It must be a sad, gray Sunday morning at Harold Camping's house. Camping, of course, is the 89-year-old California false prophet and cofounder of Family Radio who predicted that Jesus was coming again yesterday--and that those who had been faithful to God would be scooped up into the clouds to meet the lord halfway. I take hardly any pleasure in the wrongness of his calculations, more than anything because I was hoping the seven years of tribulation predicted in the Books of Daniel and Tim LaHaye would be slow to kick in and we'd enjoy one or two weekends free of Christians, real ones anyway--and, I'm sorry to have to say it, folks, I sincerely do love some of you guys, but you do tend to be wet blankets (and that's when you're not being utter assholes). And except for the terror that must have filled the hearts of trusting children for the last few months and the credit-card-bingeing of some of the shopaholic faithful, it was a harmless enough prank--old fart gets his last hurrah in before he dies, an HBO movie gets made starring Ed Asner or Don Murray, watching it we all get a few more laughs out of our system, and the delusional fool is duly forgotten before another dozen years pass (as new spokesmen for Jesus draw new crowds, who think this sort of thing has never been said before). Supposedly, according to Reuters, nobody was answering the door at the Camping home yesterday. No wonder.
Sure I made one or two snide comments, but, on the whole, I avoided jumping on the bandwagon of those who reviled Camping and his followers. Not because I was holding out "just in case" their prophecies were correct. Rather, because it's too easy to laugh at the gullibility of others. Who are we to point fingers? We live in an age of harebrained beliefs--bomb shelters and "duck and cover," trickle-down economics, Y2K, President Bush's sixteen words--or that Brokeback Mountain would sweep the Oscars. And the sky has been set to fall so many times already that our Chicken Littles now find gainful employment as talk show hosts and political commentators. In an era of mass communications, mass hysteria has become pretty ho-hum. Even when there are some shreds of evidence for some cataclysm--climate change or "Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S."--we prefer to fully experience our emotions over these revelations than to actually try to find out the facts and do something about them.
Back in my churchgoing days, my bible-believing and soul-winning days, the church I attended would not have necessarily believed his prophecies, but Camping would have been welcome as a special speaker--or someone else attempting to explain Camping's "theories" to us. We did, for example, get to hear Tim LaHaye speak, back in the days before he realized his stories would be even more salable as unconcealed fictions. We had a lot of special speakers who'd drop by, like Chautaqua educators explaining the latest archeological dig or scientific finding--only ours never spoke of science, except disparagingly, as an ungodly false faith. The word "knowledge" was highly regarded in our circles, not so much its essence. Feelings were our preferred currency. We did get to see and hear the guy who drove the getaway car for Bonnie and Clyde (who'd found Jesus, only to face a diminishment of his life's interestingness, as a result) and the guy who played Eb on TV's Green Acres (whose interest factor was, for most of us, the allure of his being both redeemed and hobnobbing with the worldly likes of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor).
When we had speakers who predicted end-times events with more particularity--we had learned, for instance, that Henry Kissinger is the Antichrist (more farfetched back then than it is now, in retrospect)--our pastor would politicly say, when questioned, that he both agreed and disagreed. That is, the prediction seemed "likely"; however, he himself did not think the details were important. It was more important that we all live in anticipation (fear and dreamy hopefulness combined) that Jesus would return at any minute--in the twinkling of an eye, less than a scientifically probable pinpoint. Like Jesus and the apostle Paul, our preacher believed that the end times would be in our lifetime--but he was never so foolish (like Camping) to actually put a number on it--or money.
Frankly, I prefer Camping's approach. Foolhardy--but better foolhardy, than merely fool. There's some backbone to being hardy that I have to respect. Still the man was a fool, no doubt about that. As were those who believed him. As were those who thought they were better than those who not just believed but (the truly hinky part) did so robustly. I'm of the camp that thinks it's better to believe nothing than to believe bullshit. However, there's a great danger in putting all knowledge, all beliefs, all opinions, all statements of fact in the same basket--like those who say, "Let's just agree to disagree," or "You've got your facts and I've got mine," or "Nothing is worth arguing over"--fools like that, the biggest fools of all.