The most recent lessons of the Harold Camping, May 21, 2011, Judgement Day debacle should, one would think, prompt Christians to dig into the history of their religion to help educate the world about this wackiness. Instead, we get statements like those being blurted out by ignorant Evangelical Christians, clinging to the Delta Dawn dream that Jesus is one day coming back, for them. It’s just that no man knows the day, you see.
As culture moves forward, those feeling left behind have always created elaborate myths to attempt to rationalize their perceived place in the world, and fantasize that one day soon, it will all be different. Then THEY will get to be the people in charge. That’s what it’s really all about. It is the pipe-dream, perhaps, of everyone living in poverty, whether financially or emotionally.
These are the apocalypticists, a wild and wacky bunch who see no hope for the world other than for God to come down and wipe the slate clean. It is so important that people will donate their entire life savings to the plan, while a family down the street struggles to put food on their table. If one will excuse my French, it is one fucked up way of looking at life. It is also crucially important to understand that not all Christians are apocalypticists.
But it’s what many Christians are taught; typically ignoring the reality that each and every one of these supposed apocalypses (revealings) has been wrong, from the early example in the Book of Daniel, to the apocalyptic fantasies of the New Testament authors and later. These prophecies ALL failed, and they will always fail. One of the common denominators in apocalyptic literature is that it has ALWAYS been wrong. Enter: Re-Interpretation.
One of the comments that I have heard the most over the past few weeks, especially by Christians, is basically, “how can people fall for this stuff?”. My opinion is that people believe what they want to believe. It is a reflection of their own desires and insecurities. These are people who are so dissatisfied with their own lives that they want the world to end.
Some may remember being caught up in the Cold-War “End of the World” in the 80’s in the wake of Hal Lindey’s “Late Great Planet Earth”. I still remember as a teen-ager, sitting in a darkened room with other kids, watching a movie being projected on the wall where Soviet helicopters were obviously being described by this passage:
And the forms of the locusts were like horses made ready for war; and on their heads they had crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates like iron, and the sound of their wings was as the sound of carriages, like an army of horses rushing to the fight. And they have pointed tails like scorpions; and in their tails is their power to give men wounds for five months. (Revelation 9:7-10)
About that same time, Edward Whisenant, who rose to prominence because he was a NASA engineer, wrote a book entitled “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988”. Needless to say, the End of the World didn’t happen in the 80’s, or the 90’s. Even Y2K couldn’t bring about the End of the World. Neither could Harold Camping. Regardless of how badly he wanted this world to end, we’re still here dancing around the Golden Calves.
The first full-blown apocalypse that I am aware of is the Book of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible. It dates to the second century when Torah observant Jews were all-but convinced that their way of life was going to be destroyed and replaced with a newer Hellenistic culture. What resulted was a syncretic blending of those cultures. The Jews fought for, and gained their independence, establishing their Kingdom of God, which rapidly fell back into the corruption common to all government, so it seems. The prophecy failed. The Kingdom of God did not rise to rule all the nations, nor did the physical resurrection occur as predicted.
I imagine <note opinion> that the Book of Daniel fell by the way-side until another situation arose in which the imagery of the writing could be interpreted to apply to contemporary events. That wouldn’t take very long; it would be the Roman occupation of Judea and Jerusalem. The unknown author of our earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark (GoMark), was writing in response to this oppression and was apparently familiar with the apocalyptic writing of the Book of Daniel, as he used the imagery in his Little Apocalypse of chapter 13. The unknown author of the Apocalypse of John also used imagery from Daniel, as well as 1 Enoch, in his criticism of the Roman Empire, and those who were being absorbed by Roman culture.
Again, the prophecies failed. Jesus did not come back in that generation to conquer the Roman Empire. The Kingdom of God did not come to earth, the lion did not lay down with the lamb, and once again the religious beliefs of the various people blended together to create Greco-Roman Christianity. But it wouldn’t be long, again, before the End of the World would arrive, again This message would be delivered by Montanus in the middle of the second century CE, not far from where the Apocalypse of John had been set, in Asia Minor. Montanus was a big fan of the Apocalypse of John.
Montanus knew what advertisers of today know as well. Sexy chicks sell stuff ! Montanus had two prophetesses that accompanied him named Maximilla and Prisca. They were able to put themselves into trances and receive revelations directly from God. They called their practice “The New Prophecy”. Maximilla supposedly said that there would be no more prophecy after her, because the end would come. They advocated putting aside the focuses and struggles of everyday life and focus on the coming judgment, just like Harold Camping. They certainly solicited donations as well, just like Harold Camping. The Montanists were convinced that the New Jerusalem from the Apocalypse of John was going to descend to the earth and land on the town of Pepuza in Asia Minor. Tertullian was a convert to Montanism and was convinced that the Roman Empire would pay for their alleged persecution of Christians. Yet in reality, Christians weren’t officially persecuted because they were Christians, they were judged and executed because they were criminals according to the law of the land.
So the story isn’t a new story at all, and people have been falling for it as long as the story has been around. When the world today seems to be falling to pieces, with them homosex’als pushing their “gay agenda”, with heathens (science and history) attacking the Word of God, with a black man running the country and women not kowtowing to the authority of superior men-folk, the end MUST be at hand.
Well folks, it’s come and gone again. Culture marches forward, same as it ever was.
-One can do a Google search for “Millerites” to see how it worked out for another group in the 19th century.
–“A History of the End of the World” is a great book written by Jonathan Kirsh that takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the Apocalypse from the second century BCE through the 20th century. The Campingite Collapse would have certainly made the book, had he been writing it now.