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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