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Where Were You When the Rapture Hit

The Day Within the Octave of the Rapture

Well, the Rapture came and went and we're still here.  (Aren't we?)  That means
  1. It happened and we are among the damned who have been Left Behind
  2. The Rapture, like the Higgs boson, is not what we expected it to look like (cf. Millerites, a.k.a. The Great Disappointment)
  3. The Rapture didn't happen
The subcategories of #3 include
  1. It didn't happen yet because Camping made an arithmetic error
  2. It didn't happen because God was so impressed with Camping and his followers that he granted a reprieve
  3. It didn't happen because Matt. 25:13 says we will know neither the day nor the hour.
You gotta admit that a preacher-dude is full of something (and likely not the Holy Spirit) when even the Baptists think he's impious and blasphemous.  (What part of "You shall know neither the day nor the hour" do you not get?) 

It seems to be always these cult-of-personality mullahs/preachers who come up with the whackadoodle stuff.  Possibly because they have no anchor, no bottom.  You never hear of the Traditional Churches launching stuff like that.  I think it's because they have ballast.   

If you know statistics (Which you should) you will know that the smaller the sample size, the more variable is the estimate of the average.  Bill and Ted's Excellent Bible Shack and Bait Shop will not have a very big space-time footprint, as it were, and hence such nickel-and-dime sects may vary all over the theological map.  And do.  They generally spend their time calling one another heretics, casting aspersions on the Whore of Babylon (Rome), and forgetting the Orthodox Church even exists.  It has eerie similarities to the salafist movement in Islam. 

OTOH, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and Ancient Eastern Churches have a near-2000 year old tradition and have remained essentially consistent for all that time.  They have age-old ceremonies and liturgies.  They are all normative, meaning they have a mechanism that calibrates beliefs; viz., the ecumenical councils and the popes or patriarchs.  Further, they have the whole tradition: John to Polycarp, Polycarp to Irenaeus; Peter to Mark and Clement; and so on.  To some extent, the Anglican and Apostolic Lutheran Churches also share the tradition.  And even the Protestants who rejected the traditions have roots half a millennium old.  The accumulated consensus and conversation across the ages serves as a control mechanism to prevent wild swings of woo-woo.  The only thing modulating Camping is.... Camping. 

Remember, all this Rapture stuff dates from only the 19th century and the do-it-yourself novelty religions.   Lutherans, Calvinists, and Anglicans are themselves three centuries older. 

[n.b. Anthony Sacramone, a Lutheran, had similar thoughts here.] 
+ + +

A Broader View

There is a broader context that is easy to overlook.  While among religious folk the apocalypse/rapture thing may take on a religious flavor, it is by no means restricted to religious folk.  The Singularity has been called "the Rapture for Nerds" and not without reason.  A great deal of so-called "transhumanism" is simple eschatology stripped of religious language.  Instead of leaving behind our corruptible bodies and putting on the new man, we will leave behind our corruptible bodies and download our minds into computers, and thereby live forever in a transformed state with preternatural powers.  In 1677 Leibnitz prophesied that in five years all reasoning would be reduced to numerical calculations and so all questions would be resolved with the certainty of arithmetic.  This universal language and logical calculus would be easily mastered by everyone in the world and there would no longer be any cause for disagreements and misunderstandings.  It was the 17th century version of the Singularity.  (Leibnitz backed off the forecast only two years later.) 

On the grimmer side, we have seen other forecasts of the end of the world. 
  • Nuclear apocalypse survivalism, in which true believers divested themselves of encumbrances, retreated to the wilderness and prepared for the end times.  They were mostly smart enough not to put dates on matters. 
  • Paul Ehrlich's prophecy of famines in the 1970s or 1980s (depending on which edition of The Population Bomb you get);
  • Limits to Growth prophesied industrial and economic collapse in the 1980s.  
  • The Y2K millennial panic when planes would fall from the sky and all sorts of other things. 
  • The final, no-foolin collapse of capitalism prophesied every time there is a cyclical recession
  • The Global Warming Climate Change apocalypse with various dates given for sundry catastrophes from collapsing Himalayan glaciers to Noah's flood. E.g.,
    • James Hansen's prophecy in 1988/89 that by 2008/9 “The West Side Highway [in NYC] will be under water. And there will be tape across the windows across the street because of high winds. And the same birds won’t be there. The trees in the median strip will change.”
A further parallel is the response when these things do not happen.  Like Pastor Camping or (in the 1833s) William Miller also claimed: their calculations were off, or "the Lord relented/had mercy."  Well, not the Lord, but "because we raised these alarms, public action was taken which averted [or merely postponed] the [catastrophe]."  Ehrlich has postponed his famines [which were temporarily averted due to his book!]; the Limits to Growth catastrophe is now put off to ca. 2050. 

How Come?
The basis for the end-times may vary with the milieu: a religious subtext for some, a scientific one for others; political or economic for still others.  Regardless of genre, there seems always a fraction of humans who will glom onto the end of the world-as-we-know-it - and not without a certain amount of self-satisfied relish.  (I'm one of the Righteous; sorry about you.) 

I am told that there is a rush in preparing for the end, of getting right with God or right with Gaea or the Inevitable Freaking Tide of History, as the case may be.  There is a sense of participating in Something Larger Than Oneself.  All the evils of the world will be swept away and the new world that follows will be a better one, with the Righteous now in control. 

Some of the
19th century Millerites, despite being disappointed on two(!) occasions, remained faithful to Miller because they did not want to give up that euphoria they found in divesting themselves of worldly concerns, of being utterly and completely free and =ready=.  They became the Seventh Day Adventists.  

"Knowledge is power," Meghan Duke points out. "It empowers us to act." Knowing when the world is going to end provides a heady sense of power over one's own life; and as Nietzsche wrote: The criterion of truth resides in the heightening of the feeling of power (Will to Power #534).  So in the new Late Modern world, that very feeling of empowerment means that the prophecy must be true.  (That's why philosophical egoism is so attractive, esp. to young adults.) 

(Again quoting Duke:) When the end of the world failed to happen, the believers
could no longer live in heightened anticipation of [Christ's] coming. "The cares and dangers of life were no longer minimized by the second coming looming large on the horizon and the perplexities that had been simplified by their clear and immediate end came crowding back in. The frustrations of existing in time drifted in with the appalling snow." 

Hence, like many modern believers in all sorts, they were eager to believe it was only a matter of calculation error or of God's mercy, or better yet, that it was put off because of their own efforts.  [That feeling of empowerment!]  Yesterday was Camping's second end-times prophecy.  Miller himself made two, as well.  Ehrlich has made several.  And their followers believed each time. 
The Worst Thing in the World

Of course, the worst thing in the world is the realization that those who build the new world will have only ever known the old. 

"When confronted by decadence, authoritarianism, and a sense that ones liberty is slipping away, it’s easy to comfort oneself with the notion... that the system will soon be swept away by economic and political collapse. But for one who sees the apocalypse coming, it is more horrifying to contemplate the possibility that the system might not collapse- and that ten, forty, or a hundred years from now, America will feel pretty much the same as it does now, even after a few more financial meltdowns or wars- or even after the apocalypse. Isn’t there something horrible about this? I think so- who wants to think that even an apocalypse can’t change “the system”? But I lean towards thinking that something like this horror is true – after all,  if the people have become so habitually rapacious or complacent to rapine that collapse is inevitable, they will carry these same habits with them into the world that must sprout up after the collapse. Whatever you build after you smash “the system” must be built by those who have only ever known “the system”. We think that there must be some purgative effect in starting from a clean slate, when in fact we can only give the clean slate to the very people who have just written what we wanted to erase.
-- James Chastek


( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 23rd, 2011 04:52 am (UTC)
Would option #3 mean that if anyone predicts that the Rapture would be on day X, the Rapture cannot be on day X? Because that would seem to give us an infallible method of preventing the Rapture indefinitely, if we wanted to.
May. 23rd, 2011 02:44 pm (UTC)
I suspect that G-d is not a legalist about these things. O:)

May. 23rd, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
After umpteen dozenty wrong predictions, can someone claiming the next prediction really be said to know?
May. 23rd, 2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
Slow Monday
User haikujaguar referenced to your post from Slow Monday saying: [...] Dare I say it? Fascinating. >.> Bonus Link m_francis on the Rapture [...]
May. 23rd, 2011 02:48 pm (UTC)
Interesting essay! I do feel a certain boy-who-cried-wolf sense about it all. On the one hand, people keep predicting TEOTWAWKI and are always wrong, and on the other, historically TEOTWAWKI has been suffered by various cultures on rare occasions. (The dark ages and the bubonic plague spring to mind.) So I can't claim it's impossible, no matter how improbable it may seem. :)
May. 23rd, 2011 03:49 pm (UTC)
Predict disaster every year and one day you will be right. Toss the other 99 times down the memory hole and you will be revered as a prophet without peer.

Economists, it is said, have predicted ten of the last two recessions.
May. 26th, 2011 12:57 am (UTC)
Well written!
The "Economists" quip made me laugh out loud! BTW -- a blog friend of mine who does a pretty decent blog talked about our penchant to "predict the end" (repeatedly) may lead to a certain...nonchalance and a sense that the "end will never come".


Mike Duran is worth a read!

Thanks for your blog comments -- they ALWAYS make me think! Guy Stewart
May. 24th, 2011 05:18 am (UTC)
The bubonic plague did little to end the world as it was then known. I spite of the loss of one third of the population, the same dynasties remained on the throne, the same rich republics kept accumulating more and more capital, and the same two Popes kept blasting away at each other. Three major signs of social disruption - the rise of two rival Papacies, the revolts of the lower classes in Florence in 1380 and England in 1381, and the rise of the warrior religion of Hussitism - took place either earlier or later, and at any rate did not amount to catastrophes. On the other hand, the catastrophic nature of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire is still not wholly appreciated.
May. 24th, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure "continuity of government" qualifies as "the world was basically the same afterwards. I suspect that if I lived through one-third of the population of the US dying, it would feel like the apocalypse even if the various government and capitalist systems in place remained largely unaltered.
May. 24th, 2011 03:10 pm (UTC)
And all the survivors went on doing what they had done before the plague? If we take the post-apocalyptic genre as an instance, you will notice that its basic feature is that everyone is uprooted and more often than not on the move. I don't think we think of apocalypse as "well, a lot of guys died, but everyone else just carried on as before."
May. 24th, 2011 04:57 pm (UTC)
Although maybe that is the way we ought to think about apocalypses. I'm pretty sure you can consider it the beginning of the end of the medieval world-view. Nothing dies clean or all at once. But it amazing how resilient people were in the face of it.
May. 27th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
I think I broadly agree with rowyn about "continuity of government" not being the exact same as "the world remained the same afterwards".

The prime example I can think of is the Irish Famine, which our school history classes used as a neat dividing line between pre- and post-Famine Ireland. Certainly, the peasant Catholic revolution which the British authorities had feared would eventuate due to agitators like Daniel O'Connell* never occurred, but there were undeniable social and cultural effects.

The main one which was always trotted out was in marriage; before the Famine, the pattern (as in most of Europe) was early marriage, high fertility, and sub-division of land between the children to start up their own homes (granted, this last was more a result of the after-effects of the Penal Laws which had deliberately inhibited inheritance and purchase of land by Catholics).

After the Famine - marriage deferred to much later in life (sometimes not at all), the inheritance of land concentrated in one child, and emigration used as a safety-valve to export the surplus population who would now have no inheritance overseas.

Not to mention the collapse of many of the old estates which were then divided up between the tenantry (the Encumbered Estates Act which many Anglo-Irish landlords availed themselves of, in order to get rid of uneconomic estates - their Scots brethren, faced with similar circumstances, went in for sheep-farming and evicted the now-unwanted tenantry who ended up in Canada or Australia); the shift in agriculture from tillage to dairy and stock raising; the rise of a Catholic middle class; the collapse in population from an uncertain figure (the population of pre-Famine Ireland has never been adequately established; estimates vary from ten million to six, but a figure of around eight is more or less accepted for general purposes) down to something between three and four million (it only got up to four million in the 2000s); the effect that a vast emigrant population, particularly in America, with a political grudge against England had in regard to Irish politics and revolutionary groups; the massive psychic effect on the survivors; the change in religious practice from a 'Continental' model (think popular Italian religion) to a rigorous, almost Jansenist, form that dove-tailed with an attempt to become properly 'respectable' in line with the Victorian Evangelical awakenings at the time and so forth.

(*As ever, the authorities had their eyes on the wrong person; O'Connell was vehemently anti-physical force due to his experiences as a young man in France at the time of the Revolution and his influence had waned, to be replaced by an avowedly revolutionary movement, the Young Irelanders).
May. 27th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
What you are saying is that there was no continuity of government. Thie ruling class was thinned, the ruled changed their habits (those who surivived) and their patterns of landholding, religion and politics (and economics - paradoxically, the catastrophe led to the repeal of the Corn Laws and to the final triumph of Free Trade) - I would not call this continuity of government. I have commented on the same issue myself here:http://fpb.livejournal.com/554795.html
May. 23rd, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)

...when's the next yoke?

May. 23rd, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
You have overlooked a fairly obvious subcategory of 3:

4 The Rapture didn't happen because the Rapture is never going to happen because that part of the Bible is just wrong. (Or that interpretation is just wrong, if you prefer.)

And I will also point out that most of the examples you give of people predicting disaster (or the potential for disaster) are profoundly different from the Rapture incident, because they had actual, real-world evidence. It is reasonable to be afraid of nuclear war: atom bombs exist, we've set them off and we know what happens, and we know (about) how many we've got. CO2 is a real greenhouse gas (we've seen it affect the temperature of other planets), we know how much the CO2 concentration has changed, and we can work out how much the temperature will change as a result. Sure, nuclear war hasn't actually happened so far, and the temperature is changing more slowly than some people expected, but they are both reasonable things to be afraid of.

Being sucked out of your clothes into the sky--well, let's say there's just no evidence that that is likely.

I will also point out that there are people who are jobless and broke this morning because Harold Camping told them the Rapture was coming. The man did real harm.
May. 24th, 2011 02:53 am (UTC)
There are an awful lot more people jobless and homeless today because The Prophet Al told someone ELSE that the world was turning into an Easy Bake Oven.

They're in bad shape, too, because since 1980, California has gone from shirtsleeve-warm in January to outdoor ice skating in April.

The thing is, in the presence of water vapor, the effect of added CO2 cannot be detected-- they absorb the same frequencies... except, of course, that water vapor does it better.

Consider also the evidence of widespread drought. Drought results from reduced evaporation off the oceans. Warmer weather gives you more precipitation. Always.

(Of course, I suppose it's only a matter of time before the Apostle James starts insisting that it was cold in the Cretaceous Era.)
May. 24th, 2011 05:12 am (UTC)
Not all millenarian delusions have to do with catastrophe. In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, a lot of people like you started going around saying that war can be outlawed for ever (there was even an international treaty about it, the so-called Briand-Kellogg pact) and that people who were so unfashionable as to insist on defence and on treating obvious warmongers as dangerous were in fact causing war by talking about it. The result? More than sixty million dead. (World War Two is commonly dated from 1939 to 1945, but that is ethnocentric; if you reckon Ethiopia and China, the fighting and bloodshed began in 1935 and was not over until 1949. Ad yet progressives like you were still talking about "peace in our time" in 1938, while Ethiopia bled and China burned.)
May. 25th, 2011 03:51 am (UTC)
The End of History
As you say, Fukuyama wrote of an end-time devoid of catastrophism.

Another example of this teleology-prone outlook is the BSCS texts in the late-60s and early-70s which wrote, from an ecological perspective, of "climax communities".

Really? After referencing biological changes in the environment for 500 billion years, **now** everything's going to remain constant?

May. 24th, 2011 05:25 am (UTC)
Now he's claiming that May 21 was the 'Spiritual Judgement', and the real honest-to-God catastrophic global catastrophe will be OCTOBER 21.

Really. He's sure this time.
May. 24th, 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
I'd pencil it in on my calendar, but I'm planning to be out of town that day.
May. 25th, 2011 06:40 pm (UTC)
That date...
...has been ruled off limits by RBS, citing 1] a previous requirement for cake & ice cream, as well as 2] no excuse by participants to shun gift purchases.

Will Linden
May. 25th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
Y2K panic
It seems to me that this is an even more apposite parallel, as it offers both the prophecy and people sniggering over what "those nuts" were ALLEGEDLY predicting.
Can you point to a reliable, verifiable account of someone who claimed that "planes will fall out of the sky!"? I only read people saying that people were saying that somebody said that.

Likewise, Harry Browne in the pages of LIBERTY sneered because his bank computers didn't "blow up" when trying to handle a 2000 date. Where does this idea come from that computers respond to bugs by "exploding"? (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LogicBomb)
May. 25th, 2011 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Y2K panic
I think you will find that "blow up" is what we call a "figure of speech," viz., what the Greeks called hyperbole.
Will Linden
May. 25th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC)
Y2K panic
No, I was making a VERY condensed reference to a paragraph where Browne sneered something about "I expected to see the ruins of the building after it exploded trying to handle my 2000 charge", with the message that because it didn't happen, the fears were not only groundless but stupid nonsense, blah, blah, blah.
May. 26th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)
My Vote
I vote for option one. The Rapture did occur.

Unfortunately, and the only people swept to heaven were the three remaining followers in Armenia n(named Aphrahat , Ephrem and Narsai) of the Second Century heresy known as psychopannychism, which says that the soul sleeps after bodily death until the general resurrection, and that ergo there is and can be no existence outside the body, no purgatory, heaven or hell, and no intervention by saints.

In an ironic twist of fate, of course, the three remaining loyal psychopannychists have been swept up into the air in their new and nonphysical states of being, while the remainder of the Christians of Orthodox and Nestorian Churches, Copts, Monophysites, Catholics, and Protestants, have all been condemned to suffer the Tribulation due to our unbelief in this crucial doctrine.

Theologians are stunned and confounded, and some congregations are demanding a do-over.

The next rapture will be in October.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )


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