The world won’t end today…and that’s a bit of a tragedy

May 21, 2011

Anyone who has grown up in a North American “fundagelical” household can probably relate to the feelings of bemusement over prophecy specialists who go so far as to set an exact (and often pressing) date for Christ’s return. Even most of those who fervently believe in the end-times trinity of Rapture, Antichrist, and Tribulation and see signs of one-world governments and false prophets in every technological advance or New Age guru see these particular believers as misguided–for doesn’t Scripture itself declare that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2), and that none will be able to predict its coming? (As an aside, given this requirement, the best strategy for those who desperately want their dispensationalist apocalypse to unfold–Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsay, etc.–might be to studiously AVOID making any predictions about its timing or preconditions.)

Still, fringe nutbars continue to assert their position with absolute certainty. Harold Camping ( has been prominent in the news recently for his insistence that Judgment Day will begin bare hours from now, to be followed by a great period of suffering which ends finally in five months. To make matters worse, apparently this man has a history of making similar predictions. 1994 was also put forward for the end of the world. Who believes this stuff? Are any of those disappointed by the previous gong-show results putting their trust in Camping once more, sure that he must have gotten things right this time?

This is tragic on a number of levels. First of all, it shows the power of bad ideas–the farce of “premillennial dispensationalism,” a hack job of sewing together dozens of unrelated Bible verses into an apparently coherent whole–to continue to influence fundamentalist and evangelical Christian believers. Sadly, this doctrine has migrated far from its North American origins to become almost common currency among many Protestant believers who follow the “Great Tradition” of historical Christian orthodoxy. Secondly, it makes all “Bible-believing Christians” look like fools who will willingly entertain any number of insane ideas.

But the real tragedy, and reason for my title, is the human one. What about the apparent thousands of followers who are honestly convinced by this guy? Camping is preying upon very real fears–his tract advises readers to examine their Bibles carefully, “with all your family (especially your children),” and to “pray to the merciful and gracious God of the Bible that He might deliver you from the approaching destruction.” This is simply horrific. Again, those raised fundagelically will identify with the terrible memory of possibly being “left behind”…entering a quiet house where you expected your mother to be, not realizing she had stepped out for an errand, for example. Real people are praying right now that God will deliver them from the wrath he is about to inflict upon a sinful world.

What recourse will they have tomorrow? A number of options, of course, but I imagine that many will lose faith in the whole endeavour. Christianity as a “house of cards,” where God’s existence depends upon an imminent Second Coming and a 6,000 year old earth and homosexuals who are evil and malicious people and a secular conspiracy against the Bible…and so it goes. Disprove any one element–remove a single card–and the whole thing collapses (thanks to slacktivist for this analogy). Similarly, Jesus himself warned us not to build our houses on the sand (Matthew 7:26).

One tragedy of May 21st will be people who decide that they can no longer be Christians, based on a doctrine that was never actually a Christian fundamental in the first place.

Where’s the Good News?