an affirmation; both of the awesome power of God, and of the fact that their precious resources were not wasted.  The misguided believer humbles himself only to pat himself on the back for playing his part faithfully in God's master plan.

I've seen the same patterns of self-deception played out on lesser scales time and time again.


  1. After I'd read Mr. Camping's Act of Contrition—although I wanted to—I decided not to comment on my blog. I had poked fun at him a couple of times last year, but this time around I let the opportunity pass. I was thinking more about the Limbaugh affair and appropriate speech. Mocking the old man just didn’t seem right.

    But had I done so, I would have stressed the valuable assets we sinners are to God. And so on.

    1. I, too, had poked fun at Mr. Camping earlier, Paul. I may not have had the skill to pull it off in this post, but I was trying to emphasize more the pattern of denial more than trying to mock him, thus the concluding line.

      I'm quite familiar with Mr. Camping's radio broadcasts, and I always believed that he handled himself well, and that he had a sincere faith and motivation. From that point of view, I respect him a lot, and the last thing I would want to do is mock him.

      On the other hand, the mentality, the humanity behind the confidence in a determined plan of God, and the subsequent coping with what is left behind when those plans fall through, is utterly fascinating to me. That's the motivation for this particular post.

  2. God did indeed use the false prediction -- to help even more people see through this silly side of apocalyptic religions.