Sunday, May 22, 2011

Post Rapture Wrap Up

I'm going to assume you've heard the Christian Rapture didn't happen on schedule, and if you haven't, a quick websearch will yield the info.  The source of the claim was Family Radio, ( as of this writing, the website is down) specifically its founder, Harold Camping, who insisted his [mis]calculations on Biblical prophesies  pinpointed May 21, 2011 as the day of the Rapture: the day when Jesus would come and supernaturally vacuum up all Christian believers and deposit them in heaven as a prelude to the end of the world.  All of the hubbub surrounding this non-event had me re-visiting places and theories and ideas that I hadn't for some time.  Bear with me while I process these thoughts.

As usual, most people were poking fun and mocking before May 21 and now a lot of people are angry at Camping.  That's what happens to prophets, false or real.  It doesn't matter what they say, until what they predict actually happens, every prophet gets treated in the same manner.  There is no justifiable reason to believe someone whose predictions have never come to pass and Camping has made this kind of prediction before. Though, in the days before May 21, underneath some of the playful mocking I felt and heard expressed an undercurrent of fear.  What if he's right?  Nah, it's all too ridiculous and based on very sketchy theology and bogus number crunching.  Those people are crazy.  But what if he's right?  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.  Pishaw, do you know how many doomsday predictions there have been?  Thousands! Maybe millions!  They've all been wrong. He's wrong, I tell you.  But it could happen.  Anything can happen.  Yes, and I could be turned into a toad by an evil witch because there are books that foretell that sort of thing happening.

What irked me most was not the prediction itself but the attitude of the prophet. As tarot readers, we understand predictions.  We're well aware that predictions are hit or miss, like the weather.  We know that probable outcomes are not a concrete certainty. In Camping's predictions there was no humility, no understanding that he could be wrong (a "tiny miniscule chance" that he could be wrong is all he would admit).  There was no acknowledgement that he is but a finite dude in human clothing that can't see with the eyes of the God he believes.  I've studied the Bible, Christian theology and history, as well as various non-canonical writings.  More importantly, I've spent time among evangelical, fundamentalist Christians.  I was a part of that world once and I know how Camping got his listeners to embrace his theories.  It was built, scripture verse by verse with years of indoctrination into a mindset and belief system that made it "rational" and "sensible" and entirely believable to many people.  If you're coming into it at this juncture, never having experienced what it is to be taught and to believe the foundational pieces to this colossal gaff, it all seems so unbelievably stupid.

First of all, the one thing that will get my defenses up is stereotyping of Christians, even though I've been known to do it myself in frustration.  I don't identify as a Christian anymore, so it's not personal knee-jerking. Stereotyping any group is pretty ignorant, but with Christians it completely misses the mark because of Christianity's inherent factionalism.  It's not enough to say, "Oh, I know some really decent Christians."  That's like saying, "I have some Black friends."  With very public misfires such as this recent non-Rapture it's quite easy and convenient to simply dismiss Camping and those who believed him as ignorant, gullible fanatics.  While those who took their belief to the road may reasonably qualify as "fanatics" I would not say they were gullible or ignorant.  Fanatics are simply people who got their Wands lit up and fanatics are quite often those who change the world.  Gullibility implies one is easily deceived or duped because of a lack of intelligence.  While these folks were deceived and duped, it wasn't easy and they aren't stupid.  They weren't even credulous, which implies being persuaded to believe something unlikely but unsupported by evidence.  Evidence is what apologists are all about.  For all the people who publicly proclaimed belief in the May 21 Rapture, there were many more who secretly believed but who felt sheepish about coming out about it.  Even more entertained it as a distinct possibility.  Why?  Because of the evidence, which is quite persuasive if you happen to believe certain foundational theories.

Most Christians don't really dig that deeply into the mind-y apologetic stuff, but a good many do.  Usually they are the really gifted and brilliant ones, ones whose minds need such provoking. You know, the Swords types of people.  There are lots more Cups people in Christianity.  Christianity can feel really good.  I remember feeling relief that, after all the uncertainty and questioning, I had finally been shown the answers to life's problems or at least the means to find them in the Bible.  It felt good to belong to a community that welcomed me and accepted me.  It felt good to sing and worship.  It was reassuring to know that voice I sometimes heard inside didn't qualify me as schizophrenic, that it was indeed God's Holy Spirit guiding me.  All these qualities and more filled the cups inside of me.  Fiery Wands folks are usually found in the Evangelical and Charismatic camps, but they're everywhere.  Passion and zeal for their spiritual beliefs prompt them to do some pretty wild things, but they also provide the inspiration for change and reaching out to others.  They'll let the Pentacles people tend to the homeless and hungry but they were the ones that got the program started. Me, I'm more a Swords type, and while it was my searching and curious mind that led me into Christianity, and despite the initial emotional satisfaction,  that same inquisitive mind led me out.  Out of the labels and boxes and debates and mind-numbing, hair-splitting, morally repugnant, contradictory, sometimes nonsensical theological web that is The Church.  It has taken years to unravel the knots, but  I took some really good stuff with me. 

The funny thing about The Church is that it doesn't really exist.  It never did.  Before it even got off the ground there were splinters and cells and branches and offshoots.  The writings of the apostles in the New Testament clearly show theological disagreements among them that resulted in marked divisions of factions.  While one group clearly became more popular and ended up codifying the body of writings we know today as The Holy Bible, the Reformation in the 1500's brought some brutal editing of that book.  Gnostic Christians have been contributing to the divisions since the early days as well, bringing into play the "other" Gospels such as Thomas, Judas, and Mary Magdalene's.  Over the last two thousand years a lot of energy in these groups has gone into proving each other wrong.  The varied sects of Christianity have continued to divide even more and there is now exponentially more arguing and debating over the minutiae of Scripture.  If one spends any time among Christian apologists, one should be prepared to give one's position in titles before you can begin the discussion.  Are you Reformed? Calvinist? Arminian? Are you Evangelical? Are you a Dispensationalist?  What about Pre-Trib or Post?  Forget that, are you a Preterist? A Universalist?  What's your stance on baptism, sprinkled or immersion?  Infant or age-of accountability?  What do you believe about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?  Are they for today or did they cease after Pentecost?  Clearly this goes way beyond Catholic versus Protestant, Gnostic or Orthodox.  Each of these positions rely heavily on Biblical prooftexting and are likewise each very persuasive to the intelligent mind.  However, they oppose one another.  One cannot be, for example, both Arminian and Calvinist as they negate each other, even though one might agree with concepts in both theories.


The entire construct of Camping's Rapture date was based on a "new earth" creationist theory which places the date of earth's creation at around 6,000 BCE plus or minus 2,000 years.  There are many problems with this, one of which is that the ancient civilization of Egypt began prior to the time assigned to the creation of man. Per the creationists, that's a technicality and those carbon daters have it all wrong because natural earth events, acts of God, like floods and volcanoes tend to speed up geological processes. Both creationists and evolutionists agree that evolution is impossible with a "young earth" perspective, which suits creationists just fine since they don't believe in evolution anyway.  In order to accept Camping's evidence, one would first have to believe Genesis happened literally.  While that may seem far-fetched to many, the Christian literal belief system is based on a belief in a God that can do anything.  Any Thing.  What other kind of god is worthy of worship and devotion?  So while the stories in the Bible may seem unbelievable, a literalist Christian will believe them because God is capable of doing unbelievable things.  In order to even begin to accept Camping's evidence, one would have to already accept as fact that God exists, is Omnipotent, and the creationist position of a "young earth."  Lots of Christians already believe those things.  It's heresy in many circles to not believe them.  Because there are no assigned dates in the early books of the Bible, the first known date is at the beginning of King Saul's reign over Israel in 1020 BCE which creationists then work backwards from to arrive at their year of earth's creation.  It is done through estimates of generations, the time of Judges, genealogies, etc.  They didn't just pull a date out of their underwear, but they do limit themselves to what is contained in the Bible, which they consider infallible and the only reliable source of truth.  Camping took on the arduous task of calculating these dates and ended up with May 21, 2011 and presented his work as evidence.  For someone who already accepts certain foundational arguments, the evidence is quite persuasive.  For everyone else, it's nonsense.  But it isn't ignorant, it's just...unlikely.

The evidence doesn't rely entirely on dates and calculations of creation.  Current events that appear to fulfill prophesy are also trotted out.  Scriptures that seem to predict present day earthquakes, wars, and the Internet, even though they were likely already fulfilled a long time ago, are given as evidence that the End Times are imminent or already here.  Here is where things get messy.  I remember the first time I read Revelation as a Christian.  It terrified me.  I couldn't understand how anyone could receive comfort from that book.  It's a horrifying roller-coaster ride of devastation and destruction.  So what that the Christians may be spared some of the harsher scenes, it's brutal.  It seemed to me that everything Jesus talked about in the Gospels was negated as he dishes out torment to his enemies.  In time, I was indoctrinated into reconciling the Jesus of the Gospels with the Jesus of Revelation, who, by the way, is a favored representation of some men who feel uncomfortable with the submissive wuss of the Gospels.  Everything is set to rights when Badass Revelation Jesus comes back with a sword,  kicking heathen and demon ass and taking names.  Redemption indeed.  I grew up during the Cold War era and the nuclear warning sirens still went off every Wednesday.  We believed the Russians could wipe us out at any time, and we them.  One could only hope one died in the initial atomic blast as the picture painted of a post-nuclear war world was hellish and miserable.  I imagined the Tribulation like that.  I could never fully reconcile the tenets of the Gospels to this last book of the Bible.  It's like the angry Zeus-like God (and his Pantheon) of the Old Testament makes an encore appearance, and after all is said and done, a glittering city appears for the believers and evil is vanquished, and we all live happily ever after, curtain closes, The End.  What?

In order to reconcile anything, including monkeys flying out of my butt, I had to believe God would and could do Any Thing.  I finally got to the place where I couldn't do that anymore.  I couldn't speak peace with God in one sentence and callously care less that "evildoers" were destined to burn in hell for eternity because they didn't jump on the Jesus Bus soon enough.  I never could accept that most of the human race were living walk-on parts in this drama but destined for hell because they aren't among God's elect.  I could no longer abide the contradictory logic that on the one hand told me all my sins, past, present, future, were forgiven, but God's arms wouldn't reach past a certain point if I decided to keep sinning.  Nor did it make any sense that if Jesus defeated Satan on the Cross and released the captive prisoners of the devil, then why were Christians warning about the devil duping me now?  Grace is amazing, but you better watch your step because God may decide to rescind it if He gets fed up with your sorry self.  The most honest Christians are the ones who see the inconsistencies in the interpretations and teachings and simply throw up their hands and say, "Look, we can't know for sure, but I believe because Jesus has spoken to my heart, and I've trusted God's voice inside of me.  That's all I know for sure.  Meanwhile, I know God loves us and I love God's creation, the people and the earth and life itself.  I'm just going to attempt to live that."  My Christian intellectual finds unearthed so many more questions than answers but  I'm content with unanswered questions now.  I feel no pressing need to reconcile what happens in life to any predetermined code or theology.  We're all in this together and any one of us could get it right or wrong at any given time.

 I sincerely hope this non-Rapture experience proves to be enlightening for some people, but Christians are a fairly stubborn lot.  That comes, in part, from having beliefs rooted in some good, solid evidence, or at least what appears to be evidence.  What many Christians fail to fully appreciate about their faith is that it isn't, or shouldn't be, based on evidence but is itself the evidence.  "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)  Faith in what you believe is the outward manifestation of that belief.  You don't need numbers and dates and calamities and prophecy fulfillment to know God is real to you.  What more evidence does one need than that within your own heart and life?  If you're still seeking outward evidence, fine, but that's not faith.  And having a solid faith doesn't mean nothing catastrophic will happen to you, but a calm in the middle of the storm.  There really is no way to prepare for major disruption on earth.  No emergency kit will help when a 9 point something earthquake hits.  Only love for one another, people helping each other get through the day, helps anything. And isn't that what we're told Jesus gave as the one and only commandment that sums up all of the Law and the Prophets commentaries combined? "Love one another as I have loved you." (John 13:34 & 15:12)  Camping isn't the only one that needs to brush up on that.

And if to you all of this was simply another "look at the Christians being stupid again" event, carry on.  I won't defend indefensible acts.  I only felt obliged to say it really isn't ignorance or gullibility that is on display.  Just human fallibility dressed up like faith.  And the Fool, often a symbol for Jesus, always comes in to say the Emperor has no clothes.

13 comments:

nath99 said...

It seems that there is another group on the scene with a new perspective in disputing Camping’s prophesies. They make a compelling statement that “Jesus is here now.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-0Br4o0ULk

Mark said...

I found several of Professor Bart Ehrman's books helpful in reconciling who I though Jesus was versus what I was taught in Church. His Misquoting Jesus looks at all the issues and various in the Bible. His Early Christianities reviews the different versions of the Bible with the most common Western version now showing up until 300 years after Jesus (he doesn't address if the Early Christians went to Heaven or not since they didn't have a bible to believe in). I also have his Jesus Interrupted and Forged on my wishlist.

André said...

That is a nice post, prejudice creates nothing but ignorance. Understanding by other hand.......

Well, my limited vision and experience tells me that many of these problems happens because people mistake Religion by Spirituality.

Ginny said...

nath99 -- I looked at the video and website. Interesting this but all too common a schtick. Once again, a "prophet is known by his fruit" and if people want to claim supernatural or God-ordained foreknowledge, they will have to prove it. Tarot readers are held up to the same ruler. One should be very circumspect regarding their own claims.

Mark -- YES! Bart Ehrman's work is really good. I was exposed to his work in a university religion class and have a couple of his books. Fantastic. I always find amusement in thinking about a debate between the Apostle Paul and some modern-day Christian intellectual. Too many appear to be worshiping the Bible rather than who it is about.

Andre -- Religions are, well, they are are supposed to be, a vehicle for one's spirituality. Like the Hierophant's purpose, to give "feet" or solid form to ethereal concepts, religions give us ways to externalize our spiritual experiences. The rituals, the observances, the theology, is all meant to make the unseen seen. It's good. But then human nature being what it is, it usually goes sideways as they form into institutions that care more for its own existence than the spirit or people it owes its existence to. So much damage and hurt has been done by religions in the name of God that it is perfectly understandable why so many reject "boxed" religions and prefer instead their own outworking of spirit, or reject spirit altogether.

Given what I've known about Christians, they're not stupid. They may be focusing a bit narrowly, but no, not stupid at all. The same is true for any adherents of any religion. Disagreement with someone's world view may inhibit productive discourse, but it doesn't mean anyone is stupid. I think that's one of the biggest fallacies out there about devout Christians -- that they are ignorant, gullible, and not playing with a full box of crayons.

Dove said...

I agree, religious ones are definitely not stupid. It's actually all about emotion, emotional trauma...fear. As a "sensitive" kid going to church, love was not the strongest thing I felt there--I felt fear, my own and that of others trembling in the pews. Fear will trump intelligence any day of the week.

As children we are little sponges, and we sop up all that fear around us. We believe what we're told--over and over and over again, especially with that fiery fear burning it into our little hearts and minds. I personally consider teaching this sh*t to children is child abuse.

Even having been a bible-pounder as a kid, I didn't for an instant believe this "rapture" BS was going to happen. If it even crossed my mind, it was that if any such thing were really meant to happen, we were all goners to begin with. This reality, this existence, whatever created all of this--it's brilliance, absolute brilliance. The idea of the rapture is stupid, but people cling to such things out of fear, trauma--that unhealed child within. Same with those totally new to religion as an adult--they're just hungry to feel valuable, and religion tells them they are IF they tow the line. That's bullsh*t. We're valuable. Period.

Religion is about rules, control--a way to control, divide and conquer people. It instills in us, burns it into us, that power is outside of us, not within us. That's the biggest lie of all. If ANYTHING has no value without something outside of it, then it has no value. Hence the world we live in, a world filled with so much self-loathing that we are now at a point of self-destruction, destruction of the world. A world of "sheep" giving their power away to unworthy rulers, corrupt government. It simply mirrors that unfortunate message that religion teaches--that power is outside of us, that we have no power/value.

THIS is what "religion" has brought to us. Not love, because love starts with self-love, knowing that we are valuable, without condition. And religion definitely doesn't teach that.

I hope and I so want to believe that we are going to turn this around though. But it REQUIRES that we heal from this trauma, this terrible belief that we are "nothing without God." And given that we are "God," as "Magicians" with our "wands" (our powerful beliefs) we will destroy ourselves with that power that is inherently us. We are the snake devouring its own tail.

That old book is filled with symbolic stories that we could learn well from IF we knew that they are not about some "god," but about us. "God" simply being a fairy tale name for it. If you look at these stories as if they were symbolic dreams, where we as individuals are every character, they begin to make some sense. We are "Jesus," "God," all of it. Wrath-y and loving, "heaven" and "hell"--all within us and about us. Einstein said when it's simple god is answering. It's simple. Fearful men have made it complex for a reason...

Dove

Ginny said...

Very well stated, Dove, thank you so much for commenting. I really enjoy talking with people who have an "inside-out" view, in that they have been in the religious culture and completely understand what drives those within it, but who themselves, even if they still have kept the gems, have rejected the very negative and harmful messages. You have both a subjective and objective viewpoint that is so very valuable.

Tarot Reader said...

LOL - love your analysis and humour on the subject. I worry that religion has become `home`to people, and they question it as much as they question whether their mother gave birth to them... as in `not``.

Ginny said...

I would have to agree. My personal journey out of it started when my belief in the faithful transcription/translation of the scriptures was called into question. I ran across a deliberate sex-change in the NT. Someone had changed the Greek name of a female apostle by the simple adding of a letter at the end of her name to make her male. It made me question whether other significant things had been changed because they didn't agree with the theology of the translator. This discovery led to more and more discoveries in the languages of the Bible and meanings that had been set aside or discarded due to theological politics. I felt betrayed by those who insisted not only on the inerrancy of the text but on the integrity of the copies. But this is what critically thinking people do, and while some of the most brilliant people are religious, it does appear they have intentional and huge blind spots associated with their favorite sacred cows.

Kirsten Weiss said...

I really appreciate the way you handled this topic. I did my share of eye rolling about the May 21st doomsday predictions. But as a Christian, I often find myself wincing when I walk into Tarot or Pagan groups engaging in Christian bashing. Yes, there is some silliness in Christianity, but you'll find that anywhere. Anyway, nice touch with the article.

Ginny said...

Thanks, Kirsten. Even though I no longer identify as Christian, I have enough Christian in me to feel the pain when Christians act nutty and are summarily bashed. While they usually bring it on themselves, I still don't like the overgeneralizing I hear about this religion or its adherents. I also tend to rise to the defense of Muslims, too. It's odd because, frankly, I think organized religion is poo and wish it would evaporate. But I care about the people within those institutions and I understand how they reach their conclusions. I don't agree, but I understand.

Galya said...

Wow, I know I am finding this a bit after the fact, but this post and the responses have kind-of floored me. I grew up Pentecostal Christian and still believe in God but no longer identify myself with it in those terms.

I am interested in the truth as opposed to manipulating or laboring with theories or facts to get them to conform to what I believe. As I grew older, I came to feel it was unfortunate that it always seemed to be God vs. Science. I could never reconcile how you can attribute omniscience to your god and yet somehow believe that "he" would not have created the world to, um... evolve?! That is just one example- your post tackled how I feel about this subject, point-for-point, in a far more articulate manner than I am feeling capable of now :) Thank you, for that and for handling this with absolute eloquence and fairness. It is so rare to read anything these days that does not treat Christians with condescension and outright, righteous contempt- which completely misses the irony. And on a tarot blog? How refreshing.

I am interested in the tarot because, among other things, I find it to be an effective thinking tool; as I mentioned, I am really only interested in the reality of things. It warms me to know that there are others who think this way too (including your readers who posted here). I have found that there are “crazy” extremists absolutely everywhere, believing absolutely everything. These days, it is so easy to write people off as lunatic and often, it’s the God-crazies who are given the most attention because it’s, well, easy; popular, even. I feel that, as you astutely pointed out, writing someone off as nuts is interesting because, while it is intended to dismiss, it also alleviates personal accountability. None of this has become acceptable to me.
Thank you again... you have touched this reader :)

Ginny said...

Thank you Galya. Like you, I am more interested in what is true than in exposing lies. I went there for a while, I had to, in order to understanding where I needed to go. And having been in that world, I know how easy it is to use "evidence" to believe something because it already suits one's worldview. It's done everywhere. Science does it too. A lot. One of my still favorite verses is Paul's assertion that we can only see [what is true] through a glass darkly, we see in part and know in part. Then...when the veil of mortality is lifted...we shall know as we are known by God. But not bloody before! ;)

carol said...

Excellent post Ginny.

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