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!)


  1. Suem

    Thanks for this! And mention of my blog.

    Thankfully much of my ‘formative’ years as were spent in conservative Evangelical, middle-of-the-road or Anglo-Orthodox (purposeful capital ‘O’) circles, so in the main I escaped some of the more bizarre theologies around. Though I did have a brief sojourn with the Wimber school of Charismatic Christianity, but moved on before too much harm was done! I went out with a Reformed Baptist girl who occasionally went on about the ‘Rapture’ but I didn’t have a bloody clue what she was talking about and presumed it had something to do with an advanced state of spiritual worship (I was only 22 at the time!). Given the church she went to was called ***** Reformed Baptist Church – usually rendered *RBC – and most young Christians took this to mean ***** Really Boring Church, I thought it highly unlikely anyone was likely to get into a state of Rapture!

    Yet there was a good deal of talk about the ‘End Times’ among my friends; who were, in the main, 20 something males with a penchant for the dramatic and egocentric. Many an hour was spent in the pub discussing the End Times. But a good portion of these conversations was about war or weird conspiracy theories – and this was before the days of the Internet. Thinking about those conversations now, 20 odd yrs on, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Saddam Hussein (tho’ 20 odd years ago he was then being supported by the US & UK because he was fighting Iran – a fact many forget) the conversations were more about vanity than eschatology. I know the ‘v’ word is something I go on about, but some much of our lives are wrapped up in vanity, you can include it in many a discussion!

    Here’s my reasoning: people naturally like to place themselves at the centre of things. Presuming the world will end during one’s own life time is to say there is something special about the times in which we live. This ‘specialness’ then becomes something you can attach to your own life. The fact people have been talking about the end times since Adam was a lad is forgotten, ‘Jesus will return in my life time’ - is really saying ‘there is something special about my life’. I avoid American Christian Fundamentalist blogs, and their kin, these days, as I find them rather depressing. I remember last year, after the Haiti earthquake, reading several blogs where the earthquake was seen as a sure sign of the ‘End times’. The fact earthquakes happen with reasonably the same frequency year in, year out – looking at the world as a whole, just passes these people by. If you happen to mention inconsequential world events like The Black Death or WW1 or the Holocaust, these souls aren’t interested, they WANT to believe that the here and now is ‘where it’s at’. Of course we’re back to the ‘v’ word again: people want to believe that a random disaster, reported on the media has meaning and a meaning specific to their own worldview and belief system, because it validates both. At its crudest what these soothsayers of doom are really saying is ‘the earthquake in Haiti was about me and my beliefs.’ Tho’ of course fear is another key component in this belief in the ‘End Times’.

    So, I can well believe these sad souls in the US, taking notice of this preacher of doom. But I must ask one question of you, did you not, at the back of your mind, have just a tiny fear that he might be right? I did. Which perhaps demonstrates that face to face, if he was a person you trusted, he might have even more effect on you? It is tempting to believe people who believe these charismatic type leaders are dupes, but the process is symbiotic. So I have little sympathy with anyone who was daft enough to sell up etc. Yet I can empathise with them... because we have all been there to a greater or lesser degree at one time or other. It is just some of us weren’t daft/brave enough to put our money where our mouths are!


  2. Thanks Sue - the post brought back vivid memories of Larry Norman, Cliff Richard, et al.

    I also remember the day when I came home from school to find the house empty and 2 pans boiling on the cooker. I though I had been left behind - and I was a the leader of my charismatic evangelical youth group!

    Ah well...
    (Benny Hazelhurst)