Fire and brimstone and BS | Bleader

Fire and brimstone and BS

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It’s easy to mock those who gave up their life savings to spread the word of the pending Apocalypse. How, we ask, could they be so gullible? Think of their children, their futures, their mortgages. What could have compelled them to fracture relationships with their families and look so foolish?

Faith, I suppose, is a powerful thing. And those of us who were unconvinced the rapture would occur Saturday would have looked pretty silly ourselves as those faithful folks were sucked into the heavens. But none of that happened. Still, do you feel some sympathy for folks like Robert Fitzpatrick, a New Yorker who spent $140,000 of his savings promoting the coming rapture, and who was at a loss for words when asked why he didn’t ascend into the sky?

“I don’t understand what has happened,” he said to a gaggle of news cameras.

And then there’s Harold Camping, the octogenarian rapturer-in-chief, who was similarly befuddled that the world didn’t end.

"I'm looking for answers," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

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In 1992, Camping published a book with the titillating title 1994?, which prophesized that the world would end on September 6, 1994. It didn’t, but Aerosmith and Lisa Marie Presley did win at the MTV Music Awards. He claimed his erroneous prediction was based on some fuzzy math, and that this year was the year, for sure.

Camping is far from the first to predict the end of days. His hypothesis was based on Biblical equations, and bolstered by what could be perceived as a series of precursor events: earthquakes in Japan, New Zealand, Chile, and Haiti; devastating tornadoes and floods in the United States; nuclear meltdowns in Japan; wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya; uprisings and violence in Syria, Egypt, and Bahrain; the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

So with all the elements apparently ripe for the Apocalypse, nothing actually happened, except a small earthquake in Turkey.

Back in 1993, the Reader’s David Futrelle reviewed When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture by Paul Boyer, a University of Wisconsin historian, who examined end of the world predictions from colonial times to modern days.

Futrelle’s review recalled other bogus predictions. Edgar Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the World Will End in 1988. He said the world would end between September 11 and September 13. When the sun rose on the 14th, he revised the date to October 3. Finally, he copped to a miscalculation, but continued to release an annual pamphlet called The Rapture Report through 1997.

A California preacher named Charles Taylor said that the world would end in 1976, 1980, 1988, 1989, and 1992.

Even Ronald Reagan stepped into the fray. As Futrelle writes:

In 1971 Ronald Reagan had predicted that Armageddon was coming soon: "It can't be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God's people. That must mean that they'll be destroyed by nuclear weapons." In 1983, at the height of the revived cold war, Reagan told a lobbyist for Israel that he suspected the end was near: "I don't know if you've noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me they certainly describe the times we're going through."

Boyer describes in detail how neatly the prophecy beliefs fit into the cold-war dualisms of the atomic age. In his 1971 speech Reagan reflected on the seeming connections—often made by prophecy believers—between the Soviet Union and the biblical nation "Gog," the enemy of Israel that is supposed to attack from an unspecified place in the north. The prophecy, Reagan stated, "didn't seem to make sense before the Russian Revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly."

Boyer wrote that 60 percent of Americans, including more than half of college graduates, were certain Jesus would return one day. Maybe it’s best not to single out a day. Even the Mayans are giving up their historical claims that the world would end in 2012.

Poking fun at those who believe in the rapture is perhaps a natural way to deal with such wild claims. Was Camping, who collected millions from believers to advertise doomsday, a con? The faith these people had has been crushed. How does one deal with that?

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