Saturday, May 28, 2011


Doomsday predictions misuse scripture

Doomsday predictions come and go.

Once again, Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world.  When May 21, 2011 came and went, it did not take long for Camping and his Family Radio to revise their prediction. A new date has been uncovered.

Camping bases his predictions on his idea of a Biblical mathematical formula, and on his interpretation of contemporary events in light of selected Biblical passages. Natural disasters, violence, and most especially, sexual immorality are predictors of the end.

Camping attracts international attention. He and his followers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad campaign. Doomsday believers even quit their jobs and cash in their savings to spread the word. They sincerely believe in the imminence of something called the Rapture.

The Rapture - in brief
The Rapture is a highly controversial and relatively new belief that some fundamentalists adhere to. The Rapture is the first of a series of events that signal the end of the world. It is when Jesus returns on the clouds and “raptures” or whisks the saints into heaven with him. Everyone else remains behind to suffer while the world implodes. Then Jesus reigns for 1000 years, after which he returns in judgment and recreates the world. 

Reading apocalyptic literature
The notion of doomsday or apocalypse is as old as history. There are examples of apocalyptic literature in ancient texts. The most famous Christian apocalyptic text is found in the Bible in the Book of Revelation.

The Book of Revelation describes a terrifying vision of destruction and punishment. It is the stuff of nightmares and horror flicks guaranteed to inflame the imagination and strike fear into the heart of those who take it literally.

A literal reading interprets the book as a roadmap that describes the events that will bring the world to an end. Looking at contemporary events, this type of interpretation attempts to use scripture as a tool for predicting the end of time.

Biblical criticism offers a more informed approach to the apocalyptic literature in the Bible. The literature must be understood within both its literary and social- historical context. Apocalyptic literature of the Bible uses intensely symbolic language to address a problem familiar to its audience.

The Book of Revelation was a response to the Roman Empire’s brutal persecution of the early Christian community. It reassured the community of God’s faithfulness towards those who hold fast to Jesus in times of trial and tribulation; those who do evil will perish. It is meant to be a message of hope in God’s love.

As with the sacred scriptures of any religious tradition, there are truths to be learned from an informed reading of the Book of Revelation. Truth in scripture can be obfuscated when extremists of any faith use selected passages to promote a skewed religious message. The misuse of Biblical texts to predict the end of time when God will vindicate the just and punish the evil creates a religion that is exclusive and based on fear. Even believers become afraid because they view themselves as unworthy.

A theology of fear, a distortion of faith
The theology of fear sets up an “us” and “them” mentality. Only a small number of people will be “raptured.” Camping sets this number at 2% of the earth’s population.

This type of Christianity becomes overly focused on the personal salvation of the saints, those who belong to the group. The saints are separate from the sinners, those who do not believe or belong. The saints long to be set apart and rescued from a world they consider full of evil.

Christianity is a religion of inclusiveness and goodness. Jesus hung around with sinners; he did not come for saints. He saw creation as good and talked about God’s lavish care for the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air. How much more, he asked, does your heavenly father care for you, you sinners?

Christianity is concerned with the salvation of all humanity and creation. The Christian vocation is to be lived and acted upon in the world so that the world may better reflect God’s love.

"The love of God... so rich and pure" by J. T. Lowrey
 The core message is love, not fear.

Jesus revealed a God of mercy and compassion who is intimately familiar and engaged with human suffering. This is not a God of vengeance who waits to demolish an evil material world, “rapture” some, and torture others. This is a God who calls all people to love as God loves. This is a God to be loved, not feared. There is nothing frightful about love.

Predictions of divine destruction are a foolish waste of time. They are nothing more than religious fear mongering, and a distortion of faith.

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