Harold and Me. Part II.

(An update and rewrite of what I wrote before his predicted end of the world).

Harold Camping’s false prophecies about the “rapture and the end of the world” in 1994 and now again in May 2011 are déjà vu all over again for me.

Harold and I have history.

As a college student in the SF Bay Area in the late 1960’s I read the gospels for the first time and saw the distinction between Jesus and the Christian religion.  I heard about an unorthodox Bible teacher on a local radio station. You could watch the show through a street side window on San Bruno Avenue and a couple of times I went and observed.

I peered in the window and saw an older looking guy, Bible open, rambling on in a sonorous, but resonant voice. It was Harold Camping. I liked that he was a layperson and self taught, because like most in the 1960’s, I was wary of institutional anything, especially religion.

Even back then, he approached the Bible as an engineer, looking for the logic and connections of every verse to every other verse. In his mind the Bible is like a huge and complicated puzzle where every piece fits together if you studied it long enough and carefully enough.

Harold was a civil engineer with a degree from Cal Berkeley and to him the Bible was like a building that was designed, then constructed to fit together, not literature to be understood literarily. Add to that his fascination with dates and numbers and you get an engineer and mystical mathematician imposing his talents on a text written in words not equations.

Pretty early on I realized that the Bible is not a horoscope to be interpreted by secret knowledge and magic decoders, so after this early encounter with Camping, I forgot all about him until 1994 when he convinced thousands of people that the world would come to an end.

I landed a media coup of sorts when Camping agreed to come on my nationally syndicated, Chicago-based talk show to explain his views.

That wasn’t the coup part.

The coup was when a shameless, unapologetic Camping appeared on the show a second time to explain his miscalculations after the world’s end didn’t happen!   He seemed undisturbed by his failure, attributing it to a miscalculation that he was certain he could figure out and get right the next time.

Back to the drawing board, he emerged again in 2011 with his new calculations. The rapture would happen on May 21, 2011 at 3PM PST.

When that date came and went, Camping announced that despite evidence to the contrary, his prediction actually was fulfilled! He explained that May 21st was a spiritual, not physical manifestation of God’s judgment. “The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until Oct. 21, 2011 and by that time the whole world will be destroyed.”

Many of his listener’s lives were devastated by Camping’s arrogant folly; they sold their homes, resigned jobs and drained their children’s education funds. But Camping is unconcerned, saying these people made their decisions without his advise or counsel.

Some people resist comparison of Camping to other failed cultish leaders because he is sincere and means no harm, but Camping’s arrogance, errors and lack of concern for those he deceived are dangerous.

“God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts,” to think otherwise is arrogance. “Pride goes before the fall.”

Camping represents the law of unintended consequences as applied to the confluence of the Reformation and the Gutenberg press. Proclaiming the Bible as authoritative and then printing the Bible so each person can have their own copy was not a bad thing. But Biblical authority is misunderstood when applied to our individual interpretations. The Bible is authoritative; our interpretations are not.

Harold doesn’t agree with that.

He thinks he can solve the riddle and convinced thousands of people to organize their lives around the world ending May 21, 2011. This has happened throughout history when trusting folks have fallen prey to convincing, but false prophets.

The Bible does teach that the world will come to an end. But Jesus also said no one knows the day or hour, not even Harold Camping.




Posted in Staublog in May 24, 2011 by | 1 Comment »

One Response to Harold and Me. Part II.

  1. Cat Bismuth on May 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Dick, Thanks for the insight! I do wonder what goes on in the hearts and minds of others when such incidents arise. It’s good to know a little something about how Camping’s mind works in normal conditions and on ordinary problems.

    If you look across the spectrum of folk who have made similar projections, it seems clear to the person of good faith that some are seeking attention or power, some are mentally unstable and some are simply delusional or worse.

    I would just offer the observation that there is another group of such people who are actually in the furnace of some particular refinement or hard lesson with God.

    To say that “the Bible is authoritative” may be a little too close to the Brass Serpent Syndrome of nomadic Israel. The icon has no actual power or authority at all, in and of itself, whether it is hammered from brass or stamped in ink on paper. The G-D of the Bible is authoritative and may fulfill the words of the book in whatever way satisfies His divine purpose.

    The Bible says false prophets will arise AND it says that there will be many who prophesy by the Spirit of God in the last days. In the matter of messengers like Harold Camping, I would suggest that each listener bears the responsibility for how much acceptance they grant to the message and how earnestly they seek wisdom from God through prayer, Biblical research into the the topic and even research into the character of the messenger. Those who have a long experience with God probably have a greater responsibility in this regard than someone who is new in the faith or stunted in his/her spiritual growth.

    We remember that Christians are called to follow and imitate Jesus, not the preacher, however earnest and certain the human vessel may be of the message they are bringing. We commonly preach against Jonah’s example of refusing to speak the message he was given. How confusing must it be when we also deny God’s oversight of Harold’s dilemma?

    I feel a bit sorry that after all this time, Rev. Camping is still belaboring his calculations. As we are instructed to pray for our enemies and those who use us in spite, shouldn’t we also pray for the rehabilitation of one poor preacher whose obsession has captured his own imagination for so long?

    I’m just askin’…

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