The Oakland Rapture RAM report…part the second

The billboard, like the people who paid for it, were still there on Sunday…

Continuing on with Saturday’s speakers…

Ashley Paramore from the Secular Student Alliance did a great job educating us on how to better connect with campus groups. As it turns out, not only do they enjoy pizza (preferably free) they might also be a bit tired of lectures (who knew?) and there are other events that might be more to their liking. In all seriousness, the ACA has worked with campus groups at UT, Austin and many of the things that Ashley said (which should almost be common sense but, sadly, are not) will be helpful to our group and to many others that want to help support campus secular groups. I won’t be advocating the exact model that Campus Crusade for Christ uses, but there are good lessons to be learned there.

Lewis Marshall, President of the Atheists, Humanists and Agnostics at Stanford University spoke about freethought activism and working with interfaith groups. (There were some unfortunate audio problems during his talk and I missed part of it.)

Keith Lowell Jensen offered highlights from his stand-up comedy routine. Legitimately entertaining and funny, he’s been doing atheist-themed comedy for a while. He was kind enough to give me one of his CD’s and I planned to listen to it on the flight home, but I couldn’t find the CD-drawer on my iPod, so I’m going to rip the audio off later and listen to it tomorrow…or at least before the next scheduled rapture.

David Eller, Assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Denver gave the first of two talks (I want his agent…or maybe any agent) for the weekend. He’s the author of several books and the latest is Cruel Creeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence Across Culture and History.

The first talk covered some of the content of the book, focusing on religious violence and cultural perceptions of violence. It’s not a talk I can fairly summarize, but I definitely enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to spending more time talking to David in the future. He said a number of things that made me reconsider the way I look at things and that’s something that I really appreciate.

There was a dinner break at this point and I did a few interviews with local news stations. As it turns out, I was on one station for about 3 seconds and…they pretty much gave me the last word. That’s great and fairly unheard of! It’s almost enough to make me move to California. I had spent a few moments during my talk mentioning how religious figures always seem to get the last word on every atheist news story and no one had ever given me the last word on a religious story. I’ll have to change my talk, but I’m glad to do so!

As dinner was wrapping up, Brian Dalton (Mr. Deity) appeared, as if by magic and almost precisely timed with the countdown to the rapture (SPOILER: nothing happened). Some of the speakers got together to pose for various rapture photos:

Brian and I had traded a couple of e-mails about possibly getting him on one or both of the shows, but we’d never actually met. After a quick introduction and a renewed commitment to keep the conversations going, he set up his laptop and proceeded to entertain us so that we wouldn’t have time to be depressed about the fact that people weren’t actually being raptured.

The previous night, I’d mentioned to Donna that I’d been to California many times, but I’d never experienced an earthquake and that I’d love, just once, to get a taste of a tiny earthquake. Nothing terribly damaging, just a little shake.

Well Mr. Deity sure knows how to deliver. A little over halfway through his talk, the earth moved. The Bay area experienced a minor earthquake (3.6) and after I turned and gave Donna a thumbs-up, I just couldn’t resist shouting “Is that all you’ve got!?”

After watching several clips from Mr. Deity and hearing him talk about the absurdity of claiming a Christian basis for the United States while the values we hold sacred are usually the antithesis of the values proclaimed in the Bible, it was time to party like it was the end of the world.

I donned a thick, polyester robe, which covered my stylish, yet polyester, bowling shirt…and managed to sweat my way through an improvised de-baptism ceremony with Greta Christina faithlessly using a blow-dryer to counter the effects of any previous baptisms that the guests wish to be relieved from. (Fun Fact: This silly, fun-filled exercise is exactly as effective as the actual baptisms!)

And Saturday came to an end…

Well, actually, it didn’t. I managed to sneak out for drinks with some folks until Saturday came to an end.


My Sunday coverage is going to be pretty short (and there will be a third part to this entry)…

I got up at an absolutely ridiculous hour and Rebecca and Amy and I headed over to a fund-raising breakfast for CampQuest West. Breakfast was great and it was a good opportunity to raise money by visiting with some of the great people who were willing to shell out extra cash to see whether or not the speakers had good table manners – and to identify which of us clearly went out drinking the night before.

I got to hear David Eller’s second talk, just before I had to leave. This one covered building an atheist culture and it prompted a lot of thought and discussion. I really wish I’d have been able to stay around longer and discuss the talk with him, but alas, my plane simply refused to wait.

That means that I missed Rebecca’s talk, though I’ve heard it was great. I really hope someone recorded all of this and decides to post it. I was going to see how far I could impose on Rebecca by seeing if she’d be willing to do the entire talk again, over Skype, just for Beth and I…but instead I’m going to see about having the ACA bring her down to Austin so she can do the talk at our monthly lecture series. (To the ACA board: I swear I’m not just angling to bring my new friends to town…it’ll be worth it.)

Mark Boyd was up after Rebecca and I can’t comment on his talk. I can, though, say that I’m sorry to have missed it and sorry that I didn’t get to spend more time talking to him. We had a very brief chat on the first day and I was pulled every which way for the rest of my time there (though I’m not complaining).

Finally, Greta Christina closed down this event with her talk, “Why are atheists so angry?” While it’s true that I wasn’t there, I can virtually guarantee that it was the highlight of the meeting. I’ve heard her give this talk and it nearly brings me to tears. Do whatever you can do to hear it. If she hadn’t already been one of my favorite people, she certainly would have been after hearing this.

I’m going to wait a while on posting the third part of this…because I don’t want these posts to get lost in a flood of post.

“They’re the crazy ones, not us!”

Harold Camping’s May-21-Rapture nonsense is so ubiquitous that there’s no point in doing anything other than rolling with it at this stage. American Atheists will be holding Rapture parties in several cities. Matt is attending one in Oakland, in fact. Meanwhile, Tracie and I will be on the show Sunday, holding down the post-apocalyptic fort and taking calls from our far-flung global correspondents (i.e. you) reporting on the Rapture’s impact on your own towns and countries. How many Christians have vanished in your area? None? But since the 21st is absolutely and without question the day of the Rapture, won’t that mean that Christians have been worshiping a false god all this time…?

“Boy, won’t my face be red!”

Someone else isn’t pleased about this little media circus, however, and that would be the folks at the Christian Worldview Network. The CWN is Brannon Howse’s House of Paranoia, basically, and they’re a funny bunch, because they disdain other “loons” on the right-wing fringe — they absolutely cannot stand the “deceptive” teachings of Glenn Beck and Rick Warren — while at the same time embracing no end of fringe lunacy themselves. I think at various points in time they have accused Obama of being a communist, a socialist (actually, Howse prefers the term “Fabian Socialist” because it makes his flock think he’s really read up on the subject), a Marxist, a terrorist, and possibly even a reptilian space invader. They’re birthers too, which, compared to all the rest of it, is fairly tame.

In an article in their most recent newsletter with the weary title “Will This Ship of Fools Sink May 22?”, Jan Markell minces no words. Camping is totally cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs, and she’s upset that he’s given us annoying atheists such fuel for mirth.

There’s going to be a party given by “heathens and skeptics” and I hope you have no desire to attend it. They intend to get together to mock the rapture. After months of enduring the unnerving dogmatism of Harold Camping’s billboards, signs, cars, radio commercials and bumper stickers heralding the end of the world as we know it on May 21, American Atheists have announced that they are planning “rapture parties” in Oakland, Houston, and Fort Lauderdale on May 21-22.

The atheists boast of their own billboards which state, “The Rapture: You KNOW it’s Nonsense. Learn the Truth at our Party.” The billboard is designed to knock two millennia of false predictions that the world was about to end. So, they are having a party to celebrate another rapture that wasn’t. And the atheists will be more accurate than the Christians because they are going after the date-setters.

Catch that last bit? See, what’s wrong with Camping is that he was incautious enough to set a date. And that’s what makes Christians look stupid. Because you can only control people effectively through nonsensical, superstitious prophecies of future events if you leave them vague and nebulous. Even Vito Corleone knew the psychology involved in keeping people wondering: “Someday — and that day may never come — I may come to you for a favor.”

Markell wants Christians to be clear on one point: there totally is going to be a Rapture. We are in the “end times,” and the clock is ticking. Naturally, she’s just making this up no less than Camping is, but she’s leaving herself endless wiggle room. “We cannot know!” But Jesus is coming. For realz. Just…whenever.

Markell sees a lot of negative fallout when May 22 rolls around, and the world (yay!) and all its Christians (sigh) are still here.

What can we know for sure will result from Camping’s prediction?

  • He will be proven wrong.
  • He will put all who long for the Lord’s return in a bad light.
  • This will push many more away from considering end-time issues as they will not want to be lumped into such a questionable category.
  • Church pulpits will grow even more silent on this topic right at a time when a countdown has truly begun and it is nearing midnight.
  • The mockers and scoffers will grow stronger and more vocal.

As to that last, of course we will, because all of this is pants-on-head, paste-eating stupidity, and when grown adults exhibit this sort of thing, mockery and scoffing is the absolute least it deserves. What Markell can’t see is that she is sailing, if not on Camping’s same “ship of fools,” in the same fleet. What exactly gives her eschatology any more basis in reality than Camping’s, apart from the fact that Camping’s will be decisively proven to not have happened when there’s no global earthquake this Saturday? The Bible is the Big Book of Multiple Choice, and while Camping can play with interpretations to work out that the end will come May 21, and Markell clings to Matthew 24:36, there is also Matthew 24:34, in which Jesus makes it clear he expected the end times to begin in the lifetimes of his disciples. (And I guess he was wrong, which would make the Son of God Himself one of the “false prophets” the rest of Matthew 24 warns against, eh?)

Markell worries that “Jesus is coming again! But thanks to Harold Camping and friends, on May 22, more may be laughing and scoffing than anticipating.” The lesson Markell ought to take from this, but won’t, is that as long as she devotes her hopes and wishes and goals towards a vague promise of future divine salvation, instead of breaking away from the shackles of such irrational nonsense and embracing reality, and real solutions to real-world problems, then her ship of fools will itself keep sailing on…right over the edge.