Saturday, May 21, 2011

It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Has everyone repented of their sins and settled their affairs with God and Man? This is the day the world ends, or so says Harold Camping. I had heard about his apocalyptic pronouncement some time ago, but it was only yesterday that I learned just how oddly specific his end times scenario is. I'd naturally assumed that the Rapture would be universal, and that whatever global calamity brought all unrepentant sinners to their knees, it would happen at once, so that no one got first dibs and no one got shoved to the back of the line on the Day of Judgment. Apparently I was wrong about that.

According to Camping, six o'clock isn't what time it will be in his part of the world when the whole Earth shakes and Jesus reveals himself to all mankind and rends the dead of all nations from their peaceful rest. Instead, six o'clock is the time that it needs to be for that to happen in every time zone. Armageddon is going to work its way around the world, East to West starting at the international date line. Those lucky bastards in Tonga will get the tribulation out of the way early on. We in the United States will be left to tremble in anticipation as the eschaton draws closer, and Harold Camping, broadcasting out of California, will be one of the last people left un-raptured on the Earth.

Unless anybody decides to just go party in Samoa until the whole thing is almost over, then take a leisurely boat ride into Sunday morning, on an Ocean that no doubt will have turned to blood by then.

Honestly, if the End of the World is time-and-place-specific, doesn't that mean that with a little advance notice, like some senile nut whipping people into an absurd frenzy of millenialism, a person could simply dodge the entire event and opt not to show up for the final judgment? An airbus can make it three-fifths of the way around the damn equator in less than eighteen hours. Conceivably, couldn't a person leave Europe in the early afternoon and stay ahead of six PM for the entire day? Failing that, a simple expedition to sail around the arctic circle should allow a person to stay out of harm's way with a substantially lesser investment of time. Even if the wrath of God comes as a giant, Die Another Day-style solar death ray, it won't be that difficult to outrun if it can't move past wherever it's currently mid-evening. And even if everybody decides to just sit tight and wait for Christ to stop by their neck of the woods, what about people on the International Space Station? It's never six o'clock PM for them.

It boggles my mind that neither Harold Camping nor his small handful of very devoted followers considered any of these questions before starting on a media tour. Camping emphasizes that he has over fifty years of study of the Bible to lend him credibility, but how, in five decades, could he have not considered the glaring logical flaws in his prediction? This story is a profound testament to the power of blind faith. The idea that a person can believe something so strongly that no question enters his mind, even when those questions are damning and obvious, is fascinating, and it is frightening.

Faith of this kind softens the mind in a way that cushions it completely against breaking points. One of the greatest breaking points that a person can reach is the confrontation of difficult inquiry, which compels you to acknowledge that you don't know as much as you think you do. Your best means of making progress as a person is by challenging yourself, and that means analysis, it means inquiry. It means doubt.

I doubt that Harold Camping is anything but an evangelical loon, but if I'm wrong, we should already know it by the time you read this. If I am and anyone's looking for me, you can find me in the Pacific Ocean.

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