Sure, most people are having a lot of fun with Harold Camping’s “wrong-way rapture” prediction fail. But for Camping’s true believers, the rapture that didn’t happen was potentially devastating — in at least one case, life-threatening.
The stories of believers who sold everything, took their families on cross-country treks, or even showed up at Camping’s headquarters, waiting for the end to come, are tragic in and of themselves. The Los Angeles Times chronicled some of them:
Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country.
If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.
On Saturday morning, Bauer was parked in front of the Oakland headquarters of Camping’s Family Radio empire, half expecting to see an angry mob of disenchanted believers howling for the preacher’s head. The office was closed, and the street was mostly deserted save for journalists.
Bauer said he was not bitter. “Worst-case scenario for me, I got to see the country,” he said. “If I should be angry at anybody, it should be me.”
Tom Evans, who acted as Camping’s PR aide in recent months, took his family to Ohio to await the rapture. Early next week, he said, he would be returning to California.
“You can imagine we’re pretty disappointed, but the word of God is still true,” he said. “We obviously went too far, and that’s something we need to learn from.”
(Bauer seems to have talked to everybody…) And this from the San Francisco Chronicle:
In New York’s Times Square, Robert Fitzpatrick, of Staten Island, said he was surprised when the six o’clock hour simply came and went. He had spent his own money to put up advertising about the end of the world.
“I can’t tell you what I feel right now,” he said, surrounded by tourists. “Obviously, I haven’t understood it correctly because we’re still here.”
Many followers said the delay was a further test from God to persevere in their faith.
“It’s still May 21 and God’s going to bring it,” said Family Radio’s special projects coordinator Michael Garcia, who spent Saturday morning praying and drinking two last cups of coffee with his wife at home in Alameda. “When you say something and it doesn’t happen, your pride is what’s hurt. But who needs pride? God said he resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
And as the Salt Lake Tribune chronicled, for some believers, the disappointment will be more profound than that:
“When a prophecy fails, believers will be upset, shocked, confused, disappointed or embarrassed,” Daniel Wojcik, author of 1997’s The End of the World as We Know It: Faith, Fatalism and Apocalypse in America, writes in an email. “What’s interesting is that in most cases the millennial group does not collapse and the people involved somehow seem to adjust relatively quickly to the disappointment of the nonevent, and sometimes increase their commitment and devotion to the leader and future prophecies.”
… In Camping’s case, Wojcik speculates that the 89-year-old broadcaster might argue that his prediction “brought the word of God to many new people, and did in fact save souls, and in this way it was a success.”
The Rev. Dave Nederhood, pastor at Alameda Christian Reformed Church in Northern California where Camping once worshipped, doubts any good will come of Camping’s whipping up an apocalyptic frenzy across the world.
Nederhood worries particularly about the potential dangers of what he sees as Camping’s manipulative declarations on his most vulnerable followers.
Since Camping insisted that there was “no room for doubt” and “no Plan B,” Nederhood said from his Bay Area home, “I fear that many of his followers will experience great psychological trauma and many may consider or attempt suicide.”
Those who sold their belongings or spent down to their last dime “will be destitute,” the pastor said, while Camping, who lives around the corner from the pastor, didn’t give up his house for the predicted Rapture or the two cars parked in the driveway
Camping left the Alameda congregation in 1994, the last time he predicted the world would end, and alleged that all Christian churches had abandoned Jesus Christ.
The broadcaster — who owns scores of stations, including 91.7 FM in Salt Lake City — told followers the spirit of God was no longer in organized Christianity and they had to isolate themselves from it and their families if there was any hope for them to be saved, Nederhood said. That left his devotees alone and without comfort in their grief when the end didn’t come as predicted.
“The church opened its arms to his disappointed followers,” Nederhood said, “but their minds had been so poisoned against the church, few returned.”
In at least one case, not going back to church was the least of the problems:
Palmdale (KTLA) — A woman slit her daughters’ throats before slitting her own early Friday evening, claiming that “the Tribulation” was going to occur and she wanted to prevent them from suffering through it, officials said.
Lyn Benedetto, 47, reportedly told her daughters to lie on a bed and proceeded to take a knife to their throats.
The suspect then took the knife to her own throat before driving the victims to an unoccupied friend’s house to die.
Thankfully, the woman and her daughters were found in time, and survived.
So should Camping, who for now appears to be in hiding, be held accountable for that? The woman may well have been mentally deranged, and easily manipulated, but Camping’s prediction — heard on more than 100 radio stations via his Family Radio network — was the trigger, apparently.
Well known pastors around the U.S. are swatting at Camping in the wake of his failed doomsday prediction, but it’s hard to believe the incident didn’t hurt Christianity in a way — by holding one of its chief tenets (one shared by all of those pastors and by almost all Christians) — that a literal “rapture” will cause people to rise into the clouds on some day designated for Christ’s return; up to ridicule. So despite his clear nuttiness, Camping has, particularly in the age of mass media and the Internet, which spreads even fringe messages far and wide, done real damage to his faith. Meanwhile, how on earth did this guy get on so many radio stations?
UPDATE: ABC has the sad story of Robert Fitzpatrick.