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Jan 30 2006

The rapturites among us

After I wrote about the rapture letters, I viewed the film The God Who Wasn’t There (thanks to Aaron Shaffer (Manager of the Freedman Center) who loaned me the DVD) and the filmmaker included an interview with the creator of that letter writing site. He seems like a nice guy who sincerely believes that the rapture is going to occur in his lifetime. The film also says that an astounding 44% of the American public, like him, are either certain or think it very probable that the rapture will happen in their lifetimes! You can see the relevant clip from the film here.

This statistic is quite amazing. If you think about it for a minute it means that almost every other person you pass on the street, almost every other co-worker or fellow student believes that it is certain or extremely probable that she or he is going to be whisked into heaven within the next couple of decades. Who are these people? Where are these people? Are we living in two parallel worlds in which one group of people whom the rest of us are unaware of have this truly bizarre notion that Armageddon is going to occur very soon?

I must confess that I have never personally met anyone who has openly expressed such a belief. But a friend who reads my blog and had until then had never even heard of the rapture happened to mention this to a co-worker who casually said that yes, she believed in the rapture. My friend was stunned that this seemingly normal co-worker believed in this bizarre notion.

But even though I have never met a rapturite (rapturist? raptor?), I am curious about them. Do they buy life insurance? Do they worry about their children’s and grandchildren’s future? Do they plan and save for their retirement and old age? The US is notorious for the low savings rate of its people. Is this because so many people feel they do not have to worry about the future because they are going to be raptured away? It would interesting to do a number of correlation studies between people who hold rapture beliefs and all these other things.

Is this also why, as a nation, the US seems to be so cavalier in its attitudes towards protecting the environment and on global warming and energy and other resource conservation? Other nations take the threat of global warming far more seriously. Are the rapturites in the higher echelons of government? This would be serious because then would influence major policy decisions. Lest you think this is far-fetched, it was not so long ago that James Watt, President Reagan’s Secretary of the Environment, seemed to echo rapturite ideas.

I have not been able to find another source for the 44% statistic quoted in the film but the popularity of beliefs that strike me as bizarre no longer surprises me. After all, many people believe in miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%), for none of which does there exist any empirical evidence whatsoever.

It can be argued that believing in the rapture is no more preposterous that the standard religious belief in a god who can intervene in the natural world, and that would be true. But the policy consequences can be very different. All these other religious beliefs have been around for a long time and are compatible with people having long term goals and interests. Atheists and non-rapture religious people can share common concerns about the environment and work together to create a better world for future generations. The rapture belief is particularly unsettling because it is such a short term belief and can have serious negative policy consequences that affect us all. Having such a large number of people subscribing to such beliefs can throw a real wrench into any planning for solving long range problems.

In the short term, it can lead to some wacky ideas. For example, there was a recent report that a group of evangelical Christians are planning a Biblical theme park in Israel that could also serve as a launching pad for the rapture.

If a crackpot idea appears on the horizon, can our old friend Pat Robertson be far behind? And sure enough, behind that theme park idea is that go-to man for every loony idea related to Christianity, whom I have come depend upon for a supply of black humor. Robertson can even explain why Sharon had a stroke. He says: “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being punished by God for dividing the Land of Israel. Robertson, speaking on the “700 Club” on Thursday, suggested Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995, were being treated with enmity by God for dividing Israel. “He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.” (See the video here.)

Why is Robertson so adamantly opposed to any plan for a future Palestinian state? One explanation for this is that the rapturites believe that the expansion of Israel is a precursor to the coming of the rapture and thus strongly oppose any plan that involves even the remote possibility of creating a Palestinian state, showing once again how damaging rapture beliefs can be.

This particular piece of Robertson buffoonery was too much for the Israeli government that until then had seemed to be willing to play along with the rapture idea (even though the rapture itself foretells a particularly nasty end for Jews) because of the booming Christian tourist industry it generated in Israel. They cut Robertson out of the deal. Whereupon he immediately apologized, proving that old adage “money talks.”

The Porpoise-Driven Wife

Bill O’Reilly warned us that allowing gay marriage would eventually lead to interspecies marriage and for once he was right, as can be seen from this story of a woman who fell in love with, and eventually married, a dolphin.

If some religious people are having conniptions over gay marriage, imagine what they will say over this. Can the Armageddon be far behind?

(By the way, whoever at Media Matters came up with “The Porpoise-Driven Wife” deserves a prize for the best headline of the year.)

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