Getting Ready for October 21

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For a long time,  I’ve been reporting on the apocalyptic prophecies of Family Radio, the group that identified May 21, 2011, as the date for the manifestation of Christ and the rapture of God's elect. When that date passed without either the Rapture or the great earthquake that Family Radio’s founder and chief, Harold Camping, had predicted, it was a big news story. It got enormous attention around the world. As I’ve been saying, this was actually a significant event, not just a media event, because it provided the best chance we’ll probably ever have of seeing what occurs when prophecy conclusively fails for a large group of people.

What followed May 21 was a process familiar to students of apocalyptic history — the spiritualization of the failed prophecy. Camping, who at first seemed stunned by the complete normality of May 21, soon decided that the earthquake had actually occurred, but it had been a spiritual earthquake, signaling an invisible and wholly spiritual Last Judgment. According to him, the enrollment of the elect had been completed; all that remained was the final elimination of the non-elect, which would take place, as he had previously prophesied, on October 21, 2011, when the physical universe would be totally destroyed. God's activity would thus be visible on October 21 as it should have been on May 21. Camping suggested that the remaining months of Family Radio’s existence would be devoted to quiet cultivation of the spiritual lives of the elect, not the attempted conversion of persons irrevocably condemned.

Already, however, there was strong evidence that many, if not most, of the people at Family Radio's headquarters in Oakland, California were dissenters from the official message. Most broadcasts on the worldwide radio network had ignored Camping's distinctive doctrines and predictions. Many broadcasts were devoted to presentations that contradicted his doomsday prophecies — discussions of health maintenance, provision for old age, long-term strategies for child rearing, care for the environment, and so forth.

Camping’s new emphasis appeared to satisfy both the believers and the nonbelievers within the organization. The former could continue to believe whatever he said; the latter could go about their normal business, unworried about the need to convert anyone to his unusual ideas. Family Radio’s website withdrew all direct mention of Camping's endtime books and pamphlets, although it continued, and continues, to run a link to his quaint answer to the question, “What Happened on May 21?

Yes, we got a few details wrong about the second coming, or the total collapse of the financial system, or the destruction of the middle class, or the coming of global warming (which used to be global cooling), but thank the Maker that the Message still got out.

Then, on June 9, Camping, age 89, suffered a stroke. He was hospitalized, and his Monday through Friday live broadcasts ceased. Virtually the only Campingite voice on Family Radio was that of an epigone, one Chris McCann, who kept preaching the party line about May 21 and October 21, though without Camping’s goofy panache. In a recorded talk that FR broadcast on August 12 (one of a series of talks that is still going on), McCann said of the apocalypse of May 21, “In some small degree it didn’t happen.”

In August, Family Radio’s monthly direct-mail fundraising letter quoted listeners who thanked FR for its message, even though May 21 didn’t turn out to be exactly what they had been led to anticipate. “I am not disappointed with anyone at Family Radio," one listener said. "I believe all intentions were good.” The letter betrayed no visible embarrassment on FR's part. But the September letter didn't mention May 21, or October 21, either. It contented itself with an understated request for support. So the stage was set for a full, though gradual, withdrawal from predictions and disconfirmations.

On September 20 came the news, delivered by website, that Camping had returned to his home, followed on September 27 by a recording of Camping’s own voice — firm and clear, only a little slurred, and precisely the same in reasoning and intention as his pre-stroke explanations of what had occurred and will occur in 2011.

In this new message, Camping reasserted the idea that October 21 will see the end of the physical universe. The elect will survive; the non-elect (everyone not saved by May 21) will perish eternally. His one addition came in response to a question of urgent concern among his remaining followers: what will happen to the unsaved members of our families?

Camping had already established the doctrine that only 200,000,000 people, out of the billions who have ever inhabited this planet, are among the elect. Now he offered consolation to people about to be deprived of their families and friends. He said it is likely that there will be no violence on October 21: “Probably there will be no pain. . . . They will quietly die and that will be the end of their stories.”

“The end," he went on, "is going to come very, very quietly, probably during the next month, probably by October 21.” Lest you mistake “probably” as a concession to uncertainty, he also said, “I am very convinced that all the elect will go to be with the Lord in a very few weeks.” Regrettably, however, from the point of view of his own credibility, he recurred to an idea that he had been preaching before his stroke — his explanation of why God had let him go so wrong about May 21. There were a lot of things, he said, that “we” didn’t understand, but it was good that God had withheld the full truth; it was good that God had let Camping declare, in the most dogmatic terms, that there would be a literal cataclysm on May 21 — because if he hadn't, the rest of his message wouldn't have aroused much interest.

Here is the unconscious cynicism that religious and secular prophets so often display. Yes, we got a few details wrong about the second coming, or the total collapse of the financial system, or the destruction of the middle class, or the coming of global warming (which used to be global cooling), but thank the Maker that the Message still got out. So please keep trusting and respecting us, the people uniquely qualified to convey such Messages.

I will continue to report on events at Family Radio. My current, highly fallible prediction is that within a few months after October 21, Mr. McCann will vanish from the broadcast schedule, the greatness of Mr. Camping will be institutionally recalled, but not his teachings, and Family Radio will return to a more or less typical Christianity — unrepentant, unconfessed, and unwilling to remember the great events of 2011. Such is the way of this sinful world.




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We're Still Here

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I’m writing this in June, about a month after the world was supposed to end, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping.

Though I read Stephen Cox’s excellent articles on this topic, I did not listen to Family Radio on May 21. I was already experiencing an irritating weekend. The last thing I needed to hear about was the apocalypse.

I am a libertarian and a Christian. I am quite familiar with the passages in Revelation and the gospels, dealing with the end of the world. The only definite message to derive from these passages is that no one knows when the end will come. In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only"; “watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 36:42).

In March of last year, I talked with my Dad (himself a Christian) about this. (As Stephen wrote in his December 2010 article, Camping had pushed his prophecy about May 21, 2011 for well over a year. And it was not his first prediction of the end.) We were watching television together one evening before walking the dogs. I started changing channels. My Dad said, “I don’t want to watch any more of that end of the world shit.” At the time, quite a few cable channels were airing an unusually large number of shows about Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, and the Apocalypse. I said, “Dad, Harold Camping says the world is going to end in May 2011.” He said, “Harold Camping is full of shit.” After a few moments he added, “Every day the world ends for somebody.”

Indeed.

But today, we are still here. The popular attention paid to this incident, or non-incident, has begun to fade, as new natural disasters occur and celebrity and political scandals continue to break. Most of us go on as we did before, simply trying to get through the day. And, like Stephen, I believe that Family Radio will also go on, airing hymns, Bible readings, and inspirational segments. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the whole episode can serve a greater purpose than simply mocking an old fellow who, despite making this mistake before, still succumbed to hubris.

As my father said, every day the world ends for somebody. It could end for you or me. The gist of the New Testament, in that regard, is to live according to God’s word as if each day were going to be your last. But what does that mean for libertarians, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or anything else?

Well, let’s each ask ourselves, "What have I done for liberty lately? If I were to die today, would I be able to say that I did all I could do to champion liberty in these dark times? Or that every day, even in a little way, I took a stand for economic or social freedom?” Most of us can probably do more than we have done so far.

What can we do? Attend a local zoning board meeting, a township committee meeting, a local school board meeting, a “town hall,” a legislative hearing, a Tea Party rally, a Libertarian Party meeting. Not happy with any of those? Start your own gathering of citizens concerned for liberty. Protest inane local laws, regulations, taxes, and fees. Talk to your families, friends, coworkers, someone sitting next to you on a plane — I'll bet that he or she will be particularly open to discussing liberty after dealing with the TSA. Run for office as a Libertarian or independent.

And we can still do more. If we look at the body of Reflections amassed by Liberty over its publishing history, it chronicles a relentless creep of the state into every aspect of our lives. Some Reflections concern local infringements on liberty, some concern giant bureaucracies brazenly seizing formerly ungoverned or unregulated spaces, some concern misguided progressive do-gooding, some concern surreptitious theft, such as legislative pay raises passed in the middle of the night. But the process has gone on for too long, and we have watched for too long. We need to draw a line in the sand and start pushing back.

Stephen recently wrote that Harold Camping has backtracked, adjusting his timeline to October 21, 2011. We can’t afford to backtrack. Liberty is at stake. When it comes to defending liberty and economic and social freedom, we must act as if each day is known to be our last.

Do not let this year be the end of the world for liberty.




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