May 21, 2011 passed just like the majority of the waking world thought it would: uneventfully.
Sure, there were events. There was a relatively harmless earthquake somewhere between Fiji and New Zealand. The Grungelfjordel Volcano (not the actual name, but close) in Iceland blows its stack with the potential to grind European air commerce to a halt, just like when the Sprungenfrugel Volcano (again, not the actual name) erupted not too long ago.
People were born, people died, but no more than usual.
The only thing odd about this particular day was that it was being marked by a particular Christian cult as the Day of Judgement. The Rapture. TEOTWAWKI.
Never mind the fact that this prediction set the internet ablaze with everything from cautious speculation to appalled anger to outright (and rather hysterical) mocking. I’m sure if you’re reading my blog, you knew that this was hanging out in the zeitgeist for much longer than just the week leading up to the big day. However, within that week, Harold Camping’s Rapture prediction finally got real press coverage enough for people with the proper access to start asking the proper questions; the questions I wanted to see answered before The Rapture became (and, pardon the emo-hipster term) too mainstream.
I first heard about the prediction months ago from my absolute favorite “news” aggregator, The Daily What. However, there was no information beyond the few web-capable followers of Harold Camping’s Family Radio, proclaiming that their fearless leader was 100% right, that they had followed his math, and that the Kingdom of God was, indeed, at hand.
Of course, hand-in-hand with these sites, obviously designed to trick the weak into thinking that there were more people than just the crazy Family Radio crowd who thought shit was going belly-up, there were the angry detractor sites. However, neither set of sites presented any facts. At least, not the facts that only a credentialed journalist would have the ability to dig up.
With baited breath, I waited until this week. I wanted to see what the kook-in-charge was up to behind closed doors.
I devoured articles from every conceivable source. A few, particularly from reputable Christian-specific news sites such as the Christian Science Monitor, angrily spewed vitriol back at Harold Camping’s Fun House, oft quoting the books of Mark and Matthew from the bible, giving an immediate counter to the mostly-bs-but-as-yet-unproven prediction, protecting their respective flocks from possibly being influenced by what more than one minister called “a dangerous man”.
How, I thought in something of a state of gullibility, could Harold Camping really be considered dangerous? Dude’s an 89 year-old living somewhere in California and all he’s doing is talking. If he’s wrong, he’s not dangerous. He wasn’t preaching any sort of mass suicide, he was just saying that The Rapture was coming. He didn’t seem like the type to be able to perpetrate it on his own, unless Family Radio was harboring some sort of uber-right-wing Christian version of al Qaeda.
No, it wasn’t until later in the week, when the knee-jerk Christian-based reactionaries sloughed off and the mainstream media started picking up steam that the real danger was revealed.
Articles interviewing Camping’s street preacher squads, which had amassed in most major cities in America, began to surface.
Stories of people leaving their homes, selling all of their worldly possessions, dumping off all of their money (some with very sizable donations to Family Radio, I might add), planning to have nothing left in the bank by precisely 6PM on May 21…
One particular story about a family – husband, wife, two kids – really jumped out at me. The parents had quit their jobs and uprooted everyone to NYC so that they could hit the streets, pamphlets and placards in hand, to “warn” the general public of their impending doom.
The kids, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with their crazy parents, citing them as an embarrassment. I sympathized. No one wants crazy parents when they’re in high school. The next complaint, however, from the elder of the siblings, really bothered me.
“My parents have stopped saving for college,” to paraphrase, “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
My rant for the side of Mike Rowe and the oversaturation of secondary education is a topic for another day, however, I suddenly felt truly bad for these kids. Their parents had been lead like sheep right off the deep end. They had put the future of their family into something beyond jeopardy.
They weren’t the only ones. Another husband/wife tandem were dealing with the issue that they were pregnant, the wife described in tears as she thought about the fact that she would never get to know her baby as, once she ascended into heaven, she would cease to be pregnant. Not to mention the fact that the couple spent every penny they had, donating to the Family Radio cause through advertising and pamphlets. I mean, why buy baby food, or diapers, or a crib when the Rapture is coming? Wouldn’t you rather dump all of your money because some stupid old man pulled the wool over your eyes?
Camping’s followers, the ones who were mislead enough to drop everything they owned, will fall quickly into the welfare state. You can bet that Mr. Camping won’t be handing out refunds any time soon. These people made charitable donations to a non-profit religious organization to the tune of $120 Million or more. That’s not counting the people who didn’t think there was time enough to process a donation and went right out, spending their own money on everything from pamphlets to billboards to giant message-bearing RVs.
Yes, this is their bad. Yes, they might actually learn a very harsh lesson about stupidity from this. Yes, I almost have enough schadenfreude in me to point and bellow out a great big belly laugh at all the stupid people who now have to go about life disappointed; let down by the fact that Their Personal Lord and Savior did not descend from the clouds to take them away from the misery of a mortal existence. Some of these people didn’t have it that bad before all of this. Now, having quit their jobs for insane cultish reasons, they’re probably not going to get them back. They probably won’t be able to buy back that house after they dropped all they owned, planning to have that perfectly zeroed out bank account by the time Jesus would be taking them home.
I legitimately feel bad for the people in their families who are affected by this. The kids. The spouses. The “non-believers” who would have probably been left behind, according to their standards. For the thousands of Camping’s followers, the worst question follows a day like May 21: “What now?”
Camping has, just today, made a statement saying pretty much nothing. He’s been quoted as “flabbergasted” that the Rapture didn’t occur per his calculations. Family Radio’s website has lost all traces of May 21 reference and now looks only slightly less zealous. The jokes are getting stale and I’m soon all of this will, within two weeks or less, be just another busted meme in internet history.
Social networking and viral media are what Harold Camping used to panic thousands of his followers and, I’m sure, to convert hundreds more as that day drew closer. We have seen internet hoaxes before, but none so tangible and, as most of the legit Christian clergy have said, dangerous. Dangerous to the people who believed it, anyway. This should serve as a warning to the world of the true dangers of social media and the sort of panic that can be induced, even among a small portion of the populous, by one person who speaks with conviction and has a good PR team out there generating internet buzz.
Hopefully, if there’s one lesson these people can take from this instance, it would be that just because it’s on the internet – just because multiple websites make it look good – doesn’t mean that it’s true.
I suppose, to his people, Harold Camping may have been right. Instead of being taken in the Rapture, however, his people were, indeed, left behind to suffer on Earth. With no money, no jobs, and no homes, I’m sure that this is just the beginning of the real tribulation for the broken and disillusioned cultists of Family Radio.
Keep fighting the good fight.