I was pretty excited about the whole Rapture thing yesterday.
I’ve read the first Left Behind book and I’m big into post-apocalyptic stories, so I felt pretty prepared. I also wanted to know what would happen in the event (“unthinkable,” they said) that nothing happened. I’m fascinated by the psychology behind this kind of faith and disappointment. I’ve been following the stories about Harold Camping, who still hasn’t emerged from whatever bunker he’s holed up in, and read as the New York Times live-posted about a former MTA worker in New York who’d donated $144,000 to the campaign. They followed him through his last day, and at the end of it, the reigning emotion was confusion.
Understandable, of course. Betting on the Rapture is a tricky thing. It’s all or nothing. If you admit even the slightest doubt about it coming, save even a bit of that pension for a rainy, Earth-bound day-after-tomorrow, you’re not faithful enough to be saved. When you’re in, you’re all-in. Today my heart is with the nice, ordinary people who heard a message of hope, bet everything, and now are left with less than they ever had before.
Because let’s face it, I had a moment of fear that the end–well, an end–might come. Call it my quirky intellectual curiosity, if you will. I like to try out both sides of a debate or an extreme belief, and although I was pretty skeptical about Camping’s math (and remembering the Matthew verse about no man knowing the hour or day that Christ will return), I entertained the idea that some kind of calamity might occur. It’s scary. Climate change, increase of natural disasters, recession, these are definitely not signs of rebirth. It wasn’t so much of a stretch to see these as the end-times.
I’ve always tried to give religion its due suspension of disbelief, sometimes to my own detriment. I was the kid in Sunday school who knew all the stories. I grew up in the UCC, one of the most liberal churches there is, but still somehow managed to internalize a very black-and-white way of looking at the world and at sin. The Bible (or, really, the religious people at other churches) said that premarital sex was a dangerous sin? Well, better not do that, just to be on the safe side. I terrified myself with thoughts of Hell as a child. Worrying about death was bad enough, but I might have to suffer for eternity because God couldn’t manage a little empathy?
It was around the time I hit high school that I realized I didn’t want to go along with a God who wouldn’t be able to forgive people and give them a pass out of eternal damnation. All people, not just the ones who’d heard from his son. To my thinking, if anyone had ever had even a little bit of good in them–and I do believe that every human being does, even Hitler (you can fight me about this later)–they don’t deserve torment. I’m a much bigger fan of the idea that we make the place we’re in a heaven or a hell. Thanks for that one, Milton.
I do wish that my parents had told me that it was okay for me to have trouble with the idea that Jesus is the literal son of God, an immaculate conception, all of that, a little bit earlier. We’ve always been churchgoers, so I assumed that was what they believed, while I felt guilty for thinking that Jesus was a cool guy with some great ideas and maybe some supernatural help, but that his mom might have been fibbing a little bit about where he came from. Or, you know, 2,000 years of the rumor mill might have exaggerated something. (I remember the first time I read an article that talked about how Jesus might have been a bastard son. I was about 12 and shocked, and then devoured it, wondering the whole time, “Can they say that?!”.) Last year or so I talked about Jesus and belief with my mom, and to my astonishment found that her views on the whole thing are pretty similar to mine. That’s something I’m going to be open with my kids about right away. I loved growing up in a church and I think there’s a lot of good in it, but this stuff can mess a kid up. Also I feel a little uncomfortable making the oaths about the Son of God stuff now when I go to church.
My own religion doesn’t really have a name as of yet. I haven’t exactly found my Middle Way, although Buddhism comes pretty close. The best I can say is that I believe in physics and mysticism. I’m really fascinated by consciousness and how little we actually know about it. I’m not ready to rule out that there is some force we can’t perceive, a greater consciousness, out there somewhere. But I am ready to stop giving credence to groups that use threats of endless punishment as a motivating tool and recruiting effort. I truly hope that some people who thought that the world would end will come to this conclusion as well. I’m not holding my breath.
On a lighter note, to celebrate, my friends and I made up a drinking game for the movie “2012” and I remain a little bit sick from its results. If this is Hell on Earth, then Hell’s been oversold. Everything is just kind of unpleasant and annoying.
Eternal irritation? I guess I can deal with that.