No, Harold Camping. You listen to ME!

Camping peers into the future. Admits he's not very good at it.

Harold Camping is back in the news, but for partly the right reasons. If you’ve blocked the sheer banal stupidity from your mind, you might recall that Camping was the American preacher who predicted that the world would end on May 21st.

Camping had previously made a similar prediction, based on pseudonumeric bible babble that the world would end on some unremarkable date in 1994, but this time he was pretty sure. So sure, in fact, that his fervent preaching had divided families and cause many people to completely discount their futures with an all-or-nothing bet on the rapture coming. According to Camping, believing in the May 21 rapture was a prerequisite to being saved by God.

After the 21st of May came and went unremarkably, I suggested the only dignified thing for Harold Camping to do would be to admit he was wrong and to devote himself tirelessly to helping those he had led astray to rebuild their lives and relationships. Instead, Camping behaved far more predictably. He modified his prediction, saying that the rapture had quietly begun and that it would end in the much-anticipated apocalypse on October 21st.

Happily for those of us who stopped believing in soothsayers, the tooth fairy and power balance bracelets some time ago, and who rather like it here on earth, Camping is just one of a long line of bullshit artists who have consigned themselves to the ignimony.

But I do want to say something in Camping’s favour.

After the October 21 apocalypse failed to come to pass, Camping has now resigned from Family Radio, the multi-million dollar earning network he founded, and apologised for the damage his rubbish predictions caused. According to the UK Daily Mail, Mr Camping admitted that he should not have said that people who failed to believe his May 21 prediction for the rapture were not saved by God. ‘I should not have said that and I apologise for that’.

He may not have offered to help, but at least he has agreed to do no more harm.

I am left with a lingering feeling that Mr Camping and those close to him are more disappointed that the rapture didn’t come, wiping out all of humanity and saving only a few of their acolytes, than they are disappointed that their silly predictions contributed to so much heartache and damage. And this is where the problem with the whole idea of rapture and other doomsday beliefs really disgusts me. We mightn’t recogniose the implicit harm in predictions that one indeterminate day in the future human history will come to a catastrophic end, and that the most important thing any of us can do is prepareour souls to be elevated into the hereafter. Without a specific day to focus on, we don’t always spot the hocus-pocus, but vague predictions are in many ways more insidious than Harold Camping’s. And they keep a lot more people hostage than Camping and similar crazy doomsday cults.

The worse because it seems that for some people, the rapture cannot come soon enough.

Replete with irony as this whole issue is, I feel compelled to quote the world’s most famous rastafarian (talk about hocus-pocus). “If you know what liufe is worth, you will look for yours on earth.”



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Rob Brooks

I am an evolutionary biologist who thinks about sex for a living. Things I have thought and written about include the evolution of mate choice, the costs of being attractive, the reason animals age and the links between sex, diet, obesity and death. Follow @Brooks_Rob on Twitter.

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