It’s the end of the world and Harold Camping knows it…
With only a few days left until the end of the world, I thought I’d honor Harold Camping by questioning if faith makes us more susceptible to delusions, like how Harold Camping’s faith led him to believe the world is ending on May 21, 2011.
Harold Camping: Wrong, but still fascinating
Mr. Camping is a case study in how faith sometimes evolves into grand delusions, and I find his delusion to be absolutely fascinating. It’s like being able to witness the Great Disappointment first hand!
The people who call into his Family Radio show amaze me as well, they all seem to be drinking the same Kool-Aid. The vast majority call in to thank Mr. Camping, tell him they agree with his findings, and then ask what time they can expect the world to end in their time zone (no, I’m not kidding). Listening to the show is like overhearing a conversation in an insane asylum.
In fact, Harold Camping reminds me a lot of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Shutter Island: [SPOILER ALERT] He’s completely taken-in by his own delusion.
But how did this happen?
This 90 year old man has spent more hours in the Bible than 99% of the people on earth. For decades, he has spent hours each day discussing the Bible with callers. He continually reminds us that the Bible says:
Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
So if he’s doing what God asks us to — spending time in the Word — how did he get caught up in such a grand delusion?
I reckon that studying the Bible for 50 years is a lot like staring at ink blots for a long time, eventually you start to see things that aren’t really there. This is especially true of the Bible, since its parables and mysterious texts practically force the reader to engage in speculative spiritual interpretations. And before you know it, you’ve connected all the ink blots and the world is ending… Saturday. Wait… what?
But perhaps what’s going on with Harold Camping and his followers is just an exaggerated example of what goes on in every church. Namely, at some point, someone has a new story, prophet, interpretation or prediction and a new religion, sect or denomination is born. Like-minds then gather together and reinforce the new shared delusion. When the only requirement is faith, the possibilities are endless.
Why do I believe Harold Camping is wrong?
Because history teaches us that people make up religions, follow them, and evolve them with new stories, prophets, interpretations, and predictions. History also shows us that people make end-time predictions that always fail. I simply think it’s more likely that a man would delude himself (and others) than one such delusion might actually be true.
But what if he’s right?
I’m willing to bet that my foolish secular world view actually turns out to be more accurate than his narrow Biblical view (with its custom Camping lens).
But what the heck do I know? I’m just some dumb bloke with a blog. Harold’s the one with the worldwide radio broadcast and thousands of followers. Could I possibly have more wisdom than a guy who’s dedicated his entire life to the Bible? I’ll let you know next week.
UPDATE: Post-Rapture Follow-up…
I’m still here (whew!). I guess my reasoning was more sound than Harold Camping’s! As a souvenir, I grabbed this screen-shot of their website on May 22nd before they pulled it:
UPDATE: Post-Rapture Follow-up #2…
Guess I spoke too soon, the rapture has been rescheduled for October 21, 2011.
I just got done writing about how believers will sometimes apply a “spiritual” interpretation to Biblical verses they don’t like, such as the earth being literally set on pillars. Camping seems to do the same for his own failed predictions; if a literal rapture doesn’t come to pass, it means it’s “the end of the church age” or a “spiritual judgement day”. I suppose after October 21st, he will say we just experienced the end of the world… spiritually! At what point does he say to himself, “Maybe NOTHING has ever happened spiritually, and I have it all wrong.” Probably not before his passing.
The lesson here? Always be on guard against self-delusion.