|2011 photo by Kathleen Scott|
I wasn't laughing. I first heard about the Rapture in 1973, when I was a much younger man. I was an Army captain and had recently survived a combat tour in Vietnam and two intense years at the Duke University Graduate School. With my degree in hand, I had arrived at West Point for a new assignment as an English professor. Quite a few of my West Point class of 1967 buddies were there to join other departments, so one evening we assembled at one of their homes for drinks.
Most of my friends were talking excitedly about the Rapture. I was surprised at how many of my classmates and their wives had read the Hal Lindsey bestseller, The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), and had passionately embraced the idea. I was a Christian myself, but I hadn't read the book and I hadn't heard about the Rapture. I remember how incredible it sounded to me. The end times were near, and one day all the faithful would be swept up en masse - physically - into heaven, while everyone else would be left behind wondering where they all went. The believers would be safe with Jesus, and the nonbelievers would perish in the apocalypse. My friends, who cared about me, didn't want me to be left behind.
This was nearly 40 years ago. In a later book, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, Lindsey prophesied that "the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it." No, none of my friends were raptured. I sometimes wonder how long they continued to believe in it, or if any of them still do - like our guy with the zany pickup truck at the farmer's market .
Because apparently the Rapture is still a very big deal, or at least big business. Hal Lindsay's 1970 book sold over 20 million copies. He's still alive and prophesying and receiving royalty checks from it. In 1995 the first of the Left Behind series of 15 novels was published. These later became the basis for a series of popular movies and video games.
End-of-the-world predictions have proven false countless times, but there seems to be a never-ending market for more. The Jehovah's Witnesses predicted the end in 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1942. Chuck Smith predicted Jesus would return in 1981. A Korean sect called "Mission for the Coming Days" predicted that the Rapture would happen on October 28, 1992. Edgar Whisenant predicted the end in 1989, then 1992, then 1995, and again later. John Hinkle of Christ Church in Los Angeles predicted that the end would come on June 9, 1994. Radio evangelist Harold Camping set the end-date for September 6, 1994. When that didn't happen, he revised the date for May 21, 2011.
Hey, wait a minute...that was yesterday!
AP writer Garance Burke's Internet article, "Apocalyse believers await end, skeptics carry on," relates the experiences of Christians lured to California for the latest Rapture event, which didn't happen. What are the chances that Harold Camping will revise his prediction again? Or that believers will be taken in again? I would say the chances are high. According to the article, Camping's IRS filing reveals that his "Family Radio" enterprise received $18.3 million in donations in 2009 and had $104 million in assets, including $34 million in securities.
I've come to accept that this is the way the world works, at least in my lifetime. I have a deep respect for the human need for hope and faith and for the role the world's religions play in satisfying this need. But I'm always surprised at the strangeness of some of the beliefs, and how reluctant people in general are face up to hard truths.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .