Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, has become infamous for predicting the end of the world (or “the rapture”). His most recent failed prophecy was that the end of the world would come in May 2011. Previously, he wrongly predicted that “the Rapture” would come in both 1988 and 1994!
Despite all of this, Camping is still predicting that the end of the world will happen on October 21st, 2011!
Because Harold Camping is such a public, visible representative of Christianity, and because he is so obviously wrong, he has drawn enormous media attention.
Some have suggested that Camping seriously discredits Christianity.
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, on Harold Camping:
David Silverman, president of the American Atheists, has argued on CNN’s Belief Blog that Harold Camping shows “what’s wrong with all religion.”
From Silverman’s perspective, there’s no real difference between Camping and other preachers:
What will we do in 2012? Will we sit still while preachers take advantage of the gullible again? Will we refrain from confronting the fools and continue to revere religion? Or will we, as a society, demand that people use their intellect and pay attention to their preachers, priests, rabbis or mullahs and see them as the scammers they really are?
This weekend, preachers from coast to coast will talk about why they are right and Camping is wrong, and I ask you all to listen closely. They will try to justify why one interpretation of the Bible (theirs) is right while the others are wrong. In the end, they are all interpreting the “perfect word of God” in their own imperfect way so that God agrees with their own agenda. It’s obvious if you look for it; no preacher ever says “God disagrees with me.”
Yes, this weekend we will giggle at the fools who follow the preachers that earn their living spreading happy lies. Religion will have been proven wrong yet again.
Is David Silverman right?
First, it is fascinating that David Silverman argues Camping is actually an atheist. He says, “You see, I suspect that he, like many others of his ilk, doesn’t believe in God at all” and acknowledges, “Atheists have bad people, too, the worst of whom feign religion for their own personal gain.”
So, according to the current president of the American Atheists, Harold Camping actually discredits atheists who use religion for personal gain.
Does religion depend on fear-based obedience?
More generally, Silverman suggests that Camping’s method is “fear-based obedience, which is exactly what religion craves. It’s the method used by Camping, and by the rest of Christianity, too.”
But this is demonstrably false. Though of course there are some preachers who look to manipulate people on the basis of fear-based obedience, the core of Christian doctrine is love. For instance, consider one of the most famous Bible verses ever, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
1 John 4:16-19 reiterates a similar point:
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.
Contrary to Silverman, the Bible teaches that “perfect love casts out fear.” The Bible does not teach us to live in fear of God, but to experience God’s love and become people of love.
Harold Camping disagrees with all churches
Camping himself is on record as believing that all churches have been taken over by Satan. In his book The End of the Church Age…and After, Camping writes:
But within the churches, Satan is reigning because he has been loosed to be used of God to deceive those within the churches (39).
This is the end of the church age, when Satan is given complete victory over the external corporate church (85).
- Harold Camping rejects all organized churches as pawns of Satan.
- Many prominent Christian leaders have denounced Camping as a false prophet and compassionately reached out to those deceived by him.
So both Harold Camping and the leaders of mainstream churches agree: Camping is not a representative of mainstream Christianity.
A worst-case example
The main reason Camping doesn’t – or shouldn’t – discredit Christianity is that he is one of the worst-case examples that could possibly be given.
Imagine similar examples for other religions and groups:
- Do the 9/11 terrorists represent Islam?
- Is Stalin a good representative of atheism?
- Is Burma (Myanmar) an ideal Buddhist state?
- Is Warren Jeffs a fairly average Mormon?
- Does Governor Blagojevich represent most Democrats?
- Is Richard Nixon a fair representative of all Republicans?
Members of these groups rightly object to the idea that the worst case examples of their group represent the whole group fairly.
What would be far more convincing, and persuasive, would be to show that the leaders whom Christians most respect were actually quite harmful to society. For instance, it would be far more interesting if someone could show that the Christian convictions of Martin Luther King, Jr. resulted in bad social consequences for America.
Those who capitalize on Harold Camping’s crazy predictions in an attempt to discredit Christianity, like David Silverman of the American Atheists, are misunderstanding:
- That Christianity is a religion centered in love, not fear.
- That Harold Camping and mainstream church leaders have both strongly distanced themselves from one another.
- That Harold Camping is a worst-case example, and therefore an unpersuasive one, for Christianity.
Therefore, there is no legitimate or persuasive basis for arguing that Harold Camping discredits Christianity.