The Rapture Racket
On October 22, 1844, nothing happened. Though the year itself was quite eventful—the Dominican Republic gained liberty from Haiti and drafted its constitution; the Great Flood devastated the American south; the first electric telegram was sent from the United States capitol by Samuel Morse; Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, an invaluable precursor to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, was published anonymously in England; and, in one of the most fortuitous embracements in human history, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx shook hands for the first time in Paris, France—October 22 passed entirely without incident. The most that can be said of that particularly uneventful day is that the dead did not walk the earth to be sent with the living to either a paradise of eternal pleasure or an unending holocaust of unthinkable torment by some almighty and fretfully serious god. True, this can be said of any day at all since the earth began regular rotation, but the fact that it can be said of October 22, 1844, was terribly important to a number of Millerites who were really hoping for the opposite.They were so excited by the prospect of divine judgment and global devastation that when they woke up on October 23 they began referring to the previous day as The Great Disappointment. That the perpetuation of human society, the legacy of earthly life and indeed the existence of the planet itself could be seen as somehow disappointing is an attitude reserved for either the monstrously wicked or the deliriously religious.
The Millerites, named for the proponent of this particularly morbid prophecy, William Miller, were distinctly poor at predicting the End of Days. In fact, they had done so unsuccessfully on every day between March 21 of 1843 and March 21 of 1844 (all of which were alleged candidates for Rapture) and, in the wake of that great failure, April 18 of the latter year. They are surely the most quantitatively incorrect group of people on this given subject. Disappointed, perhaps, but discouraged not, the followers of William Miller have persisted to this day, numbering over 16 million under the name “The Seventh-Day Adventist Church.”
Miller was quite wrong, as human civilization has perpetuated for nearly 167 years since that conspicuously humdrum day, but his great legacy of disappointment has flourished in as much time. The world has been rife with apocalyptic prophecies, all of which have been rendered silly by the mundane and silent passage of a day’s final minute. One might wonder why anyone bothers anymore, so futile seems the task, but then one might notice that there appears to be quite a market for it.
It is difficult to think that Harold Camping believed a word he spoke about the impending cosmic doom due to unmake human existence last Saturday. Camping predicted that an earthquake the scale of which would make the devastation in Japan “look like nothing” would begin traversing the planet at 6 p.m., filling each of the following day’s twenty-four hours with total manic horror. Those not saved by god from the destruction would spend the following five months suffering in the barren afterscape before being unmade with the rest of the universe on October 21. Camping, like Miller before him, was a veteran failure at predicting such catastrophes. Surviving, as all of us did, the inconsequential 6th of September, 1994, Camping checked his math and proposed instead the 21st of May, 2011 for the date of Christ’s descent. In the meantime, he wrote a few more books, accepted a few more million dollars in donations and likely laughed himself to sleep each night.
Like a true swindler, Camping defended his bogus numerology unflinchingly, refusing to answer questions probing the possibility that the world might continue to the next week while telling the employees of his multi–million dollar radio station that they’d better show up on Monday. One might imagine that the nonprofit would spit at the July 15 deadline for the submission of their financial documents, but instead it filed for an extension. Certainly someone plans on kicking about long enough to operate the radio station until its lease expires in 2023.
Unsuccessfully predicting the erasure of human existence seems to have a way of making one fantastically successful. Between the years 2005 and 2009, Camping’s Family Radio venture accepted $80 million in contributions. Reports based on IRS files have valued the company between $72 million and $120 million at present. One of the ways this works is that the mathematics of the scam is so fundamentally baseless and complex as to render any investigation mind-numbing and ultimately worthless. This simultaneously allows Camping to have unique authority while harboring a vast excuse for inevitable error. When September 7, 1994 arrived, Camping quickly attributed the rising sun to personal miscalculation and consequently embarked on a new multi–million dollar scheme to sucker god-fearing people out of their paychecks. That Camping lived to attend church this past Sunday may have been a surprise to his followers, but it was surely no surprise to him.
When Camping finally resurfaced on Monday to answer questions from reporters about the tediously banal weekend he must have had, he employed an array of predictably flaccid excuses for why he was wrong and why we should all continue to listen to his bullshit anyway. Admitting that he had pointed decidedly to the previous Saturday as the last of all Saturdays, he confessed to an almost miraculous oversight: “The great earthquake didn’t happen on May 21 because no one would be able to survive it for a few days or let alone five months to suffer God’s wrath.” Apparently, this thought had never previously occurred to him. Never one for modesty, Camping continued by explaining that he was at once both wrong and right: “On May 21 this last weekend . . . God again brought Judgment on the world. We didn’t feel any difference but we know that God brought Judgment. The whole world is under Judgment.” Camping maintains that the world will still end in October, though, ostensibly, a little more swiftly than he had previously thought.
When confronted with his own words detailing the notion that May 21 would not be merely a “spiritual judgment,” Camping admitted: “We don’t always hit the nail on the head the first time.” It seems worth pointing out that if the Romans who crucified Jesus missed the nail as much as Rapture-prophets have, Camping’s savior would have been bludgeoned to death. This kind of mistake is only to be expected, however, because, as Camping subsequently affirmed, “we, as humans, are not capable of understanding the Bible.”
Toward the end of the conference, Camping was asked if he intends to return the donations given to support his latest swindle. He replied simply, “No,” maintaining that in spite of being wrong, he was, in fact, still right, and that it is quite possible that, even accounting for the millions of dollars raised, Family Radio will be reduced to its last ten by October 21. Such a claim is confusing, because he has stated repeatedly that the rampant billboard advertisements will cease, while also asserting that the donation money is not spent solely on station operations. No charity has ever been mentioned in regard to the use of Family Radio’s vast net worth.
Family Radio does not solicit donations—a point to which Camping returns often—but conspicuously depends upon them to operate. Camping has claimed that his family “lives modestly” and that he has been a “full-time volunteer” at the station since its establishment in 1958. However, he is staunchly devoid of sympathy for his devoted congregation, many of whom had donated thousands of dollars to support Camping’s (multi–million dollar) message. Likening the financial sacrifice of his followers to victims of the current recession, Camping said, “Lots of people lost their homes . . . [but] they survived. [. . .] People cope. People cope.”
One teenage boy dropped out of high school, saying that graduation seemed “pointless” in the face of divine Rapture. One woman attempted to take her own life along with the life of her daughter in order to escape the terror that Camping preached. Many more quit their jobs, volunteering to spread Camping’s message on the streets. Camping said plainly that he does “not take responsibility. I don’t have spiritual rule of anybody, except my wife. Because as head of the household I have spiritual rule over my wife.”
I hope the reader will permit me in this final paragraph to address Mr. Camping directly: You are responsible for your message. You may not at once condemn those who ignore it and neglect those who heed it without subscribing implicitly to wickedness and pretense. May your deceit and fraud be promptly and vigorously unmasked. May you be called “charlatan” by all those who called you “prophet.” May those betrayed by your duplicity regard the words of your professed lord:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.