Where were you when the world ended? You know, the first time? It was, oh, about 11 years ago. On New Year’s Eve. Remember the global catastrophe that beset us? Remember all the people with their fallout shelters and five-year food supply laughing at those of us left to cope with nuclear fallout? How about when Stewie mutated into an octopus, and his offspring overran the rest of humanity because Peter made everyone burn their weap…ons…
Ah, crud. That wasn’t the end of the world, that was a Family Guy spoof of Y2K.
I actually remember quite vividly where I was: in Florida. Orlando, to be precise. Kim and I took in the New Year’s Eve show at Mediaeval Times. Our thought process? If we’re going to get nuked back to the dark ages when the clock strikes twelve, we might as well be in a place loaded with appropriate weaponry.
Of course, it didn’t quite turn that way, did it? As much as the media and publicity hounds enjoy predicting doom and gloom, they tended to forget that before it was midnight in good ol’ EST, it had been midnight across a number of other time zones first. And the world didn’t end then, either.
Of course, Kim and I knew that nothing was going to happen. I was a computer geek, after all – newly minted and working at Applied Concepts, Inc. at the time. But I knew enough to know that the precautions, code upgrades, and so forth would be sufficient. I wasn’t an alarmist. I didn’t really care about Y2K outside of the fact that it was the turn of the century, and the millennium. I suppose that’s why everyone wanted to get freaked out about it – it was a huge moment for the human race. We hadn’t seen the like in 1,000 years, and won’t see the like for another 1,000 (well, 989 years now).
Less than two years later, I wasn’t laughing quite so hard when our World Trade Center towers came crashing to the ground. And before the dust could settle, self-styled prophets were out on the streets preaching the end of days, the judgment of Christ! Layfolk were suddenly experts in the field of apocalypse – Nostradamus became a household name. You remember him, right? He’s the guy who predicted 9/11 – after, of course, someone switched the words of his prophecies around to make them fit the context. (Side note: he’s still a household name, apparently; I misspelled his name and Word’s spell checker had it programmed in. Wow.)
I suppose the end of days panic that surrounded 9/11 was slightly more forgivable. It was the first time my generation – Generation X – had seen the grisly reality of war. Sure, we had the Gulf War – but we were kids when Bush Sr. took on Saddam, and it was over so quickly, it hardly felt like a war at all. 9/11 was personal – and the like had never been achieved before. And in the light of that great and terrible tragedy, men like Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye made a killing off of their apocalyptic Left Behind novels. They didn’t exploit the tragedy – too much – but they certainly didn’t complain about the paychecks.
There was some mild concern about some asteroid back in 2004 that was supposedly going to collide with Earth. Shortly before that, Nancy Lieder prophesied that some secret, hidden planet, Nibiru, was going to crash into the Earth. She euthanized her pets in preparation for this disaster, and encouraged others to do the same. Yikes – people are dangerous. (Side note: Nancy Lieder has since merged her nonsense with Zecharia Stitchin’s nonsense about 2012 and ancient Sumarian tablets; she now believes Nibiru will collide with us in 2012. Nevermind the gravitational effects a massive planet invading our solar system would have, or the overwhelming number of amateur astronomers with tweaked out telescopes would see it and report it.)
I suppose this brings us to the 2012 prophecies. Let me cut to the chase here, since it’s a little hard to cover quickly: the Mayan long count calendar will soon progress to the next b’ak’tun. Doesn’t that sound horribly terrifying? It’s just restarting a calendar cycle – not unlike how we “restart” every decade, or ever century, or every…millennium!
That’s a great analogy – 2012 is, basically, the Mayan version of Y2K. It’s a big shift in their calendar. If the ancient Mayans still existed, I bet they’d be throwing one helluva party and laughing at the rest of us for thinking the world was about to end.
The truly glorious thing is that evidence arose recently to cast into the doubt the original calculation! (See here: http://news.discovery.com/space/the-2012-mayan-calendar-doomsday-date-might-be-wrong.html) Well, so much for that.
But – why wait until next year? Let’s just end the world now and get it over with! That’s what Harold Camping, a radio minister and former engineer has to say about it. He is predicting, through various mathematical calculations involving some allegedly sacred and holy numbers, that Jesus Christ Himself is coming back this Saturday, around dinnertime.
I guess I’ll be ordering an extra pizza. Can you get pizza on Pita bread?
The thing about being a Christian, and dealing with a faith that is increasingly frowned upon by an ever-growing secular culture, is that you have to deal with some subjects that make even the most pious squirm in their pews. Christianity is a faith of absolutes, a true abomination in this age of moral relativism. The Second Coming ranks right up there with Creation (because many Christians don’t believe Genesis is a literal account, being under the mistaken impression that science has “proven” macro-evolution), the stance on homosexuality, the rapture, and many other topics as being too delicate for polite conversation.
The latest in a long line of self-styled prophets, and spiritual kin to the likes of William Miller, Ellen White, and Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping claims that he has broken some mystical mathematical code that supposedly exists within the Scriptures, and that the addition of certain holy numbers leads him to the date May 21, 2011. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t gone to great lengths to understand the math. I’m terrible with numbers. I barely have a grasp of words, to say nothing of numbers. But I don’t have to understand the mathematical model to know that it’s been done before. Google Bible Code and have a laugh – depending on how you look at those numbers, even 9/11 “could have been” predicted.
Thing is, numbers are just as vulnerable to personal spin, bias, and interpretation as anything else. There have already been a handful of “Holy Number” predictions that have come and gone (the Jehovah’s Witness prophecy of 1914 based on Daniel 4 come to mind). Lo and behold, we’re still here.
One thing I’ve learned in my life as a writer and director: people subconsciously (or in some cases, very consciously) impose their own personal narratives on everything – especially faith. Facts are rarely just facts – they’re spun one way or another. The Scriptures are, unfortunately, an excellent resource for spinsters.
Individual scripture verses, when taken out of context, can easily be twisted to mean just about anything. Our modern sensibilities have shown us that a proper interpretation of the Scripture involves a complete understanding of the work: who wrote it, why, and what place it originally served in a historical context. We will never have a perfect interpretation of every verse, every practice. But when we keep context in mind, we can have a somewhat more accurate idea.
Sadly, most “Bible scholars” fail to see this. Why? Because they’re less interested in scholarship and more interested in imposing their own narrative onto what they read. They go in looking for evidence, and pick it out, regardless if it even makes sense in the new context. Unbelievers see this and, logically, hold the entire faith accountable for the actions of a few. So these self-styled prophets make all of us look like blithering idiots because they’ve got an axe to grind. And their grinding axes really grinds my gears. You know what else grinds my gears? When I can’t find the droids I’m looking for.
Ugh – Family Guy again. Sorry.
So, do I think that Mr. Camping is right? Did he really, finally, uncover the crazy mathematical formula that will predict Christ’s second coming? Eh – I’m skeptical. Only because we’ve been down this road before with holy numbers, and it turns out to be – surprise! – one man imposing his own narrative on the Scriptures and calling the result a prophesy.
Far more dangerous, in my opinion, are the people who are quitting their jobs and tying up the affairs of their lives, and convincing others to do the same. They cite that they’re being prepared, as the Scriptures command (oye vei, here we go again), but is that really what they say?
If you visit http://www.wecanknow.com you will find a marquee across the top that publishes a bunch of random verses that, when read together, make it sound like God has granted them some kind of special understanding, and that they have been commissioned by Him to enlighten everyone else. But go re-read those verses in their original context, and they’ll tell a slightly different story.
I’ll admit, Camping does call a fairly common misinterpretation – or perhaps simply we could call it a “cursory reading” – of 1 Thesselonians 5:2-6 out on the carpet. It’s commonplace that church-goers are told that Christ will come the second time like a thief in the night, and this verse is part of the origin of that. But let’s look at the whole passage.
But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
I’m not a Bible scholar. Far from it. But what I see in these words is an admonishment for vigilance – NOT a promise that we will be able to figure out the exact date. What I see here is that those who believe will, by the very nature of their belief, simply be ready for Christ’s return when it does happen. We’re not going to be surprised when it happens. And we have nothing to be afraid of when it happens. But there is nothing to suggest that we will be able to interpret the specific date through a mathematical code. Watch, and be sober, folks. That’s the message here. Be ready.
At least, that’s how I see it. That’s my spin. I have done my best to look at that verse as indifferently as I can – and my honest take on it is simply to say that we won’t be surprised when it eventually does happen. Period. It carries with it the imperative to be ready at all times – but that’s just good sense anyway.
So, my final thoughts? I’m not really going to order an extra pizza. If indeed Christ returns this Saturday, I’m sure He could feed 5,000 with a few slices of Za if He wanted.
I don’t think He’s coming back on Saturday. But I won’t restrict my belief that He can do whatever He darn well chooses, either. But my take: it’s when everyone is looking in one direction, that He could easily come in from another direction – like a thief, maybe? A thief in the night? – and catch those who don’t know any better completely by surprise.
But not me. Because whenever we all least expect it – that’s when I’ll be expecting it.