So, to the surprise of very few people, the rapture didn't occur this weekend. The world hasn't ended for most of us, although for many thousands it will have done, as it does every single day. In that respect Saturday 21st May was nothing special. Some of those deaths may be the direct cause of the rapture – or, rather, of the prediction of the End by one individual. I expect that around the world there were several emotionally vulnerable people who took their own lives in disappointment that the messiah did not show up.
Interestingly, as I write Mr Camping, the man whose predictions gained him international publicity, has not been sighted since the time allotted for the coming of the final days. I await with bated breath the announcement that he did indeed ascend bodily to heaven.
Yes, it is easy to mock someone who appears to be at best on the fringes of the Christian faith, or possibly just a crazy old man getting too much publicity. However, just because mocking him and his beliefs is easy, and indeed fun, doesn't make it wrong. The fact is that although very few people believed the world was going to end last Saturday, a significant number of people do seem to believe that it will indeed end, and probably soon, and this group of people are not a fringe but wield a disproportionate amount of power for what is easily, and I think rightly, characterised as a damaging belief system. Damaging because they believe that the coming end is total and inevitable,. Damaging because they invariably believe that they are amongst the chosen group that are going to be saved. Damaging because they believe that this ending is a good thing. Damaging because why should people who live by these beliefs do anything to make the world a better place? Obviously if heaven is coming for all (all, anyway, who accept god – or their version of the divine and the particular rules laid down in a much-bastardised bronze-age text) then why bother with caring for the environment or society around you? At the very worst this affects global political policy – the US Secretary of the Interior (responsible for environmental policy) under the first George Bush who said “When the last tree is felled that will be great day, as it means the coming of the Lord is at hand.” And there can be little doubt that George W. Bush's Middle East policy was at the very least influenced by the belief that the messiah would return to Israel in the very near future.
Most people don't act like this, you may say, even if they claim to believe that the rapture is just around the corner. They continue to put their wages into savings accounts and have children, book holidays and invest in pensions. If asked, many would claim they are doing this because that is how they are instructed to live, or perhaps that “no-one knows when the time will come”, but could it be that they don't really believe what they profess to believe? I'm not knocking them; it is a good thing that they don't. The man who spent his $140, 000 savings on billboards advertising 21st May as the end of the world must be having a few pangs of doubt right now, and I'm sure he wasn't alone. The world goes on, and it is surely our responsibility to not only make the most of every moment that we are in it – because for us it is true that we know not when the end will indeed come – but to extend that privilege to those with whom we share the planet and those who will continue to live on it for the years, decade, centuries and millennia to come.
It has been said before that we become adults when we are able to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, and no longer rely on our parents to bail us out. Isn't it time that we took the same step into adulthood as a species? Once upon a time we may have needed our hand holding to make us feel better about the big scary world around us. Now we have stepped out from the confines of our garden and see that the world is far bigger, and perhaps scarier, than we could ever have imagined. But it is also more wonderful and inspiring and filled with awe. We can retreat from the universe into superstition, or we can act as responsible adults and recognise that we are part of it.