For those who have been living under a rock (or worse, been offline), the world is supposed to end today. More accurately, a group of fringe evangelical Christians in California led by Harold Camping have taken to the airwaves on their Family Radio Network to proclaim the imminent arrival of the Rapture on May 21st–the removal of faithful believers of Christ from the earth and the cataclysmic beginning of the destruction of the Earth.
As Christian beliefs go, the Rapture’s a pretty marginal doctrine restricted to evangelicals, accepted neither by the Catholic, Orthodox or mainline Protestant groups. Even for those evangelicals that do believe in the Rapture, the vast majority will think of Thessalonian 5:1-2 – “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” Most Christians know better to set dates for the return of Christ, though many have tried before. The failure of Jesus to show up for one such date set by the Millerite movement in the United States in 1844 was called “the Great Disappointment” for good reason. As the great holy text Battlestar Galactica once put it, “all of this has happened before, and will happen again.”
So this is not a widely accepted or particularly credible form of religious belief, it’s pretty safe to say most people do not believe the world is ending at 6pm tonight. What is more astonishing is the degree with which this apocalyptic story has been taken up by atheists, dominating the news for the past few weeks. Mother Jones reports that Channing’s PR person has fielded 400 interview requests in the past few weeks; bucket lists and music playlists to soundtrack the apocalypse have been posted, and as I write now, the trending topics on Twitter include #rapture #iftheworldendsonSaturday #Harold Camping and a nostalgic apocalyptic throwback in the form of #Y2K. Most of it is mocking, with a sense of incredulity that someone could honestly believe in the end of the world. So why all the fuss?