A lot of Christians will be in church this Sunday wiping the sweat from their brows. The world didn’t end on Saturday, as predicted in a well-publicized prophecy, and they weren’t carried off by God or left behind to die in a terrible cataclysm back on earth.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The End of the Reverend Harold Camping
The prophesy came from a radio preacher named Harold Camping, who declared that Saturday was the day Jesus would be back for his Second Coming and that The End of the World was near. Sinners and infidels rejected by God would die in a mass extermination as earthquakes and floods wracked the earth. After five days of agony, the world would blow up like an overinflated basketball.
The reverend Camping learned about all this through a close reading of the Bible. He once was an engineer and liked dealing with numbers. He calculated that the exact date of Noah’s flood was sometime in the 49th century BC. And with the help of certain clues contained in the Books of Peter, he was able to extrapolate that the world would end on 5-21-2011 AD at about 1800 hours PDT. The cataclysm was needed so God could sort out the people of the earth and send all the good ones to a safe eternity in heaven.
This scenario pops up every few years when an inspired zealot comes up with a revised version that he believes will captivate a new group of gullible simpletons. This is not usually a difficult task. A study by the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life found in a 2006 study that 20 percent of Americans believe that in their lifetimes the Second Coming of Christ will take place, heralding the end of the world.
A big problem for believers is what happens when doomsday doesn’t arrive on schedule. You would expect there to follow some sincere soul searching. But it turns out The End is a flexible concept, one that can be pushed forward in time by a day, a month, or even years. New calculations usually discover errors or incorrect interpretations. For example, a year in biblical time can be recalculated to equal 1,000 actual years. This kind of thing could really screw up your effort to pin down biblical dates, especially if you weren’t sure whether to use the Roman or the Gregorian calendar.
On Sunday the earth will still be in its accustomed place, but it would be a good idea for everyone to read the Sunday papers or to view the Sunday morning interview programs to see what the reverend Camping has to say about where he and the End of the World are going next. He might also show up on Meet the Press so he can explain to Republican budget cutters, who invariably appear on such programs, that you don’t always get what you expect when predicting chaos and disaster.