In response to Howard Camping: An atheist’s view
As an enthusiastic atheist (my own term) I have viewed the recent furor over Howard Camping’s activities with my usual mix of derision, an urge to bang my head against the wall, and a desire to weep.
Let me sum up my view. There is no god of Abraham just as there is no Zeus. Therefore, theology is just mythology that some people believe is true. For me, it really should be as simple as that. However, I feel the need to comment further, as the silly subset of mythology known as eschatology has received an inordinate amount of press of late.
Reaction to Harold Camping’s predictions from those with more orthodox views has been predictably quick and quashing. These people cite scripture, of course, as they believe it to be the alpha and omega of wisdom. The website raptureready.com dismisses Camping in the following way:
The following two scriptures alone debunk Harold Camping: Matthew 24:35-36 (King James Version)
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.
And this Scripture below is even stronger: Mark 13:32 (King James Version)
But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”
ARGUMENTS: No Man knows, not even the Angels, so WHO IS HAROLD CAMPING? He is definitely not an Angel, so that leaves him as a mere Man – a Man who has set a date that the Lord did not command!
The creators of the site feel the need to distance themselves from the even-more-lunatic-fringe. It all smacks of the smug self-assuredness that those who really “know” how to interpret scripture are so prone to.
Note how the authors don’t actually disagree with Camping’s ideas of a literal end of the world with angels with fiery swords and final judgements by big guys on clouds. They just doubt Camping’s ability to divine (pun intended) the actual date. All of them are so caught up in showing their piety by believing every word literally they miss the fact that a little deeper reading may actually reveal a little spiritual guidance, hidden in prose.
Camping is also being written off as a cult leader. Let he who is not a pot describe the kettle as being black. What, after all, is the difference between a cult and a religion? Staying power? X-million followers? Political backing? Any of those could explain it.
Is Mr. Camping delusional, then? Probably yes – though, I must admit, my online psychiatry diploma is still in the mail along with the diplomas of so many Southern pastors. The only real difference between Camping and the others seems to be patience. He’s an old man. He’s spent his whole life really believing this stuff (probably), and now that he sees his own end approaching, he is keen for his ultimate reward as a good Christian to be delivered now. Or he’s a complete fraud and wants to sell some books. Probably a bit of both, sure; but he isn’t the first and won’t be the last.
My main gripe with the man is that he is not alone. He is a renegade part of a much larger movement of people who really believe and pray every day that the Book of Revelation will come to pass. Their dearest wish is that all of us and our world will come to an end as soon as possible so that they can receive their righteous reward. Thankfully, I – the enthusiastic atheist – know these prayers are futile. If these folks would simply, passively, wait and pray, there would be nothing to worry about.
The main fear is that when zealous’ patience finally wears thin, they will try and push things along in their “right” direction. While I have no desire to sound paranoid or alarmist, rapture websites include such imagery as mushroom clouds and war planes. And it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility for such extremists to achieve real power. Remember the Iraq war? Apparently God told President Bush to do it.
Every tragedy in our modern world is seen as portentous. And unfortunately, such interest in the end of all things has spread into low-brow pop culture: weak movies based on weak predictions like the Mayan apocalypse of 2012.
The real tragedy is that total belief in the end of the world detracts from any concerted efforts to mitigate today’s environmental problems, or even a belief that there is a real problem in the first place. Surely those who believe the world to be God’s creation would have some interest in preserving it, through being at the forefront of conservation and environmental initiatives. But it would be a strange Texan indeed who stood up to say, “You know, all, oil is great and everything, but shouldn’t we be trying to push greener fuels to protect what God hath wrought?”
It seems to boil down to the fact that for fundamentalists (perhaps most believers), belief in an afterlife makes this current existence less important. Religions have been called cults of death by critics. The state of sheer trembling anticipation, in which the rapturists live, makes this view hard to refute. While I know the prophecies are fables at best, I am also painfully aware of the physical damage they can do to this world and its inhabitants.
Perhaps the moderate majority can reel in the extremists. I sincerely hope so and I do consider it their responsibility. Whether there is actually any will to do so or if it’s in any way possible remains to be seen. Perhaps embarrassment at more outbursts by the likes of Camping will finally reach a critical mass.
|Niall MacInnes is an educator and committed television arguer. He lives in Gatineau, Quebec.|