Raptured by Degrees

Thanks to a very expensive ad campaign, the lead-up to May 21, 2011 was filled with talk of Harold Camping's predicted rapture. Some people prepared by praying, witnessing, selling their earthly possessions, or taking out pet protection policies. Most people just made jokes. However, what struck me was the fact that a lot of commenters were laughing at the when of the prediction, not at the idea of it happening at all.

According to Harold Camping, May 21st would bring massive earthquakes which would roll around the globe at 6pm in each local time zone. These earthquakes would be so powerful that they would tear apart the earth, opening all the graves around the world. Jesus, the son of God, would return to earth signifying the beginning of the end of the world.

The faithful, including the deceased in their graves, would be "raptured" into heaven. Meanwhile, the unsaved would be left to fend for themselves in a post-apocalyptic hell on earth. Those left behind would still have a slim chance of reaching heaven, depending on their actions before the final end of the world, which would happen on October 21, 2011.

I'll be honest. To me, this entire supernatural scenario sounds like a crazy fairy tale. The idea of a rapture, a second-coming of Jesus, or any kind of supernatural end of the world is something that has absolutely nothing to do with the human experience of reality. It seems about as likely as the Flying Spaghetti Monster descending from the sky and unfurling his noodly appendages to let Santa Claus, leprechauns and a legion of unicorns roam free across the earth.

Given my point of view, I was not surprised to hear people mocking Camping and his followers for their pre-rapture preparations. What I did find jarring was hearing the number of people who followed up their derision with statements like, "The Bible says no man will know when the end will come" or "We can't know when the end will come; we just have to be ready."

Right. Because the idea of supernatural earthquakes, magically appearing deities, unearthed graves, and people (and corpses) levitating to heaven isn't strange at all. The idea of a lowly human being knowing when these things will happen is the unbelievable part of the story.

While I generally try to respect the fact that people have different beliefs, this rapture hoopla has brought up a question that frequently bothers me: Where do theists draw the line between what they think is reasonable to believe and what should be mocked?

I frequently hear Christians laugh at the "ridiculous" beliefs of Islam, while still wholeheartedly believing in their own outlandish mythos. Even within Christianity (or Islam, or other major world religions) factions mock each other, content that their own unsubstantiated version of the "truth" is the only correct belief system.

How is believing in the eventual rapture any different than believing that Helios flies his flaming chariot (the sun) across the sky each day?

As I've said multiple times, I do not know that there are no gods, anymore than I know that there aren't leprechauns hiding among us. But when I say that I don't believe in supernatural gods, it's true of all supernatural gods.

It's hard for me to understand how other people can selectively believe in their own religion's mythos while mocking others who have beliefs which seem to be equally as farfetched.

If people believe that their supernatural god will someday return to call them to heaven, and then unleash hell on earth, is it that much more ridiculous to also believe that there could be hidden clues in their holy book letting the cleverest among them know when that day will come?

Personally, I feel sorry for Camping and his followers. They are likely to be feeling devastated and disillusioned. They are also being mocked around the world simply for using numerology* to take a common Christian belief one step further.

*Just to be clear, I don't believe in numerology either.