The world is coming to an end, by a giant global earthquake that will occur tomorrow, May 21, 2011. At least this is what Harold Camping, head of Family Stations Inc. and his followers would have us believe. “We know without any shadow of a doubt it is going to happen” claims Camping. This in spite of having seen his prediction of the end of the world in 1994 turn out to be just another day here on earth.

Listening to a believer and promoter of this movement on the radio I was struck by his line of reasoning. The man claimed that on a certain day in 1988 Satan had taken dominion over all the denominations and God no longer used them. The talk show host questioned what evidence they had that this had occurred and in response the man gave a laundry list of scriptural references. They were clearly speaking two different languages. What the host was asking was what empirical evidence showed that Satan had entered the churches. From 1988 on had all the churches begun wreaking havoc on the world? Worshiping Satan? Using infant blood for the Eucharist? The man could not understand the question even after it had been asked repeatedly, but continued to go to Scripture. To him Sola Scriptura seemed to mean that Scripture exists in a vacuum and you read it and study it until you have mined its truths. Thus empirical, historical reality was completely irrelevant; it was all about unlocking Biblical Truth which came in the form of exact dates. At one point he referred to Harold Camping as possessing the greatest Biblical knowledge of anyone on earth, because he had devoted the last fifty years of his life to studying Scripture.

Where I differ with this view is that quantity is only one small factor when assessing our understanding of Scripture. Many Christians or even scholars can read the Bible every day of their lives and still be worse off than someone just starting, because they fail to read it in the right way. By this I mean that we must understand Kant’s great discovery before we can make any great personal strides in our own Biblical scholarship. Kant famously made the argument that we do not see reality as it is, but only as it appears to us. There is a gap; how big that gap is can be debated, but it is clearly there. When this is understood one can return to reading Scripture without the naïve arrogance so evident in the above reading. We read through lenses, and these lenses are tinted. Thus making a statement like “we know beyond a shadow of a doubt it is going to happen” is exposed for what it really is, foolish pride.

Scraping further into this movement we see a profound historicism (a worldview that holds that the truth that we come to now is all that matters and that we gain nothing from looking to history for guidance, truth, and knowledge). The sect of the Evangelical Church represented by Family Radio is a small slice of Evangelicalism, which is a moderate slice of Protestantism, which is a moderate slice of Christianity which includes Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Coptic Church. Of all these churches Protestantism is by far the youngest. In this light Family Radio suddenly appears quite small; a mere blip on the church history map, seen only with a magnifying glass aimed at the turn of the century. And predictions are being made to the day! This ought to cause one to blush.

One need only look back to the mid-1800’s to see how these predictions fared. Families in rural America waited anxiously on rooftops waiting for the rapture William Miller had told them was certain to happen that very day . . . then tomorrow came. A mere miscalculation . . . It will actually be next year. The same thing and communities were stuck living in the days, months, and years after what never was. You see Mr. Camping, 1994 was not a miscalculation. You did not fail to crunch all the numbers correctly. Where you went wrong was in believing that you could pick up a book, read it once, twice, a thousand times, and reach absolute truth. One is here reminded of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. There is so much to those big flappy elephant ears, but the most thorough analysis of an elephant ear still leaves you with only an ear.

My lens is guided by Orthodoxy, which means I believe I can only see that one ear (or even just a few hairs in the ear) and need help seeing the rest. I have thousands of years of writings, teachings, sayings, hymns, services, and creeds that expose my interpretive lens for what it is, a speck of dust. For some this is a horrifying thought, it takes away all sense of personal empowerment and agency. What is the point if we can’t make innovative interpretations that radically shake up the church? But I have experienced it quite differently. To me it has been that mystical experience of letting go of the ego-self and becoming immersed in the grand river of Being. I am exposed as the infant that I am and I love it. There is no sacrificing of the mind that occurs here. I am not asked to drink Kool-Aid with that very unsatisfying sting of high fructose corn syrup on the tongue. Rather the Truth comes at me, so multifaceted and infinitely complex that I will never know, but I will grow and enter into truth. I look ahead and I see the Philokalia, the sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the writings of the early Church Fathers- there is so much there and all of these truths point to one end; that of Mystery and Silence. There is none of this on May 21, 2011, there is only a small man in a smaller pond. Maybe someday that weight of absolute authority and knowledge will get to be too much for Mr. Camping, maybe that seed of doubt will seep in and he will wonder if the problem was never in the math, but in the method, maybe that crack will spread and come to ruin him; ruin him in a way that utterly annihilates ego-self and allows the real-self back to its Source.

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