Conclusions on My Interview with Harold Camping, the Man Behind May 21, Judgment Day
May 18, 2011

If you haven’t read my interview with Harold Camping on KillingTheBuddha.com, you may want to read that first.

I came away from interviewing Harold with two somewhat differing conclusions, neither of which would have fit well if included in the KtB article. The first was too nice and too characteristic of my wishy-washy agnosticism. The second was too preachy. But some have asked me what I really think about it all after speaking with him, so  I’ll give both conclusions here:

First, I couldn’t help but think of how many of us, like Camping, are so confident in our particular perspectives on truth. And how all “those people” are deceived or stupid or crazy. I also think of the many Christians who, when discussing end-times things, have said something like, “Those May 21 people are crazy!” Of course, the Left Behind series, which seems only different from Harold’s prediction in that it doesn’t give a date, is perfectly acceptable in their eyes.

The fact is, everyone’s views seem crazy to someone else. So where does one draw the line between truth, heresy, and insanity? Who gets to be included in the range of acceptable answers? And who determines that?

While I may not agree with Camping, I’d like to think that all of us, even Camping and his followers, harbor a tiny bit of truth that’s trying to get out. Camping and his followers, at least the ones I spoke with, are genuine, nice people (well, as long as you ignore their anti-women, anti-gay, anti-everything-else theology). And they don’t seem crazy. They have their wits about them and can carry on articulate conversations (something you can’t say about some evangelists). Their particular view of things is certainly not mainstream. It’s quite eccentric, but then again, I also think many traditional readings of scripture are, shall we say, problematic (I’ll get more to that later). But the May 21 folks are real people with real lives and families and fears. Recent videos like the following actually do a good job at showing the human side of Camping. If nothing else, it shows a man who I hope I have as much stamina as when I’m almost 90 (he’s been doing shows 7 nights a week)…

Perhaps there’s a bigger message in all their May 21 efforts, in the billboards and caravans and tracts and radio shows, in all the very intentional actions of those who care enough to warn others—even if what they’re warning of is false. It makes me wonder if God, or whatever you call it, just wants us to see what could happen if, even briefly, we could treat each moment, each day, each interaction, like it’s our last.

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At the same time…and here’s conclusion #2…as I listened to Camping, I realized that he would make an interesting case study of the anti-establishment ethos. A great punk rocker, if you will. He chose long ago to ignore the rules of the Ivory Tower and read the Bible how he thought best. He and his followers really don’t care what people think, because they live according to what they believe is right, which is based solely on his particular reading of Scripture.

And his approach sheds light on the problems that develop when absolute individualism meets absolute truth.

Again, many of us are so confident that we’re right, but worse, we have an addiction to using the Bible as the ultimate support for our claims. Like Camping, many of us have made the Bible our “university” to teach us only what we choose to learn.

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s a natural byproduct of the old sola scriptura principle (that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority for spiritual life) combined with Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” protest (that everyone has the right to interpret the Bible for themselves, without the need of religious authorities). And so whether used for the causes of liberal, conservative, or even the latest spiritual-but-not-religious ideals, the Bible, and our particular reading of it, is held up as the idol to which all others must bow. And we secretly hope that whoever doesn’t bow will ultimately suffer some type of Judgment Day, if even just a little one.

Messages like Camping’s help us see this underlying problem within the foundation of religion, and it’s not just the issue of deciphering who has the correct read on the Bible, or who has the authority to determine that. (Perhaps we’ll know this Saturday, but if Camping is right, it will be too late anyway.)

The problem is that we’ve made the Bible too sacred. As my very wise wife says, it has become our Golden Calf. Because when something—a person, an idea, or a collection of old writings—is declared to be directly from God and granted immunity from questioning, there’s simply no room for balance. And as long as we allow such ideals to hold us hostage, forget May 21; our world has already ended.

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Why Can’t Blogs Be Scripture Too?
February 15, 2010

A few weeks ago I was corresponding with an old friend who reads my blog, and I commented that I do not write the things I do merely to push buttons. I share the thoughts I do because I am a pilgrim seeking truth at a variety of costs. Pilgrims are voluntary exiles. In at least one sense, I may be seen as an exile from the villages that once gave me shelter and food and care. And to be clear, those villages did not necessarily kick me out. I left. I’ve been compelled, from both within and without, to set out on my own journey.

So this is what I write about, and I have a very personal stake in my words. The things I write affect, on one level or another, my relationships with friends and family, and I am very aware of that. But this will not stop me, because I have to write through my process. I also journal, so I try hard to spare you from unnecessary roughness, but I am still very honest. …Now, I’m not sure why I just wrote all that, but I just want to reassure you that I do think hard about what I write. Anyway…

I’ve been drifting in a current of thoughts this week. So many seemingly different streams that occasionally converge but more often pass me through a variety of environs. The one thing these streams all have in common is that they all are intensely personal, and most of them have to do with questions of religion. But today I’ll just share this one, and I’ll make it short:

Why is the Canon Closed?

Why do we only consider the current Christian Bible to be the ultimate authority on all things we (must) believe? Why can’t we accept newer revelations to be just as valid? Why hasn’t the church officially re-opened the set of scripture to include anything later than say, 200 AD? Or, as one of our great writers once put it…

“Why should not we have … a religion by revelation to us, and not a history of theirs? The sun shines today also … Let us demand our own works and laws of worship.” — Emerson

Since A.D. 397, when the Third Council of Carthage declared in what is known as the “African Code,” the Christian church has “considered the canon of the Bible to be complete; if it is complete, then it must be closed. Therefore, we cannot expect any more books to be discovered or written that would open the canon again and add to its sixty-six books.” (source here)

I am familiar with a standard argument that, for one, there is a logical necessity for a closed canon. If someone at some point did not say “Okay, that’s it, case closed…” humanity might somehow find it increasingly difficult to separate “Divine” or “Inspired” from merely “inspiring.” I also realize that the topic was hotly debated over other councils. So, at least for the first millennium, it wasn’t exactly a clean-cut issue. And my question is certainly nothing new. But the fact remains that most Christians today never question the very letters they claim to base their entire lives on.

Obviously, if the church included into the canon everything that anyone considered to be divinely inspired, we would have a ridiculously thick volume of crap. And another problem is that I also take serious issue with thousands of Christians blindly following anything any self-proclaimed prophet tells them to. So my question really isn’t so much, “Why can’t blogs be Scripture too?” as much as it is a question of, “Why must we believe only those things agreed upon before modern times?” Who has right to give more leverage to the writings of Paul than to, say, Martin Luther King Jr.? And who has the right to say which human-written letters accurately reflect God’s wishes and commands and which do not? Who really knows? And why can’t we admit that no one really knows, not even ancient councils of scholars?

This is not the first time I’ve wondered this. And I know I’m not the only one asking this. But I’m a little more aggressive than I used to be. Not because I’m desperate or even just ornery, but because I really want to have an answer that is not just a “Don’t argue with ancient scholars” deflection.

I could ramble on, and there are certainly more questions like this swirling around in my head…they’ve been swirling there for years…but I’ll stop here for now.

Does anyone else have any thoughts like this? I’d especially like to hear from those who faithfully trust every “jot and tittle” of the Bible but who may still occasionally wonder about this foundational assumption. Anyone? (As for me, I think we should create a petition: “Re-Open the Canon!”)

Of course, hundreds of years of persecutions, inquisitions, and state-approved crusades didn’t exactly encourage a trend of questioning Christian authority. And that’s not even including all those things that happened before America was founded. 😉