We have all heard the stories. We have all told the jokes. We have all written him off as a nutjob. You may have seen the full-page ad in USA Today and other newspapers. Some atheist groups are even planning on partying this weekend to usher in the Eschaton – the end of the world, or, as Harold Camping puts it, not just the clearing of life off the surface of the Earth, but the demolition of the entire planet, inside and out.
I am not partying this weekend. I have too many chores waiting around the house, and my wife RoseMary, who was raised in a conservative Catholic home, does not understand Apocalypic Fever. I think that I do understand the Apocalypic mindset. As a young boy in the early seventies, I was taught to expect the Rapture, the great Catching Away, where we would meet Jesus in the clouds, literally at Any Moment. We were poor, uneducated, and in the grip of a cult-like religious environment in the rural Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. It was a time when wandering Jesus Freaks and Holy Vagabonds would mysteriously wander into town, live in our houses for several days or even weeks, preach the love of Jesus and the soon-coming Rapture, only to just as mysteriously vanish from town, never to be seen again. At the time, Hal Lindsey’s best seller, Late Great Planet Earth was flying off the bookstore shelves. I do not remember seeing anybody in my community actually reading that book, but the book along with the growing Jesus Movement certainly influenced our Apocalyptic culture. It was like bellbottom jeans, embroidered vests, long hair and Mister Tambourine Man – just a product of the times. And while I never read Hal Lindsey, at least not until many years later, I do remember reading religious comic books (with characters and art blatantly stolen from Archie and Jughead comics) which described the Rapture, the Great Tribulation and the Judgment of the vengeful Jesus riding on a white horse. (How I wish I still owned those comic books – what surreal memories that would bring) I remember being kept out of school on at least a few occasions, gathering with fellow believers for a few days of fervent prayer, speaking in tongues, and casting out of demons, all in the expectation of being snatched away into the clouds. During one of our frequent baptism sessions in the barnyard watering tank, I vividly remember a young neighbor girl pointing to a cloud in the sky that she said looked like Jesus with outstretched arms and holes where the hands should be. She stared, pointed, screamed and passed out cold. Others, some soaking wet from a recent baptism, looked at the sky, trying to see what young K---- had seen, and began wildly praying in tongues. Eventually, I am sure, K---- was revived, everybody toweled off, and we went on home, not thinking about what had just (not) happened.
This was years before waiting for Jesus in my teenage years in a private Baptist High School, years before 88 reasons to wait for Jesus in 1988, and many years before Skip Heitzig and Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel told me the Rapture could occur at any mement.
I think I understand the mindset of the Apocalypic Culture. I have lived it.
So I did not plan on commenting on Harold Camping of Family Radio. Our churches paid little attention to him in the early 1990s – and I know that few actually believe or follow Camping now. The only thing that gives these stories such heat is what we did not have in 1992 – multiple 24 Cable News channel and widespread use of the Internet. Now even the smallest blip on the radar can become an international phenomenon. It is not unlikely that if the Internet had existed in 1970, our insignificant little religious cult in Northern New Mexico would have wound up being trashed and ridiculed on some Atheist Blog.
Then last night, I did the unthinkable. I typed “Harold Camping” into the YouTube search engine. I tried to resist. I knew better. I tried to divert my attention. But blast my fingers – I could not keep them from typing on the keypad!
Up popped the most fascinating channel. There is some insider from Family Radio posting daily warning videos. They are high quality, professionally edited, interviews and behind the scenes peeks into Harold Camping’s thoughts, his motivations, his radio program, and most chillingly, his followers. The first upload was the two-week warning, and a video had been posted every day since. Last night, the two-day warning was posted.
Check out this channel – the videos there are absolutely spellbinding: I suggest watching them soon, while they are still up. If the Rapture does not take place on May 21, I predict they will not be there after May 22.
I only watched one video and planned to stop there, but I started with Day-14 and worked my way forward. As I did, the memories, the emotions, the recognition of the old mind-set just flooded back. I have talked about this with Christians at work, not because I have brought it up – they bring it up, and all acknowledge that Camping is a “False Teacher”. But then, as I watched the YouTube videos, I recognized that, while Camping is crazy enough to actually give the date of the Rapture, May 21 6PM EST, and that there is “no possibility of this event not happening”, the Christians that I am familiar with, those Evangelicals from the tradition of Sola Scriptura, Calvary Chapel, etc, do the same sort of thing that Camping does. As Camping speaks in these videos, I recognized the same buzzwords, the same clichés coming from his mouth as I heard constantly from behind the pulpit and continue to hear from radio Evangelists.
In good, mainstream, Evangelical tradition, Camping says:
“I have no authority; the Bible is the authority."
“A very high esteem for the authority of the Bible”
“What is your authority? Is your authority man-centered, or God-centered?”
“This teaching comes straight from the pages of the Bible.”
“We follow the Bible, we do not follow Man”.
"I will never maintain that my analysis is a better one than the analysis of God"
"It is never what I want, it is what God wants. We follow the Will of God"
Camping uses the same language, and apparently the same techniques as every other Bible-based Evangelical church. He came up with a different interpretation, that I do not consider unusually screwy or nuts, when taken in the context of every other Evangelical exegete out there. It is just a mystical interpretation, like the particular interpretation of every other Church who feels free to gauge the Bible. He is doing nothing different from Skip Heitzig or any other Calvary Chapel pastor who feels free to interpret the Bible for his willing flock.
Some of these videos break my heart, as in this one where a lady calls into Harold Camping’s radio program “Open Forum”:
(Seems this video channel blocked permission to embed these videos in a blog. The video is HERE)
Camping: Welcome to Open Forum.
Woman: Hi Mr Camping, I live on the east coast. A few weeks ago the station - local station – it was down for a few days and I was beside myself because I couldn’t get Family Radio and I don’t have a computer. I just want to thank you for getting the station back online. I’m a grandmother. I have two beautiful grandchildren and I have one on the way. And I’m not going to get to meet…*sobbing*… it’s really a shame **sobbing** but **heavy breath** I know I’m not alone.
Camping: Well you know the fact is that the only one who can give you comfort is not me, not any human being. But God is a god of comfort and remember he knows everything about your situation better than you know it. Way better. And you can cry to him and plead with him and beg him and let him know all about it…
This stuff disgusts me. It makes me sad and angry. How I wish that these people were given real hope in life. Instead of celebrating life with her grandchildren, she is reduced to mourning their loss. People deserve better than this – this is a life that is completely wasted. And it makes me angry at those who teach people that they cannot be happy, complete or worthy without help from an invisible, magical man named Jesus. People are taught that it is a virtue to be weak and dependant, as this woman obviously is, and I believe that people deserve better than that. But if we teach a better way of life without Jesus, we are obviously tools of Satan. I remember Calvary Chapel regularly lambasted secular motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, because they teach that you can be happy, strong and independent, but they never mention the Gospel!!
Next, here is the video that really got my blood boiling. Camping explains, in part, one of the calculations he uses as a proof of the May 21 date:
The video is HERE
I resonate with this one the most, because it is the type of mystical Gamatria that many in the modern Evangelical church have fallen for, a trick that the likes of Chuck Missler have made careers out of, and one which I once fell for – hook, line and sinker. I hope to write more about this in the future, but I will briefly explain why this type of Bible interpretation gets me so upset.
Camping (and many, many, many others) teach that the Bible is a code-book, full of riddles and puzzles, to be deciphered by the aid of the Holy Spirit. RoseMary loves movies like National Treasure and Da Vinci Code, because of the peculiar puzzles that adventurous detectives must solve just in order to get to the next puzzle to solve. After a long chain of puzzles, riddles and codes, a treasure is hopefully to be found. Biblical numerology approaches the Bible in the same way, in which, as Camping says, “words are numbers” and each number has a mystical meaning.
In this case, it is claimed, from 1 April 33AD, the day when Jesus was crucified, to 21 May 2011 is exactly 722,500 days. These large numbers can be broken down into smaller factors. 722,500 = (5 x 10 x 17) x (5 x 10 x 17). These numbers mean very specific things in the context of Scripture. For instance, 5 signifies the atonement, 10 is completeness, 17 is heaven. So we then have (atonement x completion x heaven). But this is squared - (atonement x completion x heaven) x (atonement x completion x heaven), and we know from Genesis 41 that when something is declared twice, God formally ordains that thing to be so, … well… there you have it. What more proof could you want?
I asked my ever-suffering wife RoseMary to watch that particular video, and because of her conservative Catholic upbringing, did not understand all the Bible interpretation via numerical manipulation. But she commented that it all reminded her of Chinese Astrology – a gem of a comparison that I want to remember!
Of course it is nuts. But how many of us have fallen for the same trick? Yes I know you have heard it. The number 3 is the number of God, since 3 signifies the Trinity and the number of days between the Crucifixion and Resurrection. So every time you read ‘three’ in scripture, you must see what significance it has towards the Triune Essence of the Godhead or how it points to Christ’s Resurrection. Herbert Lockyer’s mind-numbing book All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible is stuffed to the brim with mystical interpretations where the number three occurs in the Old Testament.
But it goes further. Not only the numbers four, five, six, seven, eight, … etc all have mystical interpretations, but colors, metals, animals, etc, every mention of which can be given some kind of mystical allusion to Jesus, or the Disciples, or Sin or the Eschaton, or anything else the Biblical interpreter may wish. How many of you have heard that Yeast or Leaven always refers to Sin or Pride? So when we read of the Passover Seder in Exodus and of how all Leaven is to removed from the dwelling, we are to interpret that as the removal of Sin before the sacrifice. But what is the difference between that and telling me that forty means testing, meat means truth, iron means military strength, birds mean evil, thorns mean temptation, brass means judgment, eight means new beginnings, silver means blood, seven is completeness, the Sea means the Gentiles, etc, etc, ad infinitum? Seriously - what is the difference?
And once you start down that path of interpretation via numerical and mystical manipulation, the Bible can be made to say absolutely anything. There are no limits because there are no rules. I am ashamed to admit that I was once completely under the spell of this trap – a world of codes and puzzles, where the Bible is an infinite well of mystical truth, and every word, every number, every phrase has multiple levels of meaning that can be divined. And it burns me up, because I know I was not the only one trapped in this way of thinking. I remember when Chuck Missler would guest speak at Calvary Chapel in Albuquerque. He would talk codes and puzzles and numbers and mystical meanings for hours, and his captivated audience would remain seated after the marathon sermon for a question/answer session!! Unbelievable.
I guess I have commented enough on this. Nothing terribly witty or profound or unique here – just my own take on these crazy events in the religious world. Time to stop procrastinating – I am now off to work on building that closet. Until next time, Dear Reader….