Politics & Media
May 24, 2011, 06:17AM

Kicking People When They're Down

Have a little sympathy for the victims of Saturday's absent rapture.

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As you may have noticed, the world did not end on Saturday. While this is decidedly good news, for the people taken in by Harold Camping's bogus prediction, the tribulations are just beginning. Followers like Robert Fitzpatrick, a retiree who spent his entire life savings of $140,000 trying to warn people to repent, must now face the world without a penny to their names and looking like fools. Camping, meanwhile, is AWOL, presumably with some of the millions of dollars [http://www.examiner.com/missing-persons-in-national/failed-rapture-prediction-leader-still-missing-followers-dejected-ridiculed] he's raised in the past couple of years scaring people with tales of the apocalypse.

There is a large amount of ridicule directed at people whose faith in Camping's convoluted math and mysticism caused them to risk everything. While it's easy to mock someone for blindly following the words of a con man, I don't see that their belief in a set date for the rapture is that much different from what a large number of Americans believe. According to the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of Americans believe Jesus will “definitely” or “probably” return for the faithful before 2050. Yet instead of compassion and understanding, the response from both Christians and the non-religious has been almost exclusively gleeful mockery. Most Christians are saying they deserve to be punished for following a false prophet, while most atheists are arguing that they don't deserve to be rescued from the consequences of their gullibility.

There have been some exceptions. On the American Atheists website, a message was posted urging people taken in not to hurt themselves and to learn from the experience.

You may feel stupid, and that’s because you’ve done a stupid thing—you trusted your preacher blindly. You believed without thinking.But that doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Smart people sometimes do stupid things. A truly stupid person would NOT learn from this mistake. A truly stupid person would keep following Camping as he ‘recalculates’, or says “god has forgiven us because of the prayers we sent up” or some other lame excuse for his rapture not happening.

Some churches are also offering counseling and messages of support for Camping's victims. Pastor Jacob Denys of Calvary Baptist Church in Milpitas, California, released a statement, saying:
We realize our offer of assistance may not be well-received right now but we hope on May 22nd they will see it is an offer made in Christian love. We know that you will be hurting when you realize that you have been deceived, and we will be here for you.

Whether you are religious or not, surely the appropriate response to human suffering, even self-inflicted suffering, should be sympathy like this, not smug superiority and delight in the troubles of others. If Christians want to claim they follow a religion of love and compassion, and if atheists want to claim that the philosophy of humanism values human life, then they ought to refrain from kicking people when they're down.


  • On the one hand, I think this is a kind—and kindness is a rare, wonderful thing—argument. On the other hand, so often victims *don't* learn—it was from studying victims of past End of Days predictions that the notion of cognitive dissonance developed. And then there is this argument by Dan Savage over at Slog, which I think is also dead on: "Yes, a bit of cruelty underlies the laughter—as it should. Remember: the Rapture nuts were running around for months predicting that a tiny handful of them would ascend into heaven on Saturday night because God loves them so much. The rest of us—those whom God hates—would be left behind to watch our non-Raptured family members, friends, neighbors suffer and die for a few months before God finally got around to destroying the planet and everyone left on it. This is bloodlust masquerading as piety—'So long, suckers! God doesn't love you! Enjoy watching your kids die!'—and it's crueler than any Rapture joke I've heard. Cruel people should be cruelly mocked." http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/05/23/making-fun-of-the-rapture And while I want to side with kindness, Savage's argument may be more persuasive. There is a narcissism—"I'll be saved; I'm special!" and a future-tense voyeurism to the Rapture folks—see the hugely popular Left Behind works—that deserves comment, criticism...and maybe even scorn.

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  • The only "victims" I have any sympathy for are the ones like Fitzpatrick. He apparantly, took the news as an occasion to "save" as many people as possible betting everything he owned on Camping's "prediction". This seems to be in line with grace as described in the bible. I hope he can recoup some of his money from the $72 million Camping is sitting on. I must say that I don't know enough of Camping himself to declare him saint or scoundrel even though there are approx. $72 million reasons to think the later.

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