I live in Berkeley, in the San Francisco Bay Area, not far from Alameda, where Harold Camping lives. When channel surfing late at night sometimes I would stop and listen to him for a minute or two, each time shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer goofiness of this guy. His appearance demands your attention. He’s a very skinny old man, dresses mostly in beige, sits in a chair surrounded by fake flowers, speaks slowly and deliberately and like all Bible thumpers has a great deal to say and absolutely nothing to discuss. His program is a call-in called Open Forum. Almost all callers have a question about scripture, and he flips through the dog-eared bible that sits permanently in his lap, and tells you how to interpret things. He has an answer to every question.
Occasionally he gets away from scripture and lectures you on his brand of Calvinist theology. Unlike the Catholics who believe you earn your way to heaven by doing good, or the Lutherans who argue it’s not good works but faith alone that will get you there, Camping takes the Calvinist line that God has already made the decision as to who has been saved and who has not, and just in case you’re one of the chosen, you’d better get your act together or you’re going to blow it.
His particular line of religious silliness would normally appear to be pretty harmless, and no goofier than any other. Most of us feel the urge to yawn and move on. But recently Camping left his world of fake flowers and beige silliness to capture his fifteen minutes of fame. He predicted the world would end two days ago, on May 21st, with earthquakes and fire starting at the International Date Line and moving around the world until sometime in October, by which time the saved would be raptured and the rest of us would end up as meat sizzling in a frying pan. He was adamant. Absolute. No doubt whatsoever.
Now the best thing his followers can hope for is that he was wrong by a few days, and it’s still going to happen. He himself answered the door just now looking like somebody had just stolen his blankie and he didn’t know where to turn.
After years of laughing at this silly old man, I am overcome (well, OK, just a little bit) with a sense of pity. I’m getting old myself, and I see my faculties slipping. I’m beginning to worry about walking downstairs, about losing my memory, about dribbling, stumbling, and making an ass of myself as old people so often do as they begin to lose their balance, and with it their dignity. I’m now looking at this old man and wishing I might find words of encouragement.
Pity is no virtue, and worrying about what happens to Harold Camping is pretty far down my list of priorities, but there, but for the grace of God, as the saying goes, go I. (Why did God spare me this embarrassment, Harold, and screw you, by the way?)
Normally I revel in every opportunity to gloat when another religious blowhard hits the dust. They do such harm, some of them, because they manipulate the vulnerable through fear and guilt. When they expose their own hypocrisy, or greed, or arrogance, you want to celebrate another victory for sunshine and light.
But this time, I’d kind of like to have old Harold over for tea and tell him everything is going to be all right.
This end of the world bullshit, this too shall pass.
Update: The links above to Harold Camping once had a video of him coming to the door, and it was the look in the eyes of this lost soul that prompted this reflection. Between the time I started writing and just now, that link has been taken down. The article is still there, but not the video. Another one, though, is available from some clown with a Rock Talk Radio program who says he’s talking with one of Camping’s friends who insists God has delayed the end of the world, so “we’ve got to hit up some more people” for contributions to get out the word.
Ah yes, the world goes on. Turns out Harold was wrong about the world ending and I was wrong about the bullshit ending.
It seems it’s set to go on for a while longer.
But Harold, I’m still willing to put the kettle on.