The Snake Oil Salesman Returns

I wrote about this dreary fraud earlier in the year when his eschatological forecast for worldwide earthquakes followed by a rapture  of the True Believers on May 21 failed to pan out. Harold Camping -  Christianity’s answer to Al Gore – suffered a stroke in June (oh yes, there IS a God) but somehow survived and has bravely returned to the airwaves with news of Rapture 2.0 in a last chance bid to redeem a reputation that, quite frankly, is assuming the caricature proportions previously achieved only by Hollywood.

The radio preacher who predicted Judgment Day on May 21 has not backed down from his claims that the end of the world is near, despite the lack of a Rapture or world-devastating earthquakes leading up to the doomsday.

In an announcement on his Family Radio Network website, Harold Camping stands by his earlier predictions that the world will end on Friday, Oct. 21. Originally, Camping had predicted hourly earthquakes and God’s judgment on May 21, to be followed by months of torment on Earth for those individuals left behind. Using numerical codes extracted from the Bible, Camping set the date for the end of everything for Oct. 21.

Never mind that nearly two decades ago Mr. Camping predicted that Jesus  would return on September 6, 1994 or that his current detailed prophecy appears to blatantly contradict what Jesus of Nazareth himself told his apostles regarding the great and terrible Day of Judgment: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32)

To be sure, Camping is either totally right or totally wrong. If the world as we know it ends on October 21, then you can pretty much be assured that Camping’s math was right  and those who doubted him will owe him an apology if they aren’t among those swept up into Heaven.

And if he’s wrong? Ask Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent his life savings of $140,000 to warn others of the May 21 apocalypse:

A New York man spent his entire $140,000 life savings advertising his prediction that the world will end May 21, the New York Post reported Friday.

Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old Staten Island resident, said he spent at least that sum on 1,000 subway-car placards and ads on bus kiosks and subway cars.

They say, “Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever! Judgment Day May 21, 2011.”
In a self-published book, “The Doomsday Code,” Fitzpatrick said the Bible offers “proof that cannot be dismissed.”

“Judgment Day will surprise people. We will not be ready for it,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview with the newspaper. “A giant earthquake will render the earth uninhabitable.”

If you want to set an alarm clock, the quake will happen just before 6:00 pm local time, he said.

Fitzpatrick can count himself among the more fortunate of Camping’s victims: money lost can always be  earned back to some degree. But what about family and friends? God only knows how many lives have been ruined by Camping’s theological ignorance and spiritual arrogance: though isolated and few before the dreaded date, I’m certain that  dozens of painfully detailed horror stories of despair and desolation will percolate to the surface of the news pool this week like bubbles in a tar pit. Expect to read tales of destitution, separation, feuds and divorce – all the bitter fruit of one man’s egotistical presumption that he and he alone possessed the key to the eschaton.

The story is as old as…well, as the Garden of Eden, where the Serpent beguiled Adam and Eve with the promise of knowledge that would make them as gods. Knowledge – if it is both vital and arcane – truly is power and nothing seduces an otherwise humble soul so completely and perversely as the prospect of wielding real power – the kind of power that controls other people’s lives. Hence the spectacular popularity of The Sims – a video game where the player “creates virtual people called “Sims” and places them in houses and helps direct their moods and satisfy their desires.” In other words, the player becomes God. No wonder it’s the best-selling PC franchise in history.

In the present instance, Harold Camping’s Family Radio audience is his own living version of The Sims – a human video game in which he assumes the role of the very God he claims to worship, knowing fully well that a sizable percentage of his followers would take him at his word when he declares with an aura of confident infallibility that he alone knows the day and hour of the Last Judgment.

A tiny minority will make their stand with Mr. Camping and in their decision we can gaze into the very heart of the present tragedy as we reflect on the ironic words of Martin Luther, “There is no rustic so rude but that, if he dreams or fancies anything, it must be the whisper of the Holy Ghost, and he himself a prophet.”

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