Monday, 23 May 2011
Reflections on the Rapture
I had an interesting discussion on face book about how all the hype about Harold Camping and the rapture had brought back memories of seeing an "end times" film back in the late seventies when I was about twelve. I should explain that I attended a charismatic, evangelical youth group which, looking back, was rather misguided in some of its teachings and approaches. The film in question was undoubtedly A Thief in the Night, a film which was based on Larry Norman's 1969 song "I wish we'd all been ready", although I am sure I also saw its sequel "Distant Thunder". In Thief in the Night, Patty, a young married woman, is left behind, not because she isn't a Christian but more because her theological approach isn't quite right ( that's me finished then...) Her husband is taken and Patty has to endure the tribulation on her own.
Anyhow, by now you will either be nodding in recognition or thinking "WTF" - which was my husband's reaction when I told him, but my main point in writing this piece is not to reminisce about end time films and literature but more to reflect on the idea that such melodramatic obsessions with what we might call the more sensational aspects of Christianity long pre-date Harold Camping's recent prediction of May 21st apocalypse and is not confined to American flakeys. When I watched A Thief in the Night I was only twelve years old, most of the adults around me bought into the ideologies expressed and I was not equipped to recognise it as extreme religious fantasy, but saw it as an accurate depiction of what would shortly happen. It did not help that the film was followed by a very earnest talk by our youth leader about how we might be "left behind" - as a teenager with pretty low self esteem I was secretly sure I would be - and how we must not succumb to accepting the mark of the beast, despite the fact this would mean starvation/ torture.
When I hear the stories of followers of Camping who have given away their life's savings or given up their jobs, or are simply bewildered and lost, I am torn between feeling sorry for them as victims or angry with them for their naivety. On the one hand, they are not twelve, on the other, they are clearly people unable to take full responsibility or control of their own lives, for whatever reasons. We might say that Camping's followers have been "brainwashed", but what is brainwashing and how do we recognise it? I recently read on Faith is not the Same as Religion, Peter's account of his time in a monastery, a place which most would see as mainstream and above board, but a place he left suffering from the effects of brainwashing as completely as if he had been enmeshed in any extremist sect. We need to be careful before we disassociate ourselves too much from Camping's followers. One of the things that makes them so embarrassing is that we do not wish to be tarred with the same brush, and because they seem to confirm all the things that the new breed of militant atheists say about Christianity as an irrational fantasy, with the more sane of us simply on the far end of the spectrum...
Food for thought indeed!
(The above clip contains some shocking images of clothes and hair styles from the 1970s - don't say you haven't been warned!)