Jon Meacham: Why the world won’t end tomorrow

My commentary this week is a risky exercise because I am going to offer some thoughts on the end of the world – which some Christians believe shall begin with what’s known as the rapture, the moment when Jesus returns to earth and gathers up the saved. It’s risky because if one group of Christians is right, then this piece is only going to be accessible here on television or online for a few hours, for Jesus will have begun shutting down creation on Saturday, May 21 – and if that happens, presumably folks are going to have other things to think about than what’s new over at PBS.

In other words, my friends, it’s time to pack your tote bags, because the end is nigh. I’m hoping mine can withstand flames, because I have feeling I’m headed to the warmest of climates. Still, I’m willing to gamble that viewers and readers will be able to see this, because I don’t really think Saturday is the end of the world, unless the Yankees lose another game in what has been a miserable May.

In case you missed it, here’s the background. Harold Camping, the leader of a Christian group called Family Radio, did some calculating from the Bible and determined that the rapture is May 21, 2011, which will then be followed by five months of horrors on earth before the Lord totally destroys the earth and all those who failed to accept Jesus as savior. The specificity of the date prompted online interest and talk – and ended up with my colleague Alison Stewart suggesting that I weigh in on all this.

Which I shall briefly do. Among the many problems with taking the Bible literally is it reduces the most mysterious and complex of realities to simple –  even simplistic –  terms. Yes, scripture speaks of fire and damnation and eternal bliss, but the Bible is the product of human hands and hearts, and much of the imagery is allegorical, not meteorological. Whether there’s a heaven and a hell, or one or the other, and who gets to go where, are questions I am afraid I am unqualified to answer. Sorry, Alison. And I’ll go further: I don’t think anyone is qualified to answer questions of eternal fate definitively, much less pinpoint it to a given day.

The usual point to make in a discussion like this is that apocalyptic movements spring up at hours of great political or social stress, but every hour has its great political and social stresses, so I don’t put much stock in that line of analysis.

Here’s what I do put a lot of stock in: there is an immense and interesting canon of critical work about the Bible and its implications and applications that needs and deserves a wider audience. My own favorite is the former Anglican bishop of Durham, England, N. T. Wright, who writes of religious matters with the faith of a believer and the rigor of a scientist.  The more we can do to support and promulgate the intellectual traditions of the Abrahamic faiths – of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – the better armed we will be to fight fundamentalism.

I’m not being dismissive of religion: I am a Christian (albeit a bad one). But I believe God gave us reason as well as scripture. William Porcher Dubose, the great Episcopalian priest and theologian, was once asked what he made of the book of Revelation. “I have no idea,” he replied. Ah, for the humility to be so honest – on the day of judgment, and every other day.

 

Comments

  • Bmontgome

     Jon, you are right on!

  • CommittedChristian

    The Lord Jesus Himself said that no man knows the day or the hour.  Everytime I hear about one of these guys spouting off that he knows, I remember that and I know in my heart that it isn’t. 

  • mindlessworld

    WHO IS THAT 

  • Michael0467

    Jon says he is a Christian but he says he doesn’t know where he will spend eternity nor should anyone else. The Bible we may know we have eternal life if we put our faith in Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. These Christians are only making it hard to talk about the rapture with other people because of them trying to name an exact day when the church will be taken up to heaven.

  • Michael0467

    Jon says he is a Christian but he says he doesn’t know where he will spend eternity nor should anyone else. The Bible we may know we have eternal life if we put our faith in Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. These Christians are only making it hard to talk about the rapture with other people because of them trying to name an exact day when the church will be taken up to heaven.

  • nonni

     The Lord Jesus also said Not even HE or the angels in heaven know so how come Mr. camping thinks he has the answer.

  • Mel

    We’re forgetting the most obvious part about all of this – that not all of the world is Christian.  So are we to honestly believe that “God” would forsake 70% of the world’s population only because they didn’t grow up in a Christian household?  The Creator I believe in would never be so cruel.

  • http://rationalmathed.blogspot.com Michael Paul Goldenberg

    If this dimwad fraud is so sure that the world’s ending tomorrow, why are they still accepting donations on his web site, etc.? Hard to say who is more of a blithering idiot: the fellow purporting that the world is ending or people who give him money so he can to continue to rant the day after, when he announces the rationalization for why it didn’t actually end as predicted. 

  • tonna reed

    i belive in god an i really hope it dosent happen in my heart i dont thnk it will but thn again who knows i wanna stick around an watch my kids grow up an be with my husband for a long time it is scary to thnk wht could happen.but ppl been sayen this for yrs now only god knows 

  • Ammasbear

     Perhaps the bible is just a tool to keep people in the dark of the truth. A tool to rule the masses. I believe Jesus was a master and still is. That he came to help wake up people to their own divinity. We are all divine beings He even said as much.  The powers that be at the time wrote and rewrote the bible to control the people to do their bidding. Only pieces of what Christ stood for and was trying to convey are still there. The rest is just man’s imagination. The rapture is happening inside of everyone of us. The paradigm shift of us realizing who we are that we are light and love just as Christ was just as he said I am the way the light etc.. “JUST AS YOU ARE” He also made mention of all these miracles you to can perform. The key is to let the love and light within in you to come forth and cleanse all the ego angery and ill will. We are not going to be beamed up…. well unless the aliens come and take us to do their bidding or better yet eat us for food like cattle. Hmmm maybe that is why Mc Donald was introduced to us… maybe that is why all the main corps in this world are feeing us fattening foods?  Oh I digress but you can see many possible case scenarios and whatcould be the case. The Fact is nobody knows for sure what is truth and that is the big dilema. So perhaps it all about what we believe and create for ourselves… think about it.

  • Kinserlow

    As Mark Twain said, “Heaven for climate and Hell for company.” 

  • Ammasbear

    PS we are already living in eternity all we have is now no yesterday no tomorrow. We will continue even when the body is released.

  • Ammasbear

    PS we are already living in eternity all we have is now no yesterday no tomorrow. We will continue even when the body is released.

  • Ammasbear

    PS we are already living in eternity all we have is now no yesterday no tomorrow. We will continue even when the body is released.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sheila-Reynolds/1488970253 Sheila Reynolds

     I believe a certain abomination is to show up in the temple,
      I haven’t heard of one yet, before the rapture occurs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1790724191 Victoria Lamb

    In his in-depth studies of the Bible, Mr. Camping seems to have completely ignored Matthew 24.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589071966 Terri Lynne Baca

    I hear that alot… now bear with me this will sound like a criticism but again bear with me… and it makes me out to be a mindless and blind follower… which I most certainly am not. The bible IS the truth or for those that dont really follow it… truth can be found in the Bible. I most certainly dont feel in the dark or ruled by anyone. I follow God out of my own free will not what someone has told me to believe. I read and assess and question and then make up my own mind about things. We are even told in the Bible to question, to be wary of those who prophesize those who make claims. God is all about love and the Bible is simply a guide book, not a dictator. I am not being controlled by anyone. If anything, I am a better person for being a Believer. If it WERENT for God and the Bible and Jesus, I wouldnt be as good as I am and fly straight. The Bible keeps me walking on the right and good path to be a better person … though its a crooked path, cuz I stray, but when I think or want to say things, a Bible verse will pop in my head and will keep me from causing more harm that what its worth. I have turned the cheek so many times I am spinning non stop… but its worth it. I know the truth, its all writen down for us to take or leave. The Word speaks the truth, again that cliche… truth is a hard pill to swallow….
      

  • Amukes

    While most of the Bible is in fact literal, and is the inspired word of God, not mankinds whimsical estimations, May 21 will be another day. The author has Camping right, but may still want to engage in some serious Biblical study.

  • http://www.facebook.com/latonya.davison LaTonya Davison

     I so agree….. this is my exact interpretation…..I was raised in the church and attended until I turned 30…and this is just about the exact conclusion I’ve come to. I think it would set most people free to arrive here……..

  • Brian

    I thought about it, and you’re FOS; neither here nor there nor do you perceive darkness or light. The only thing you sound committed to is your lack of commitment.  Oh Joy, Ammasbear, has got it all figured, and it’s all-about-nothing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/latonya.davison LaTonya Davison

     Try something else. It’s exactly as myself and others have done. You CAN make good decisions without the Bible or verses, and prayer won’t stop or make things happen. I decided to do an experiment and stop having anything to do with the church, which at the time was full of cheating pastors, the reason I walked away. The Bible no more makes a good person do right than it can make a bad person do wrong. My life didn’t change. Some good things still happen, and some bad things still happen. But I don’t have all that psychotic chatter going .on anymore. And I do more right now than I ever have. Try it….I think the truth has been hidden from us.

  • http://twitter.com/DJO2is Otis Galloway

    I believe in a higher power. What I DON’T believe in is Christianity, a religion used to justify greed, ignorance, racism, slavery, homophobia, war, misogyny, hypocrisy, and last, but not least, dishonesty.

    Christianity has caused more problems than it has solved.

  • Pammann

    First of all, who are we to believe that our individual souls are to survive us? That is selfish and completely unreasonable at worst, and wishful thinking at best. This is exactly the selfish worldview that Christianity (and other “Abrahamic” faiths) would have us believe, further fueling the destructive path that religion (organized or not) has put mankind on. That we live beyond our physical bodies, at the mercy of an unseen and provable creator, is complete delusion – dangerous at that. If we could dismiss the notion of life after death, imagine how we much better we could treat each other if we knew this life was all we have – that’s it, no more.

  • http://leenoox.livejournal.com/ Baylink

    Yeah: My Jesus is much more forgiving than his Jesus.

    And I’m a militant agnostic (I don’t know, and *you don’t either* :-)

  • Pammann

    * unprovable creator* damn autocorrect!

  • http://ethecofem.blogspot.com April

    If it happened, it would have in the last 20 minutes, when 6:00 PM happened in American Samoa.   

  • Kaziasaintdenis

    So if the Bible is to be taken literally, then should I kill my neighbor when he mows his lawn on Sunday?? 

  • Kaziasaintdenis

    So if the Bible is to be taken literally, then should I kill my neighbor when he mows his lawn on Sunday?? 

  • Thematrixdude92

    What you are referring to is Levitical law meant for the Jews of the days before Christ.  Without Jesus’ sacrifice it was of the utmost importance for Jews to follow strict laws and to atone for their sins in a specific way.  Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, and while we are still commanded to follow his commandments, the breaking of them can be forgiven by Jesus’ sacrifice. 

  • Misliziz

     ok is just me or does that guy look a lot like Mr. Burns?

  • Bob

    Mr. Camping does not speek for Jesus Christ or for Christians, although he seems to think he does.  While he may seriously believe what he has been teaching, the fact is that he has been teaching seriously wrong heresy for many years.  This man lives in his own world, worshipping the Bible as he interprets it. 

    You cannot judge everyone within a group by the actions one member.  For example, you would not judge all doctors by Dr. Kevorkian or all actors by Mel Brooks. 

    Many years ago I heard Mr. Campign proclaim regularly on his station that we should believe the Bible, the Bible alone, and in in its entirety.  He said that once the Bible was written God ceased to work miracles and signs and wonders.  He would tell callers to his program that if they thought they heard from God it was obviously the devil.  So, the devil is more powerful than God? 

    So now we have Mr. Camping proclaiming not once but two times when the end of the world will come. He claimed in a full page in USA Today to be a prophet.  If God is not working in the world today, as he used to proclaim, and if there is no personal revelation or prophesy, then how can he claim to be a prophet? 

    There is so much more wrong that it is not worth going into.  The big problem is that he has led thousands of people to believe that only his group knows the truth and he tries to keep them from going to church or meeting with people who do not subscribe to his views.  He has set himsel up a cult leader. 

    Jesus said no one would know the time or the day of his return.  Apparently Mr. Camping has inside information that counters Jesus’ own statement about his return.  If I were Jesus, looking at all of what is going on in God’s name, I would choose another date. 

    Much of his calculation is based on the King James Bible but the original texts were in Aramaic, Greek, and other languages.  If you are counting phrases or using numbers to refer to things, those all have different meanings in different cultures. 

    I suspect Mr. Camping will have to try and talk his way out of this when he is still here on May 22nd.  That is not going to be fun.  Meanwhile, there could be thousands of dissilusioned followers who leave the faith totally as a result.  Perhaps they should be looking for a  real church, but that is not what usually happens in these cases.

    I hope USA Today and The Wall Street Journal were paid up front for the advertisements he posted. 

    The full plage ad in USA Today last week was basically incomprehensible.  It was laced with jargon, partial Bible quotes, fancy use of case and highlighting, and so on.  It was nothing I could understand, and i understand some of that jargon. 

    The song that came to mind while I read that was from Roger Miller:  Do-Wacka-Do, Wacka-Do, Wacka-Do, Wacka-Do, Wacka-Do.

  • Svetfinelt

    Guess I have to pay the bills again this month…

  • Svetfinelt

    He’s only going to forsake the Buddhists. Just them…

  • Greydaze3

    It’s obvious this author doesn’t understand basic Christian theology. He seems to think this one fringe group speaks for followers of Christ as a whole.

    Anyone can pick up a bible and find the multiple places where it says that no one knows the day or the hour of Jesus’ return.

  • Carolyn Murdock

     Please reread your post- you claim to think for yourself and use the Bible as a guide, but then you claim it is the truth, yet claim that you only do the “right” things in life because of the Bible.  This implies you would not be good or right without it.  I think you would do just fine with or without it.  What if the Koran is right? The point is NO ONE KNOWS or CAN EVER KNOW.  All you can know, is that humans wrote a book-the Bible, the Koran whatever…religion is made by man, not by anyone’s GOD.  Good Luck to you and trust yourself, I think you are probably good and right all by yourself. ;)

  • Carolyn Murdock

     Please reread your post- you claim to think for yourself and use the Bible as a guide, but then you claim it is the truth, yet claim that you only do the “right” things in life because of the Bible.  This implies you would not be good or right without it.  I think you would do just fine with or without it.  What if the Koran is right? The point is NO ONE KNOWS or CAN EVER KNOW.  All you can know, is that humans wrote a book-the Bible, the Koran whatever…religion is made by man, not by anyone’s GOD.  Good Luck to you and trust yourself, I think you are probably good and right all by yourself. ;)

  • Carolyn Murdock

     No one knows what Jesus said ….there is no video or tape, only some guys who wrote stuff down and claimed to have seen and heard things.  Hmmmm..

  • Carolyn Murdock

     No one knows what Jesus said ….there is no video or tape, only some guys who wrote stuff down and claimed to have seen and heard things.  Hmmmm..

  • KFarkle1

    Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. 

  • Blopko

    Religion is what keeps the poorfrom murdering the rich!

  • Jay

    Actually Jesus predicted the end of the world or Parousia would come in the lifetime of those people hearing him preach i.e. c70 CE or earlier.  When Jesus’ prediction did not  come true his followers had to scramble to come up with a reason.   Thats not my opinion its what Jesus said.  Its in  the Gospel according to Mark. 

    No one knows is the best answer, Jesus didn’t know so who can say.  If the trinity is real, Jesus is also God and if God doesn’t know or at least his son didnt know.  Take your pick so who can say is the best answer.  His followers solution was to say no one knows but God and you need to be ready to go at any time.  Therefore people should act as Jesus taught  all the time.

  • JC

    Actually it would be Saturday, the Biblical Sabbath. The Sunday thing didn’t come into vogue until after Christ’s resurrection. I believe it was Constantine, who was both Emperor of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, made Sunday worship official in the early 4th century.

    I’m not a Christian, but my understanding is that no human has permission to change Divine law which established the seventh-day as a day of rest when God took the day off after creating Adam and Eve on Friday. 

  • JC

    What does that mean? Please elaborate.

  • Anonymous

     No.. Relationships are the things you have with “real” people. Those people you “think” you talk to are not really there and cannot be classified as a relationship. Also.. It implies there are two sides.. For example.. You talk to a person, and he talks to you back. Its called communication. Have you ever talked to these people you claim to be in a relationship with? Have they ever respond?

    Careful how you answer. Because if they have, you are a schizophrenic and need to be medicated along side of your daily does of high voltage electro shock therapy and if you have children, they need to be removed from your care before you can do anymore harm to them than you already have.

  • Martin Luther

    For a well reasoned debate with Harold Camping check out the free mp3 downloads at http://aomin.org/ . This may help clarify why he came to his conclusions and why he is wrong.  Also, this download will help people understand how the Bible can be properly understood. It is not that difficult if one follows some basic hermeneutical rules.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus never existed. But dispute that.. He was not even have been rumored to say “the end of the world”.

    The words he said was. “I will be with you until the end of the AEON.”(or Age). The entire notion of “end times” is entirely based off of a mistranslation.

    Really.. If you people are going to claim to be something.. You really should look at the documents that were almost entirely plagiarized outright when your religion was formed.

    You think Jesus is the first Savior born on Dec 25, of a virgin, betrayed by a friend, crucified, hung on a cross for 3 days and was resurrected? History is ABUNDANT with them.

    They are called Solar Messiahs. Jesus just happens to be the latest of them.

    None of them are real. They are all adaptations of pagan sun worship.

    Sun / Son .. The light of the world, the savior of mankind, the protector from darkness..
    It don’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out people..

    Christians/Jews/Muslims.. Everyone of them are bastardized pagan sun-worshipers but are just too stupid to realize it.

  • http://twitter.com/cjbaltzley Chris J Baltzley

     @pbsneedtoknow Jon, I hate to see Camping get any attention, but love to see NT Wright get some. Thanks for the sanity.  

  • xman

    Jon, Jon, Jon,
    You are positive the world won’t end tomorrow. (I agree.)  Mr. Camping really didn’t say the world is going to end tomorrow though. He said it is the beginning of the end to be more exact and this you do agree with.
    Let’s look, for instance, at your story on “global warming”.  Trudy Rosler, a Canadian, has a fungus growing in her brain system! That sounds awful scary to me and our crack U.S. scientific team based on a study of one person has determined the cause is global warming. Wow! What a leap! So we are all going to die.
    You say you are a “bad Christian”. What’s the difference between bad religion and bad science.
    I say there is no difference.

  • Dave Nels

    Ever thought about leaving The Stone Age and joining the real world?

    I guess your brain was partially destroyed  -like most of you folks who just make up shit that feels good  BUT  give your kids a break and give them something to read other than the Toth Fairy

    You are a moron

  • Anonymous

    “Properly”???
    Yeah, right.

  • Anonymous

    “Properly”???
    Yeah, right.

  • Anonymous

    “Properly”???
    Yeah, right.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, you couldn’t be bothered actually reading his words.
    Sadly typical.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, you couldn’t be bothered actually reading his words.
    Sadly typical.

  • Anonymous

    In other words, you couldn’t be bothered actually reading his words.
    Sadly typical.

  • Anonymous

    Serious biblical scholars by and large understand the bible is not to be taken literally, and was never meant to be the literal word of god.
    Fringe idiots, however…

  • Anonymous

    Serious biblical scholars by and large understand the bible is not to be taken literally, and was never meant to be the literal word of god.
    Fringe idiots, however…

  • Anonymous

    Serious biblical scholars by and large understand the bible is not to be taken literally, and was never meant to be the literal word of god.
    Fringe idiots, however…

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring entire sections of the bible is what 100% of today’s christians do. It’s par for the course.
    As far as him being a leader fooling his flock, leading them in a fraudulent direction whilst taking their hopes, dreams and money: he’s no worse than – in fact less worse than – most of America’s evangelical leaders, Catholic leaders, and most other denominational ‘christian’ leaders.

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring entire sections of the bible is what 100% of today’s christians do. It’s par for the course.
    As far as him being a leader fooling his flock, leading them in a fraudulent direction whilst taking their hopes, dreams and money: he’s no worse than – in fact less worse than – most of America’s evangelical leaders, Catholic leaders, and most other denominational ‘christian’ leaders.

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring entire sections of the bible is what 100% of today’s christians do. It’s par for the course.
    As far as him being a leader fooling his flock, leading them in a fraudulent direction whilst taking their hopes, dreams and money: he’s no worse than – in fact less worse than – most of America’s evangelical leaders, Catholic leaders, and most other denominational ‘christian’ leaders.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah in other words, you don’t think. You seem very proud of it.

  • Anonymous

    oops. meant for the idiot below.

  • Anonymous

    oops. meant for the idiot below.

  • Anonymous

    oops. meant for the idiot below.

  • Anonymous

    Those who believe in such nonsense generally are that cruel themselves – it’s not hard for them to believe it, as they think they’re more like ‘god’ than anybody else.

  • Anonymous

    Those who believe in such nonsense generally are that cruel themselves – it’s not hard for them to believe it, as they think they’re more like ‘god’ than anybody else.

  • Anonymous

    Those who believe in such nonsense generally are that cruel themselves – it’s not hard for them to believe it, as they think they’re more like ‘god’ than anybody else.

  • xman

    OK then Mr. 21 st century garbage mouth man. After I separate out all your shits, morons, and toth fairies there is nothing left of your comment. I will assume that describes your brain – a little bit of hate, a little bit of anger, and not much else.

  • Tom

    I’m sorry to hear that you blame Christianity for all these evils done by misguided folks over the centuries. Greed, ignorance, racism, slavery, homophobia, war — all of these things would have (and did) exist in the world without Christianity. You say Christianity has caused more problems than it has solved. Has mankind caused more problems than he has solved?

  • Tom

    Like all ancient historical figures, we must rely on “stuff” that “some guys” wrote down. Hmm…

    There are close to 5,700 full or partial Greek New Testament manuscripts in existence. Most of these date from between the second to 16th century, with the oldest, known as Papyrus 52 (which contains John 18), dating from around A.D. 100–150. By comparison, the average work by a classical author—such as Tacitus (c. A.D. 56–c. 120), Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61–113), Livy (59 B.C.–A.D. 17), and Thucydides (460–395 B.C.)—has about 20 extant manuscripts, the earliest copy usually several centuries newer than the original.
    What Jesus said (according to the Gospels) has been inspiring to hundreds of millions. It has been inspiring to me, too. That’s all I need to know.

  • Tom

    Yes, religion is made by man (so is philosophy, ethics, medicine, art, history, law, etc.) If one believes in a personal God, then religion can be inspired by God. You may be correct that the previous writer will be “good and right” all by herself. But what if she could be even better by using the Bible as her moral and spiritual guide?

  • Tom

    If Heaven exists, Mark Twain is there. No doubt about that.

  • Anonymous

    Jon, you are RIGHT! The end will never end on 5/21/11. There’s a juicy fact that only God knows when his creations will be destroyed.