A fun thing to do Saturday was warn your friends about the Rapture predicted by evangelical minster/probable crazy person Harold Camping, then watch as they
ascended into heaven got drunk and talked about their dads like usual. Camping performed a series of numerological calculations based on scripture to predict the end of the world to the day, apparently on the assumption that A) neither he nor a 2000 year-old account written 250 years after the fact could possibly be wrong about the day of the week on which Jesus was crucified, or B) there was no way he’d live that long. It’s also possible he realized C) he could always lie about it afterward, in a sort of Rapture-predicting encore. God never closes a door without opening a window,* and Harold Camping now assures us that the Rapture he predicted did happen, but it was invisible. The world will actually end on October 21, exactly six months after the date he originally predict—dammit!
As he explained in a special broadcast of his radio show on Monday night, Camping now understands that Saturday’s Rapture was “a spiritual coming” and not the literal event he told everyone would happen. “We had all our dates correct,” he said, which was technically true. May 21, 2011 did happen, exactly as he predicted; it just didn’t happen as he predicted. Probably, God mercifully decided to spare humanity the five-month period of hell on Earth known as the Tribulation, Camping thinks, but either way, it is absolutely certain that the world will end on October 21. There is no way he could be wrong about this.
The lay reader may ask: Why doesn’t Harry Camping just admit he made a mistake? But the lay reader is not a student of history. The never-laid reader, who spends a lot of time studying up, will remember the Millerites, a 19th-century end-of-the-world movement begun by William Miller. Using numerology and verses from the Book of Daniel, Miller predicted that the world would end sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.* Between thirty and forty thousand people believed him.
The period of time beginning on March 22, 1844 is now known as The Great Disappointment. The Millerites were shocked that nobody shot up to heaven in a white robe, and they set themselves to correcting what was surely an error in their calculations. Thus followed the switch to the Karaite Jewish calendar and, when that didn’t work, the Seven-Month Message, which also turned out to be wrong. Finally, Miller admitted that he had made a mistake. He also expressed some irritation that everyone was making fun of him:
Some are tauntingly enquiring, “Have you not gone up?” Even little children in the streets are shouting continually to passersby, “Have you a ticket to go up?” The public prints, of the most fashionable and popular kind…are caricaturing in the most shameful manner of the “white robes of the saints,” Revelation 6:11, the “going up,” and the great day of “burning.” Even the pulpits are desecrated by the repetition of scandalous and false reports concerning the “ascension robes,” and priests are using their powers and pens to fill the catalogue of scoffing in the most scandalous periodicals of the day.
Are you listening, Harold Camping? It turns out that if you convince tens of thousands of people that the world will end by a particular day, in the process becoming a wealthy and beloved religious leader before your claims are conclusively proven wrong, people will give you a hard time about it.
Where William Miller went wrong, of course, was in admitting that he was wrong. You have to claim that the substance of your message was right and the calendar is wrong or, better yet, that the thing you predicted happened but not in any detectable way. I have a girlfriend from Canada, and she did come to town last weekend, but she was invisible. She also did not emit any sort of smell.
The other method, to which we alluded in the first paragraph, is to die. Not only do you get the satisfaction, on your death bed, of knowing that you will never know whether you are proven wrong, but you also get the bonus consolation that you’ll only be missing like nine weeks of life on Earth anyway. I’m not saying that just because Harold Camping profited by telling thousands of people that life wasn’t worth living and was then publicly exposed as a charlatan before doubling down on his original deception, he should probably plan on being not alive by October 21st. But he should maybe look into it.