Back in the 14th century, the established Christian church went to great lengths to burn every copy of John Wycliffe’s English Bible it could lay hands on --- as well as those carrying them around. In 1428, carrying out orders of Pope Martin V, the great translator’s remains were exhumed, burned and thrown into a crick.
So even that long ago, there was general recognition that some folks, including Harold Egbert Camping, should stick to Fox News and The National Enquirer --- and lay off the holy writ.
In case you’ve missed it, the world ends Saturday --- at least according to Camping --- an 89-year-old Colorado native now based in Oakland, Calif. His Family Radio non-profit Christian broadcasting network has been spreading that message for some time now, attracting lots of attention, a few believers and a great deal of scorn.
Actually, it’s just the Rapture that’s scheduled for Saturday. God won’t get around to destroying the world until Oct. 21, Camping says.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be mowing the lawn. It’s a lot like always wearing clean underwear and making sure there are no holes in your socks. You never know when there’s going to be an accident, you end up in the emergency room and the state of your tighty-whities just adds to the embarrassment. Shaggy grass is a major source of embarrassment these days and I wouldn't want to leave unshorn grass behind or, in a more likely scenario, have to scrounge for gas if all the good folks at Casey's General Store were swept away.
The end will begin with a Pacific Rim earthquake Saturday morning; the rapture itself, at 7 p.m. Iowa time, Camping says.
The old boy himself, now a loose cannon, was affiliated with the Christian Reformed denomination until May 21, 1988, when, he discerned, “the spirit of God left all churches.” He’s been on his own since, like the original loose cannons --- banging around storm-tossed Christianity’s great ship and causing a certain amount of damage.
He originally had planned for the world to end during September of 1994, but it didn’t. While many of us would agree that the spirit of God has for the most part left large chunks of the institutional church, it seems unlikely that his dating of the departure is any more accurate.
Speculation about the end-times has been a significant byway of Christianity for as long as there’s been Christianity, although Jesus didn’t have much to say about it --- other than pointing out the folly of trying to figure out exactly when they would occur. Many of his early followers, however, clearly expected the end during their lifetimes.
Preachers and laypeople obsessed with prophecy have been at it ever since. Baptist preacher William Miller’s “great disappointment” of 1844 left us the Seventh-day Adventists, but little else.
Back in the day, wandering around with my folks on a Sunday afternoon, we stopped at Salem Cemetery --- when Salem Church still stood there. We peered through the church windows and saw that the walls were lined with elaborate charts. Prophecy meetings were in progress and the charts illustrated how the end would come --- without I suspect dating it precisely. I wanted to go in and look. The folks would have none of it, however, and got us the heck out of there.
The whole business still is embedded in American culture. A March 2010 Pew Research Center study, for example, concluded that 41 percent of us believe the world will end within the next 40 years.
A more recent Public Religion Research Institute study suggests that 67 percent of white evangelical Christians believe that recent natural disasters --- tsunamis and the like --- suggest that the end is near, That’s an opinion shared by 30 percent of white mainline Christians, 34 percent of Catholics and 28 percent of the unaffiliated.
Sorry, but there’s no evidence natural disasters are occurring more frequently than they ever have, and despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about moral decline, morality never has been humanity’s strong suit. Christians seem even to have gotten a little better as the centuries rolled onward --- most now acknowledge that people of other colors actually have souls, we no long routinely slaughter Jews and even have backed off a little on destruction of indigenous native cultures. We’re still obsessed by sex at the moment, but perhaps that, too, shall pass.
You can understand why end-times prophesying is so popular. A Rapture, for example, would be the ultimate gotcha moment. What fun to watch everyone we don’t like burn, proving thereby that we really are the righteous ones.
And if the end is near, why bother about such inconsequentials as peace, conserving the environment, loving one another, feeding the hungry --- all that nonsense? Or, perhaps, working to convince the unconvinced --- without scaring the Jesus clean out of ‘em --- that the Christian way has positive attributes to recommend it. That would require effort, however; anticipating Rapture doesn't.
Oh well. Life’s far too short to worry about the Apocalypse. But I do plan to mow the lawn --- or at least fill up the gas can --- just in case.