In defense of Harold Camping

O the perils of apocalyptic prophecies in a social networking age! Dr. Harold Camping, who predicted that the Rapture would snatch away all “true believers” on May 21st, is finding out that it’s not as easy to get away with false prophecies as it used to be. Like in 1994, for instance–the last time Dr. Camping predicted the Second Coming.

It’s easy to kick a man when he’s down, and I imagine few men are as far down as Brother Harold right about now. So I want to take the opposite tack. I want to praise him for what he did right.

People are mocking him and calling him a fool, but in fact, I don’t think his beliefs and actions are really all that unreasonable, given the assumptions he was working from. He assumed that the Bible really was the word of God, that it was talking about real-world truth, that God was wise and caring enough to let His faithful followers know when something big was up, and that you can receive spiritual insight by studying the Bible. The rest follows naturally and logically from those four assumptions. Dr. Camping was being perfectly reasonable in acting the way he did, based on the insights he thought he was getting from God’s Word. He believed what he read, and he acted accordingly.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it. He really believed in what he was doing. Granted, his assumptions were wrong, and he’s paying the price now for having believed in them. But I’m convinced that he really and truly did believe that Jesus was coming back on May 21st, to the point that he couldn’t even think in terms of being here on the 22nd. He made a ton of money, but that doesn’t seem to have been his focus. Where other big-name evangelists have all kinds of books and tapes and CD’s to sell you, Camping was giving his books away free for the downloading. The money was a means to an end, and the end was to warn everyone that Jesus was coming back.

I admire him for that. How many other Christian preachers do you see who truly believe in their faith enough to put it uncompromisingly in harm’s way, the way Camping did? Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been careful to keep their prophecies vague, to avoid specifics, to forbid exposing their doctrines to any sort of circumstance that would objectively and reliably distinguish what was true from what was false. Nobody really believes that, in any kind of real-world test, Jesus could actually perform any better than an imaginary friend. Nobody but Harold Camping, anyway. He took Christianity seriously, and that was his downfall.

So no, I don’t blame Camping. He acted reasonably and responsibly, in good faith. It was his God that let him down, and left him to pay the consequences for his trust in Jesus.

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