Saturday, May 21, 2011
Rapture Day and Why I Have Better Things to Do
Today has arrived. The day of doom by an extremist group of Christians who believe the predictions of some preacher named Harold Camping. I'm not sure why the media has spent so much time talking about this. Predictions of the end of the world are so commonplace that its not really newsworthy. After all, this preacher, Camping, had predicted that the world would end in 1994, yet we're still here and we have nearly a billion more people on the planet than we did in 1994. Rapture is supposed to lessen the world's population, not increase it!
What I don't understand about the media and people is that if someone makes a claim that has proven false before, why does he have credibility for a new prediction? Why give him attention? Camping has the same degree of looniness as the Florida preacher who burned a Qur'an. Unfortunately, though, there are gullible saps who really believe that Camping knows what he's talking about and some low-rent Christian television stations have stated that there is an "absolute guarantee" that the rapture will occur today at 6 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. They have "no doubts" that it will happen. One man in his 60s cashed in his retirement savings of $140,000 to buy billboard ads proclaiming that May 21st is rapture day. Come Sunday morning, how's he going to feel when he realizes that he had just squandered his life savings for a hoax? I wish I had that amount of money in my bank account! I'd use a small portion to travel the world. I've read some articles that mention people quitting their jobs, selling their homes, giving away their belongings, all in preparation for this event. A group of atheists found a way to make money by agreeing to look after the left behind pets of "true believer Christians" who believe that they will be among the ones raptured. Of course, the atheists have a non-refundable policy. It might sound humourous to some, but I consider the same as stealing. Just because someone is not rational or is a gullible sap doesn't mean its ethically right to take advantage of them financially.
In my last job in Atlanta, I worked with an evangelical Christian lady who believes that she will be raptured. However, though I'm not in touch with her, I'm certain that even she would joke about today being the day. Most Christians who believe in the idea of rapture also believe the verse in the Book of Matthew, which states that no man, nor the angels in heaven, nor Jesus himself knows the day that God had selected for the end of the world and Christ's return. The point of being an authentic Christians is to live each day what you claim to believe and not worry about what may or may not happen.
I've heard about rapture since I was a young child. My mom used to tell me about it and it sounded scary to me. As I grew into a skeptical person in my late teens and early adulthood, I began to examine the whole meaning behind rapture, the end of the world, and what it means when God gave us "free will." The conclusion I came up with is that rapture and the end of the world, with Jesus' return, would represent a violation of the free will that God gives each person born on earth. The reason why God's existence cannot be proven by science is because He's not meant to. There are mysterious events that happen in every person's life (such as coincidences and synchronicity, law of attraction manifestations, prayers being answered, little miracles that even defy doctors and atheists). Its up to us to search for answers to life's mysteries. If everyone knew that God exists because we can see Him like we see a tree in our yard, what would the point be in self discovery for this journey that we're all on?
The belief in rapture is ludicrous to me because a lot of people who believe that they will be the ones raptured actually behave in ways that indicate that they have no clue what Jesus was really about. In the South, I would occasionally see cars with a frame around their license plates that said: "Warning: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned." The rapture scene in the first Left Behind movie was frightening, as people disappeared on planes in flight, babies disappeared from the wombs of their mothers, and cars crashing because the drivers suddenly disappeared. All ludicrous. This belief in the rapture is based on the idea that our world exists in linear time, that God created the world less than 7,000 years ago and will destroy the earth any day now because we imperfect humans have so angered God that we deserve death and destruction and eternal torment in the firey pits of hell. The reward for "true believers" is that God will make them disappear before the days of tribulation occur, sparing them the pain and suffering of a world gone to hell. They will get to meet Jesus in the air, as some ancient passage in the Bible proclaims.
I find such thinking preposterous on several levels. For one, many of the most fanatical true believers are still rooted in ego. Despite their ignorance of history, psychology, spirituality, and other cultures, they believe that they are the elect that God would save, even though many of them probably voted for Republicans since the 1980s and are thus complicit in the greed and war-mongering that has occurred in the past 30 years. This belief in rapture is the ultimate in avoiding responsibilities for one's conduct on earth. They will be magically spared the sins of the karma they planted and watered all these years. Sorry, life doesn't work that way. We don't escape our karmic debts that easily.
The second aspect of this ludicrous way of thinking is that it encourages an egotistical view of spirituality. These "devout, true believers" will be saved while those who have doubts or are skeptics, or perhaps even just "Sunday Christians" are left behind to deal with the tribulation. In one article I read, the author was actually compassionate towards those who really believe they will be raptured tonight. In his attempt to understand the mindset of such people, he can see where the fear stems from. We've seen for several decades now that the wealth keeps getting concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Wages for everyone has not kept up with inflation and in terms of actual purchasing power, the average salary today is worth less than the average salary in the 1970s. To use a more concrete example, my dad was able to buy a three bedroom ranch house in Lawrence, Kansas in the mid-1970s for $15,000. He was a college student who just got out of the Air Force and was in an ROTC program to become an officer. Today, that house is probably worth more than $150,000, yet how many college students today can afford to buy a house? Another example: I'm making the exact same amount of money as I did in 1996, when I had zero debt, no college degree, and I owned a car. My college degree has not helped me to find a better paying job. I'm not unique in this regard. Many people I know with college degrees are underemployed, underpaid, and stuck in jobs they aren't passionate about. With such stagnant economy made worse by the Bush years, its easy to understand why some people just want an end to their miseries by any means necessary. Being raptured away from all of it and meeting Jesus sounds like a great deal to these people.
The best idea of rapture that I've ever come across is from The Celestine Prophecy and its sequel. In it, the author writes about the idea that as we become more spiritual in how we live our lives, that there will come a point in time where our bodies will be transformed from the physical into energies of light. The ability to transform our bodies and "disappear" to those who aren't spiritual is supposedly the point of human evolution. The day will come when heaven and earth will join together and humans will be able to see those who have passed over long ago. There will no longer be any fear of death because humans will see that only the human body dies, not the spirit. To me, this is a more beautiful example of rapture might really be about. In this case, though, becoming spiritual is an active process. The Christian version is passive and reflects a belief that by being obedient to your religious leader, you will be saved. It requires no personal study about spirituality nor the active involvement of working towards greater spiritual understanding and living your life in a way that enhances the quality of life for oneself and other people. Voting for politicians who advocate a selfish existence (much of the Republican Party, I'm afraid) is not helping to enhance a more spiritual life on earth. In fact, its doing the very opposite. So, these "rapture-ready" Christians have a long way to go before they ever transform into beings of light.
Another idea I heard regarding rapture was at BYU, when a religion professor said that no human can have a physical encounter with God and survive. The reason for this is because the intensity of God's love for us is so powerful that our bodies would explode. Thus, in order to "meet" God face-to-face, our bodies have to be "translated" into light form. When I heard it at the time, I thought it was ludicrous. But when I had my spiritual enlightenment experience in August 2001, it was so intense that I really thought my body was going to explode! Then I understood what the professor at BYU was talking about. I have to say that I agree with that viewpoint, as well.
My sincerest wish for any Christian who might be reading this (particularly those who believe in rapture and the end times prophecies) is to not take at face value what some evangelicals are preaching. What is their motive for saying what they are saying? Harold Camping is old. Maybe he wants to die, but doesn't want to die alone. Why do they promote a fear-based spirituality? There's nothing to be afraid of. God is love, perfection, and understanding. The trials of this life is meant to grow us into better people. There's no point in creating a world for seven thousand years and destroying it (even though I believe our planet is likely billions of years old) just because humans are imperfect the way God created us to be.
I hope that when the rapture does not come and the sun comes up on Sunday morning the way it always does, that people realize how silly all this talk about rapture was and get back to living life, enjoying life, loving others, and learning as much as we can while we're still living and breathing on this planet. Let's ignore fear-based religions and fear-based politicians and help make our planet the best that it can be. Have faith that God has faith in our abilities to evolve towards greater understanding and compassion for one another. Maybe when we all reach a more spiritually mature life, then we will see our bodies glow in ways that feels good for the soul and for our planet. May we live to see the day when heaven and earth become one and death shall be no more.
On this day of rapture, I wanted to feature a couple music videos. One by REM and the other by U2. I love both songs. Enjoy!