Today is the day that Harold Camping, creator of last May’s Rapture fiasco, has predicted the Rapture will actually be happening. No, really, This time for sure. The last time was a sort of secret Judgment, in which God decided who was going to be raptured and who was going to suffer the torments of Armageddon, but didn’t tell anybody or do anything about it. The actual, real Rapture… that’s today.
Except… have you noticed that Camping’s not making as big a fuss about it this time around? Have you noticed that this time, he’s not buying up billboards around the country, or generally making himself into a media darling? He’s keeping a much lower profile this time. In fact, he’s already started back-pedaling. Even before today’s deadline rolled around, he’d already started equivocating and making excuses, saying “it looks like” the end was “probably” coming on October 21. He thinks.
I obviously don’t know what’s going on in Harold Camping’s head, and I don’t know for sure why he’s changed his tactics. Even if I could get inside his head, I don’t think it would be informative: I think the man is so steeped in denial and self-delusion, even he doesn’t know why he does the things he does. But I’m going to speculate.
I think we successfully embarrassed him.
And by “we,” I don’t just mean atheists. Atheists were having a field day over the Rapture, of course — but so were a lot of people. On Rapture Day in May, there were Rapture parties big and small, all over the country, and indeed around the world. Facebook on Rapture Day was pretty much eaten up with jokes about the topic. I was at a Rapture-themed conference that day… and as a result, I had to miss the big public Rapture party in Dolores Park. Just about nobody except Camping’s followers actually took it seriously, except as a psychological and sociological phenomenon. It was one giant national joke. International, even. And of course, the media had a ball with it. I honestly don’t remember seeing anything like it before: there have been countless “end of the world” predictions in my lifetime, and none of them got the giant, world-wide horse laugh that this one did.
The supposed Rapture last May was a circus. And Harold Camping was the clown.
We embarrassed him. I think he’s being very cautious as a result. I think he’s reluctant to be quite so public about making such easily falsifiable claims about his purported God. I think he doesn’t want to get egg on his face again.
We should keep it up.
Not just with Camping — but with all religion.
This is a point JT Eberhard has been making in many of his talks and in much of his writing: We have to create a world in which people are embarrassed to express religious beliefs that are embarrassing. We have to create a world in which people think twice about saying that they have an invisible friend who came to earth in human form 2,000 years ago and sacrificed himself to himself so he could forgive the bad people who made him angry because their ancestors ate a forbidden magic fruit. We have to create a world… oh, I’m just going to quote JT:
Part of why people stay religious is because it is easy to do. I seek to make it less easy. I seek to create a world where people cannot open their mouths to tell someone about Jesus without wondering if, without the obligatory respect to which religion has grown accustomed, the target of their evangelism will make a public fool of them. I dream of a world where irrationality knows no sanctuary and no quarter outside the cathedral.
I don’t think it’s an accident that International Make Fun of the Rapture Day happened when it did. I think atheists are changing the culture. There are probably a lot of reasons why the Rapture caught the public imagination as much as it did: the ubiquitousness of the billboards leaps to mind, as does the fact that it happened on a Saturday when people could party. But I think the atheist movement can take at least some credit for it. Again: I seriously can’t remember any other end- of- the- world prediction that got a global pie in the face as much as this one did. And again: It wasn’t just atheists laughing themselves silly over this jackass and his laughable prediction. Loads of people were having fun with it. I think the atheist movement — and our questioning and criticism of religion, either overtly or simply by our very existence — has something to do with that. I think the atheist movement is beginning to strip religion of its armor, the layers of deference and special treatment that’s kept this ridiculous idea perpetuated for so long.
We have to keep it up.
We have to create an environment in which religion is treated like any other idea — and if it’s an unusually silly version of that idea, we should make fun of it. We make fun of silly political ideas, and scientific ideas, ideas about art and music and philosophy and medicine. We should feel no more compunction making fun of silly religious ideas than we do any other. As Ingrid likes to say: If you don’t want your beliefs to be ridiculed, don’t have such ridiculous beliefs.
Like I wrote the other day: Religion relies on social consent to perpetuate itself. We have to deny that consent. We have to stop nodding and saying, “Yes, yes, the Emperor’s new clothes, aren’t they lovely?” We have to stop looking the other way and secretly facepalming when we see the Emperor parading down the boulevard stark naked. We have to be willing to say, out loud, “No, his clothes aren’t magnificent! Are you high? His clothes are non-existent! The man is naked, naked, naked!” And we have to be willing to point and laugh.
If we do, maybe the Emperor will think twice, and take a longer look in the mirror, before he parades his ridiculous and harmful ideas naked down the public streets.