We’ve been joyously rubbernecking the pile-up of Harold Camping’s latest failed Rapture prediction in the pages of the Christian Post. Lest our short term memories fail us, this time last week two reasonable polls showed 3% of respondents thought the world would end last Saturday and another 10% thought “maybe.”
Why? Point thumbs at Harold Camping, girls. The 89 year-old founder and resident prophet of the 66-station Family Radio network seems to have spent almost $100 million on billboards and broadcast spots predicting The Rapture would occur at 6pm on May 21st.
A very practiced Biblical hyper-reader, Camping based his date on a text in Genesis saying Noah had a 7-day warning of the Flood. In an exponential leap beloved of doom-sayers, he turns 7 days into 7,000 years, adds that to his own date for the Flood (4990 B.C.E.) … and here we are!
The week before the faux-Rapture, Camping delivered an inadvertently insulting letter to the 300 employees of his California-based 501(c)-3 non-profit:
“As I bid you farewell,” he wrote, “may you steadfastly continue to stand with us to proclaim the Gospel through Family Radio.”
Why insulting? Camping believed the truly elect would be snatched up before the Tribulation. But not, apparently, his employees, who would remain on Earth with the rest of us to suffer Hell-on-Earth, still “steadfastly” clinging to the airwaves.
Hours after the non-Rapture, evangelicals tripped over themselves to denounce Camping and his calendar. Some of this was just good business: a rival Christian radio outfit self-righteously said, “Do not lend your ears to anything from Harold Camping.”
And Left Behind series author Tim Lahaye excoriated him as being “not only wrong but dangerous,” since, of course, a Tribulation would be a disaster for sales of apocalyptic fiction.
How did Camping himself react?
Although repeatedly saying he wouldn’t give interviews, he seems to have had some trouble keeping his mouth shut. A reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle went to the door of his Alameda mansion and got him to admit he was “flabbergasted” and was having a “really tough weekend.” An IBTimes reporter got him on video saying “I’ve got to think it out.”
So he thought. Didn’t show up to work Monday morning.
That same day, an apparently disgusted Family Radio employee gave an interview to a Christian Post reporter so revealing it makes us wonder how much control Camping really has at the network.
Among other things, the employee said Camping raised the $100 million 5/21 advertising budget by selling a TV and FM radio station. He painted Camping as a lone crazy man in an office that didn’t believe him. He’d made ten previous Doomsday predictions, most of which were not publicized. Family Radio Employees didn’t trust him anymore. Donors were openly told not to sell their homes.
Monomania? Megalomania? Something worse, perhaps. Camping’s brother “said he has always been like that since he was a child,” said the employee.
Monday night, Camping had emerged. Thought was over. Utterly unrepentant, he said the Rapture had occurred but was “silent” and pushed out the date of ultimate destruction to October 21st.
We’ll have more to say on Camping and this fascinating non-event. But for now, let’s point out that while many of his followers may indeed have experienced classic “cognitive dissonance,” the prophet himself had a different response.
He failed to feel any dissonance at all.