Now that Harold Camping has pushed out the date for the Rapture until 10/21, we can pause for a Satanic second here and ask ourselves: Just who is Harold Camping? How can he singlehandedly turn America into a country where some polls showed 10% of us seriously considering the world might end last Saturday?
Camping is a radio evangelist and founder of Family Radio, a 300-person 501(c)-3 non-profit based in Oakland, California. It has 66 stations in its network but does not appear to own most of them. As Christian radio goes, the network is middle-of-the-road rather than righty or lefty.
A few years ago, Camping’s network seems to have been worth about $150 million and be fishing donations of $15-20 million per year, according to MinistryWatch.com. An employee ratted to the Christian Post this week that Camping raised most of his $100 million Doomsday ad budget by selling off two stations. So it’s possible Family Radio is down to about $50 million net worth.
Funny aside: Camping’s Doomsday billboards directed people to a website called WeCanKnow.com which asked for donations. For what? The world’s going to end! The link was disabled about a week before 5/21, perhaps by someone who connected these dots (or an overloaded server). It’s back up this morning — still proclaiming “Judgment Day-May 21, 2011” and offering free downloads of terrifying eBooks such as “Woe to the Bloody City” and “I Hope God Will Save Me!” (p.s. He won’t).
Clinically speaking, Camping is older than dirt. A teenager in the Great Depression, he grew up in Colorado and became a Civil Engineer, married, had seven children. Devout all his life in that old-fashioned Reformed American way. He started a construction business in California and was a popular volunteer Bible Studies teacher at the First Christian Reformed Church of Alameda for years.
By the late 1950’s, he had a non-profit radio ministry on the side and in the 1960’s started his live “Open Forum” radio broadcast on weekends. Camping sold his construction business in the ’70s and “Open Forum” became a very, very long-running call-in show where he handled Biblical questions unrehearsed Monday-Friday for 90 minutes in the evening. It’s still on the air with the 89 year-old Camping as a one-man show.
“Open Forum” is a wonder. Truly. Camping is an absolute master of the Biblical texts and the conservative Protestant tradition. I used to listen to it on my way back into the City from consulting engagements in New Jersey — by accident, really, since I was not then a practicing Christian. He took any question at all from anyone, paged through to the relevant text, and gave intricate, plausible, cross-referenced responses in his extraordinarily deep, almost God-like voice.
Rarely have I heard such intellectual mastery of a single topic from anyone. It doesn’t happen. He knew the Bible’s million words all but by heart. He stressed “humility” in listening to “God’s Word.” And in his non-apology to listeners last Monday, Camping continued to insist he was just a “humble Bible teacher” with no responsibility for anything he says.
People can delude themselves, of course, but it takes a very special person to delude thousands of others. Having been in construction during the California real estate boom and sold at the peak, Camping is undoubtedly a multi-millionaire. How can someone so smart be so wrong?
I recently ran across a very good definition of “cognitive dissonance” in the Washington Post, quoting Mark Vrankovich, head of Cultwatch, a pro-Christian anti-cult group:
“You invest a lot of your emotional energy or put money into it. So no matter what the evidence you want to keep on believing. The alternative is that you’ve wasted your time and money, you’ve wasted friendships and burned bridges — people don’t want to face up to that.”