The cynical snickering over the failed denouement of Reverend Harold Camping’s May 21st predicted rapture may be somewhat justified, for—sadly--he joins the ranks of hundreds of other preachers throughout history who thought they knew more than the Messiah they professed to follow.
Ersatz prophets throughout the ages have failed to heed the words of the Christ, who said the secret of his return was hidden even from him, secreted in the Father’s heart. But still the irresistible urge to proclaim The End has afflicted cultists from time immemorial.
One need only think of the founder of the Jehovah Witnesses, Charles Taze Russell, who predicted Christ’s invisible return in 1874 and who predicted a more noticeable appearance would occur in 1914. Russell’s successor, undeterred by the failure of Christ to appear on command, visibly or invisibly, determined the year 1925 was when Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets would return to earth.
But before we break out into maniacal laughter at Reverend Camping’s and others’ notions concerning the Rapture, Second Coming or Apocalypse, perhaps it might be a good idea to take a look at why Camping’s ill-fated predictions aroused such intense interest and ridicule.
First, there is an interest among those on the Left, particularly among left media types, in ratifying their contempt for religion and people of faith by selecting the most absurd examples of Christianity run amok. That way the hard intellectual endeavor of studying faith traditions is neatly avoided while one satisfies one’s penchant for setting up paper tigers which may be shot down with one good cynical laugh. Isolated incidents and fringe doctrines are taken as the sum and substance of the whole of Christianity. Thus any story of a televangelist’s adultery, a priest’s molestation of a child, an out to lunch interpretation of scripture, or a failed prophecy become fodder for an anti-Christian feeding frenzy. There go those embittered people with their religion and guns again. Bunch of crazies, perverts and hypocrites.
Historically, we can see a similar tendency in the treatment of the Jews, who time and again have been saddled with stereotypical and vicious smears of blood libel, among other dangerous absurdities. As late as 1840, Jasper Chasseaud, American vice-consul to Lebanon, wrote:
“A most Barbarous secret for a long time suspected in the Jewish nation…at last came to light in the city of Damascus, that of serving themselves of Christian blood in their unleavened bread…a secret which these 1840 years must have made many unfortunate victims.”
Chasseaud appears actually to have believed the blood libel calumny, extant from medieval times and resurrected in the still popular Protocols of Zion, whose vile attacks against Jews are believed by credulous millions.
The point being, how easy is it to despise and laugh at people who believe and practice such insane and/or dangerous absurdities? Very easy.
But aren’t enlightened secular sophisticates are so much more reasonable and, well, sane. Well, are they? Are leftist secularists immune from attacks of apocalyptic craziness?
One has only to think of the range of End Time, apocalyptic scenarios cooked up by the extreme environmentalists, Gaia worshippers, and Pachamama devotees, along with other crazies who have left the realm of reality and rushed headlong into prophecies based on their ideas of what is infallible; be it “science” (actually pseudo-science) or pantheism. The End by asteroid; The End by violent explosions of the sun; The End by dried up energy sources; The End by global warming; The End by ice age; The End by evaporation of the ozone layer; The End by human predations. Or, even more colorful: The End by mutating viruses; alien invasions, human made robots run amok, or evil, conscienceless human clones rebelling against their creators.
Thus proving the religious impulse is not only ineradicable, but also not confined to overtly religious faith based entities such as Judaism and Christianity.
But there is yet more to the story of Mr. Camping and his ilk. There are at least two more things to consider.
As formerly referred to, paying attention to and trashing Mr. Camping and other earnest but plainly wrong fundamentalist and charismatic Christians whose prophetic instincts have proved erroneous is a way to avoid intellectual and spiritual encounter with the deeper beliefs of a great faith which has its roots in a history some 4,000 years old, and which has played an irreducible role in the shaping and building of Western civilization.
It is a way of avoiding encounter with some of the greatest minds and achievements of Western civilization. It is a cheap way of bypassing the immense and incalculable contributions of Christian thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, St John of the Cross, Luther, Calvin, Barth, Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and countless other theologians who have grappled with the spiritual and intellectual problems of their and our own age within the context of Christianity.
It is a way of trashing the Christian art, architecture and music which has informed and elevated the mind, heart and soul of countless millions: Chartres, Notre Dame; Giotto, Cimabue, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, El Greco; Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Stravinsky—just a partial list.
But most critically, the sarcastic and cynical focus on Mr. Camping’s failed prophecies is a way to avoid the historic claims and person of Jesus Christ, whose example and work have transformed millions of followers whose depth of faith and loyalty increases over the years.
And while Christ himself exhibited humility by refusing to predict the day and hour of his return, he did speak of an Apocalypse, of a time when all wrongs will be addressed, all false prophets proved wrong, and all that is right, all that is good, true and perfect re-established.
And last but not least, he spoke of time when scoffing and ridicule will fall away, every cynical and mocking tongue is silenced and every knee bowed in acknowledgment that he is Lord.
That is what his disciples said. That is what his disciples recorded. That is what millions—now billions-- believe, based on Christ’s life, his testimony and his sacrifice.
Last, though even Christians are unaccustomed to the idea of a God who laughs in derision at the follies and foibles of the human race, such a God is depicted in Psalm 2, a poem of David, the King of ancient Israel.
Cynics may scoff and people may imagine all kinds of vain things, probably including false prophecies. Jokesters may imagine themselves both funnier and more knowledgeable than God himself, but “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.”
And He has the last laugh.