You might have been aware of the stir that was created around Harold Camping’s prediction that last Saturday, May 22, would be Judgment Day, according to Harold’s lifelong study of the Bible. His organization, Family Radio, based in Oakland, not far from my own home, financed thousands of billboards across the US and in foreign countries, as well as several caravans traveling in special vans with “Judgment Day, May 22, 2011” painted on the sides.
Responses to the announcement ranged from the bemused and skeptical to the outraged. And now that the date has passed without evidence of cataclysm, the amusement has turned to scorn and ridicule.
I have been particularly interested in the responses given to Camping by many Christians. They quote Mark 13:32: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” to argue that calculating the date for Judgment Day is inappropriate and futile. However, they remain convinced that the Bible “predicts” such a Day, which will include cataclysmic events and the destruction of the Earth.
“The End of the World” is a powerful image, alive in our deepest imaginations. People flock to movies about destruction and imagine apocalypses of not just religious origin, but through ecological disasters, political corruption, or invaders from space. What do these images say to us about our deepest fears, our feelings of insecurity, our longings for what we would call a “better” world?
Judgment Day plays an important role our human living, but when we turn the symbol into a “fact,” and pin the experience of judgment that may come to us on any given day down to a particular Day, we have taken the first steps toward turning a profound religious insight into a parlor game.
Harold, it’s not just the math that you got wrong.