Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Modest Defense of Harold Camping

The one question I always have: Why are the true believers
always hideously out of shape?

Another weekend has passed, and aside from a mild head trip, I seem to be no worse for the wear.  Which is saying something, considering how many believed Saturday, May 21st to be Judgment Day: the Rapture, the end of time.  I was less considered about eternal judgment and damnation as I was looting an iPad (I figured that a certain percentage of the born-agains had to be of the McMansion class, and I do need a tablet very badly, so it seemed like a good idea at the time), but alas, 'twas not to be.  I didn't personally know anybody who subscribed to this particular prophecy, but there were plenty of publicized examples of people who did.

My social network was, however, pretty evenly split on the subject.  There were those of us (mostly younger), who simply took it in jest.  I count myself among those.  Some weeks I'm really searching for material to make light of, and some weeks it falls into my lap.  This doomsday prophecy was a gold mine.  But there was another group in my network -- mostly older, and less humorous -- that took serious  offense to Mr. Camping and his prediction.  They called him a fraud, they called for an investigation, and they demonized him as a symbol of everything that's wrong with the world.  In light of that, I'd like to offer a modest defense of Harold Camping and his prediction, not because I think the guy's right or even sane, but because I think some people may misunderstand what he is and what he did wrong.

I don't think you can call Harold Camping a fraud.  Immature and dangerous, yes, but not a fraud.  I've watched the interviews and read his reactions.  Fraud would imply that he didn't believe in what he was saying.  Bernie Madoff, for example, is a fraud.  Harold Camping is in fact a very extreme example of something that happens to all of us, when we get caught up in our own beliefs and our own point of view, to the exclusion of anything else -- point of fact, something a great deal more dangerous than Bernie Madoff.  In reality, though, everyone does this to some degree.  This happens every day.  Camping's claim is simply much more dramatic, so it receives much more attention.

For the record, I think the absurdity of any religious or pseudoscientific doomsday scenario is inherently funny, and for that it deserves to be mocked.  But as the weekend went on, it became less and less entertaining, and more and more simply pathetic and sad.  We had our fun.  Now we need a moment of self-reflection.  This affected real people: like this family that's now likely been irreparably damaged, or the man who spent his life-savings and now seems desperate to try and justify to himself what he's done.  My more rational friends like to mock this and get riled up about the morality of the situation, but that to me just makes them hypocrites.  How many of us have made an extraneous financial purchase that came back to bite us in the ass?  This happened to me back in March.  Lip Service had this pair of designer pants I really wanted, and I carefully saved my money for three months to afford them.  I bought them at the beginning of the month, and subsequently got saddled with an unforeseen expense that cost just as much.  I made a prediction based on my belief that my finances were more stable, constant, and predictable than they actually were.  It turned out to be a bad decision.  Camping's prophecy is really no different in principle, though of course it's an extreme example.  I can no sooner blame Camping for being the problem than I can blame myself.  Camping or the Rapture isn't the issue here.  Our collective maturity, however, can.

It's a very American thing to blame everyone but oneself for one's problems.  This is not assisted by the current state of the media, where one can effectively shop for opinions and perspectives that one agrees with and call it reality.  My liberal friends love to blame Fox News and the Tea Party for this.  My conservative friends blame Obama and big government and the liberal media.  The fact is, they're exactly the same.  Calling out someone else's hypocrisy is implicit admission of your own.  So to call Harold Camping a fraud or a criminal is wrong.  It's the same reason why no matter how much my liberal friends and I howled about Glenn Beck, we couldn't ever actually arrest him, no matter how outrageous or dangerous his actions were.  The American Republic is at its core about suffering fools.  It is in the end both our fundamental flaw and greatest strength.

So, I say give Harold Camping a break.  It's the mature thing to do.

1 comment:

  1. Camping appears to have lost little but his dignity; I don't blame him but I have little sympathy.

    I do feel very bad for the ones who believed enough to alter their lives, though. The children whose parents blew through their college accounts, the guy who sold his house, the people who quit their job. You're right-- we're bad at distinguishing reality, and we are all swept up sometimes. And we have to deal with often severe consequences.