Bad Astronomy


I’ve been getting some email and other notes asking about the claims that on Saturday May 21 the Rapture will occur.

Well, what can I say? Harold Camping, the guy making these claims is, to be charitable, a kook. He claimed the Rapture would be in 1994, for one thing, then changed his mind. His claims are based on numerology. Other evangelicals are coming out against him. And so on and so forth.

We’ve seen such claims come and we’ve seen them go. The problem is, they never really leave, do they? A new one always comes along soon enough to take the place of the last one. And so many others are simply recycled (Velikovsky begat Sitchin begat Planet X, which has been subsumed by the Mayan 2012 folks).

Moreover, the most fervent believers in such doomsday prophecies, after the time comes and goes with nothing happening, usually wind up believing in it even more strongly. I saw it happen myself in 2003 when Planet X failed to show up and wipe us all out as predicted. A lot of people were disenchanted and left that particular cult, but a core group is still going on, still claiming aliens are out there trying to warn us of planetary doom (another site has a history of all that). And heck, the Millerites, a 19th century end-times movement, eventually evolved into the religion of Seventh-day Adventism after failed prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ.

Which makes me wonder: what will happen May 22? I have no doubt whatsoever that when the Rapture fails to materialize, the group surrounding Camping will find some way to rationalize it. Perhaps they’ll claim the date was off. Perhaps they’ll claim it was a test of their faith (a common excuse, actually). Maybe, if they’re lucky, some will leave the movement. But no matter what, excuses will be made.

But that’s in the immediate term. I can’t help but be curious to see if this will continue on, as the Millerites did, and even grow? After 150 years, Seventh-day Adventism is now one of the largest Christian denominations on the planet, after all.

Who will be Camping in the 22nd century?

Image credit: Mark Nozell on Flickr, used under Creative Commons licensing.