Monday, May 21, 2012

Calendar Challenged

Apparently, we’re all dead. Or maybe we’ve entered an alternate reality and aren’t even aware of it. Something, though, must be different. I mean, surely.

You see, it was exactly one year ago today that the world was supposed to end – or, more accurately that Christ was supposed to rapture his faithful, leaving behind the non-believers. The actual end of the world was then going to follow in October of 2011. But I digress.

Anyway, this bold prediction originated with Harold Camping (pictured at right) and his followers. Camping, a retired engineer, hosted a radio program and authored number books that had a small dose of biblical numerology and a large dose of crazy. So, unsurprisingly (but thankfully), his influence remained quite small, but he generated a lot of headlines when he and his fellow-doomsdayers rented out billboards and newspaper ads throughout the country warning us all that the world was about to end.

The fateful day approached, and passed, with nary a whimper from the heavens. Camping tucked tail and decided to do “more study” on the matter to try and find out what could have possibly gone wrong. He has since faded back into obscurity.

Camping was not the first to predict Christ’s return. Some other failed doomsday prophets have included:

William Miller, a Baptist preacher, who predicted that Christ would return to earth sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. When it didn’t happen, he claimed to have misread Scripture, and revised his prediction to October 22, 1844. When our Lord didn’t show again, Miller found himself in the unenviable position of being the sole person responsible for an event in history known as the Great Disappointment.

Hal Lindsey was a steamboat captain-turned-self-proclaimed Scripture expert (yes, seriously). In 1970, he penned a book called The Late Great Planet Earth, an overnight best-seller, which outlined a chain of events that, according to Lindsey, would culminate in the events outlined in the Book of Revelation actually coming to pass in the 1980s. The ‘80s were a lot of things, but none of them could have inspired the author of Revelation. Except maybe those hairstyles – they were pretty frightening. At any rate, though lots of Lindsey devotees thought that 1988 would usher in Christ’s return, they were left, instead, with the anticlimactic Bush vs. Dukakis presidential race and the Oliver North trial. And those sucked almost as much as the end of the world.

Charles Taze Russell probably takes the cake among failed end-times prophets. This guy not only managed to botch both of his end-of-the-world predictions (he thought that the years 1874 and 1914 were shoe-ins for Christ’s return), he insulted every other religion and founded a brand-spanking new religion whose adherents continued his tradition of incorrect last-day predictions. They got it wrong in 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941 and 1975. That’s got to be some sort of record. Oh, and the best part about his followers? They’re the Jehovah’s Witnesses: a group of people who find it necessary to wake you up on early on Saturday mornings and, in light of their group’s laughable record of end-times predictions) are apparently resigned to bring about the world’s end through timber depletion, printing waaay more copies of their flyers, magazines and books (with super creepy illustrations like the one below) than could possibly be necessary.

The little-used Armageddon background at the
Sears Portrait Studio. Courtesy of a Jehovah's
Witnesses publication from the 1990s.

It’s times like these (no pun intended) that I’m super glad for the Catholic Church. Sure, even Catholicism has had it’s rogue, self-proclaimed end-time prophet here or there. And many mystics and saints throughout the Church’s history have been given private revelations about the things to come (the key word here being “private”). But the official teaching of the Church on Christ’s return remains the same and, (shockingly!) echoes Scripture: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt 24:36). Or, to put it in the words of the Catechism: “The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1040).

Thankfully, it’s not up to me, or you, or your crazy Uncle Larry who took an online Bible study course, to figure these things out. Christ founded a Church for a reason. And we can rest assured that he guides her still.