Is the Rapture schadenfreude turning sinister?

posted at 5:45 pm on May 21, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

We’ve all had our fun with Harold Camping and his prediction of the Rapture, which if you haven’t heard, is scheduled for 11 pm PT tonight — or just as the shows let out here in Las Vegas, so Penn & Teller will be available for it.  Like my fellow Catholics, Lutherans, and other more traditional churches, we don’t accept the Rapture as doctrinal, so my concern and interest levels are somewhat on the low side anyway.  That’s really convenient for me, because if I did believe in it, the last place I’d want to be when it occurs is Sin City.  We’d barely know it was happening here anyway.  “Did that stage dancer just disappear into the sky?  Oh, wait, no, I can see the wires.”

Tiffany Stanley at The New Republic intended to spend today with Camping’s followers and deliver more snark by the barrel, but a funny thing happened on the way to the media beat-down — she began to worry more about what the coverage says about the media than what it says about Camping’s congregation:

Yesterday, references to Judgment Day made up the entire top five of Google’s Hot Searches. At The Washington Post, a story about Family Radio—the Christian broadcast network that Camping owns—was the site’s most popular item. Another piece, on the group’s followers, was the most-emailed from The New York Times. Meanwhile, Huffington Post has devoted an entire webpage to doomsday coverage, under its standard heading: “Some news is so big that it needs its own page.”

Here at TNR, we thought about joining the circus. Last week, when we learned that Camping was predicting the apocalypse, I was tasked with spending May 21—the day of the Rapture—with a few of his true-believing followers, who have been filling websites, billboards, and city squares, handing out pamphlets, and generally warning the world to repent. What an amazing story, I thought. I’ll spend time with people who believe the world is going to end, and then be able to watch their reactions when it doesn’t.

But before long, I had second thoughts. First, I ran into some accessibility snags. While the media-friendly end-timers wanted to warn heathens beforehand, they really just wanted to spend their last day on earth surrounded by loved ones, in quiet preparation. Their response to me was something like: Why would you want to follow us around on Saturday? We’re not going to be here anymore. Yes, there was a certain humor to this. But the more I looked into the story, the more it began to turn my stomach to think of spending my Saturday evening in someone’s living room, waiting for that gotcha moment when they realized it was all a lie—leaving me to file a story the next day, poking fun at their gullibility. I decided I couldn’t do it.

Yet the media coverage has continued, and now to me, the schadenfreude has turned sinister. Based on the high traffic the articles are garnering, it would seem as if many of us are intrigued voyeurs, gleeful in knowing the exact day when these people will experience their life’s greatest disappointment. We feel superior, knowing that even though they told us we were heading for death and destruction, now, they get theirs.

Well, that’s not totally unjustified.  Camping first predicted that Christ would return in 1994 — in fact, he published a book predicting it, although the title 1994? included a very convenient question mark.  People who follow doomsday demagogues even after a spectacular failure put themselves in position for some ridicule, not to mention the false prophet himself.

Still, these are real people, and their individual stories are troubling.  One mother with three children stopped working and saving for their college tuition, and her apathy about their future has become all too apparent to her kids.  Another young couple with one baby and another on the way have spent all of their money in anticipation that they won’t take it with them.  For most married couples, pregnancy is a time of hope and optimism, but not for this couple. And there are hundreds or thousands of people just like them who will face very difficult times indeed for having believed in a charlatan.

I suspect that the media feeding frenzy Stanley describes has less to do with an impulse to lampoon the ridiculous than an impulse to ridicule Christianity in general.  Despite Camping and his followers being an extremely small fringe group, the media has covered this story as if the entire Southern Baptist church made this prediction.  Stanley also concurs that this should be an extremely small story, not a dominating narrative, but also predicts that we’ve just seen the beginning of it.  Come tomorrow morning, we’re going to see a deluge of snarky reports about the silly end-timers who got left behind — excuse me, Left Behind — which will all carry an unstated theme of “oh, those silly Christians and their silly beliefs!”

Camping will pass the way of all false prophets, and the media will eventually find another obsessive focus.  It’s not out of bounds to chuckle over the gullibility of those who rely on false prophets, but it’s worth considering who and what benefits from this avalanche of coverage of an obscure, already-discredited crank.

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Ed, as Catholics it was expected we would be Left Behind. We gotta get used to it. After all, doesn’t everything have a sequel which supposedly ties up all the untied strings of the original? Anyone up for Rapture III?

unclesmrgol on May 21, 2011 at 8:40 PM

As an evangelical, I have to tell you I’m getting tired of hearing that I don’t think Catholics will get to go to heaven. I haven’t heard anyone say such a thing in probably 30 years (except Catholics).

For the most part, the evangelical position is simple: if you acknowledge that you are a sinner, unworthy in your own merit to enter into the presence of God; and believe that Jesus is God incarnate, who died as a sacrifice for the sins of man and rose from the grave; and are willing to “die to self” — to give up claim to your own life, submitting yourself to Christ (in the imperfect way we’re able to do so); then you are what we (and Jesus) call “saved”. You can do that and belong to a Catholic Church, a Baptist Church, a Methodist Church, or no church at all (though I’d argue that if you’re submitting yourself to Christ, you’ll join and faithfully attend SOME fellowship of believers, since Jesus said “do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together”).

There are a TON of other doctrinal beliefs held by different groups. We mostly agree that these are important matters, to which we should earnestly seek correct understanding; but they are not matters upon which our salvation rests.

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 9:51 AM

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 9:51 AM

Howsabout this? “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who believes not shall be damned,” -Jesus of Nazareth.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 12:01 PM

Another hilarious black eye for Christianity.

It’s too easy.

rickyricardo on May 23, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Howsabout this? “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who believes not shall be damned,” -Jesus of Nazareth.

….and Jews say FU to that one JC.

So Jews and non Christians will be damned to eternal hellfire!!

That’s intolerance with a smile.

Get lost.

rickyricardo on May 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

So Jews and non Christians will be damned to eternal hellfire!!

That’s intolerance with a smile.

Get lost.

rickyricardo on May 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Uhhh, pretty much every religion believes that it is the true religion, and that non-believers are not going to make it to whatever version of heaven they have (although, I think the Jewish tradition is no belief in an afterlife).

Indeed, it would make no sense otherwise. If your religion was “I am the one true god, but you know, if you don’t believe in me that’s cool too” kind of takes away the whole point of religion. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that muslims believe that Jews and Christians are going to hell for not believing in Islam.

And, for what its worth, we would not have most of the freedoms we have today without the Judeo-Christian ethos. So hatred of such religions means you have to hate what developed out of those religions – such as the idea of god-given rights, etc.

I know, I know – all religion is evil and men have done terrible things in the name of religion, blah, blah, blah. Men have also done terrible things in the name of just about anything else, and there have been tons of good things done in the name of religion.

For instnace, charity. over 90% of charity comes from religios people, who tend to give more and volunteer much more than non-religios people.

Also, I know there are a lot of aetheists out there who try to argue that morality is not dependent on religion, but who are you kidding? If there were no belief in the god or an afterlife, why would anyone care about hurting other people? they would care only to the extent of not wanting to be hurt themselves. But there would be no internal morality, no belief, for instance, that killing is wrong b/c it is wrong. It would only be wrong to the extent you got caught and punished.

Monkeytoe on May 23, 2011 at 12:43 PM

chumpThreads on May 22, 2011 at 6:33 PM

Please engage some logic or you end up looking like a liberal. Let’s test your thesis: Let’s say you believe the human race arose from primates. Herbie the hypothetical atheist believes that we arose from a family of Lemurs last Thursday. He has a date, you don’t–or if I’m current on paleontology–even a candidate ancestor. Is your open-ended theory “no better” than Herbie’s? Is it just as daft?

Sometimes saying you know the date of something when nobody else knows the date does add silliness. Please name the date that Astronomers will spot an Oort cloud, or admit that they never will–or admit that it’s a senseless false dichotomy.

And why do atheists (of various sorts) keep talking about a day where no one will need God? Voltaire thought it would a century. So it’s not going to happen because it didn’t happen within Voltaire’s century?

Not believing in God is no substitute for the skill of testing assumptions.

Axeman on May 23, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Howsabout this? “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who believes not shall be damned,” -Jesus of Nazareth.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 12:01 PM

I agree with the sentiment, but have some concerns about the attribution. There is STRONG evidence that the last few verses of Mark 16 (whence comes this statement) were added at a later date. None of the oldest manuscripts include those verses. It doesn’t mean that they are incorrect; but most Biblical scholars, even the most orthodox and evangelical, hesitate to use them as a basis for their beliefs. Read more here:

As for rickyricardo’s objections, I can merely say this: no Christian I know finds any joy in the belief that those who don’t know Christ will suffer hell. There are people I love dearly who, I believe, will suffer this fate; and it breaks my heart. The good news (“Gospel”) is that no one HAS to miss out. I recently attended worship at a Messianic Jewish congregation. They are fully Jews, but also believe that Jesus was the Messiah. And, of course, a-theists (who in my experience are usually, like you, anti-theists) are also free to place faith in Christ for salvation. Paul, in Galations, said “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Intolerance? Hardly; it was revolutionary in its tolerance! Anyone who teaches something contrary to that is teaching something contrary to Christianity. Your problem, in that case, is with men — not with God.

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Monkeytoe on May 23, 2011 at 9:07 AM

Great points all.

Axeman on May 23, 2011 at 12:55 PM

Duh. Azked, I’m sorry — I didn’t finish what I meant to say in response to your post. Although I can’t hang anything on Mark 16 (and I respect your right to disagree, if you do), the sentiment is 100% consistent with, and supported by, the totality of Jesus’ teaching, as well as the letters of Paul and Peter.

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 12:01 PM

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Baptism is a public display of an internal transformation. It is the transformation (acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior) that provides salvation, not the baptism part. Baptism is a symbolic picture of the dying of your old self and your re-birth as a child of God. Baptism doesn’t save, Jesus saves!

rhbandsp on May 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

rickyricardo on May 23, 2011 at 12:12 PM

Ricky really really cares what I believe.

So heartwarming.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 3:36 PM

rhbandsp on May 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

So it’s only make believe?

“Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.'” Acts 2:38.

“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life,” -Romans 6:4.

RegularJoe on May 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

I know, I just believe it’s genuine if an amendation. St. Paul quoted Jesus saying “It is better to give than to receive,” and that’s not in the gospels.

One theory I agree with is that someone, an authoritative editor, didn’t want the Gospel of Mark ending on verse 8, “…for they were afraid.” So he added vv. 9f which had gained legitimacy but were homeless.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 3:46 PM

rhbandsp on May 23, 2011 at 2:07 PM

“The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Titus 3:5, is baptism.

John 3:5-16 is about baptism.

You can’t just make stuff up in the 16th Century and call it the catholic faith.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 3:48 PM

Another hilarious black eye for Christianity.
rickyricardo on May 23, 2011 at 12:10 PM

You are Chappaquiddick.

Akzed on May 23, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I’m still failing to see why these two alarmists claims shouldn’t be “viewed” the same way.
blink on May 23, 2011 at 11:18 AM

A belief about what’s going to happen when the universe ends is about as anti-alarmist as it gets. Which is why most Christians are not making any noise about what’s going to happen at the end of the world – we don’t know when it will happen but most of us expect to die before then.

But more to the point I was driving at, the further we get from the present day, the greater our uncertainty about the nature of things. It’s not alarmist or crazy to think that, assuming there is an end of the world, some creepy stuff will probably happen, whether it be from a religious perspective or a scientific one.

Are you seriously trying to equate the statements:

“I believe some really incredible stuff is going to happen at the end of the world.”


“Based on dubious number games, I have discovered that the world is ending tomorrow. All that crazy stuff is about to happen!!!”

The latter statement is extremely alarmist, whereas the former is no at all, and is at least plausible if you believe in a divine being, though obviously it is neither provable or disprovable.

And of course, you could make secular analogies as well.

There really is no comparison between screaming that “the sky is falling,” vs believing that at an earth-shattering event such as the end of the universe, the sky might in fact fall.

RINO in Name Only on May 23, 2011 at 4:50 PM

We feel superior, knowing that even though they told us we were heading for death and destruction, now, they get theirs.

It’s odd how people think. Hey Tiffany – do you believe in AGW? May I laugh at you?

disa on May 23, 2011 at 4:54 PM