The Sunday Lao Tzu: The Future

Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.

It’s a beautiful spring day in England. The kind of day fir which, if you are religiously inclined, you would want to offer thanks to whatever deity you have chosen to worship. The predictions of a deluded old man have been blown away in the fresh wind, insubstantial and dead as dust, vanishing like broken promises into a clean blue sky.

Let’s not waste our pity on Harold Camping. He is at best a fool, at worst a charlatan and thief. He spent a hundred million dollars on an exercise in self-promotion. Hardly the most Christian use of such a large sum.

Worse, his followers are waking up this morning to realise that they have blown life savings and mortgages to pass his message along.

We all need a sage, a mentor, a muse to help guide us down the road. Sadly, we could also use some advice on choosing that wise man or woman, and it’s all too easy to listen to the wrong person. I choose to be guided by the precepts of Master Lao, but I understand that he too can be contradictory. For example, I offer the quote above, but he has also said:

The sage does not hoard. The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself, The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself. The Way of Heaven does one good but never does one harm. The Way of the sage is to act but not to compete.

…which, you could argue, is perhaps what Camping thought he was doing. Nevertheless, two opposing koans on the same subject, allowing me to put my own perspective onto a text. Which is exactly what Camping did.

Any reading of a text is subject to the reader’s interpretations and bias. As a writer, I understand that clearly. As does Master Lao, who says:

The words of truth are always paradoxical.

…which is just so incredibly helpful.

It’s very likely that Camping will regroup, rejig his numbers and come up with a new date for the heavens to fall. This is the fifth time he’s done this, and as long as his followers give him money, he will continue to do so. This saddens me, but it’s their choice, and there is nothing I can do to change their minds. I simply hope that at least some of them will wake up in every sense of the phrase today, and take joy and comfort in the precious gift that is the first day of the rest of their lives.

It’s The End Of The World Again, Almost Definitely This Time, Really, Honest.

Well, I hope you’re all packed and ready. According to Christian radio show host Harold Camping, 3% of the world’s population will be gathered up to Heaven in some sort of holy Hoovering tomorrow morning. The rest of us will then have five months to wait until God draws the curtains and shuts off the lights for good on October 21st. The fact that most churches have scheduled regular services for Sunday shows how seriously Mr Camping is being taken by the religious community at large.

In eschatological circles, Harold is a bit of a pipsqueak. He’s predicted the Rapture four times thus far, giving up (or rather, diving back into the books for a bit more of a considered approach into the numbers) in 1995. This is small potatoes. Fire and brimstone preacher Charles Taylor saw the end coming 12 times between 1972 and 1992. That’s got to put a crimp into your long-term savings plans.

The end-of-the-world racket is a fascinating subject for study, and stuffed to the brim with nutballs, loonbags and conmen of all stripes. It’s surprisingly easy to pick a date for the Four Horsemen to gallop over the horizon and then backtrack when the sun sets when nary a hint of apocolypic hoof beats. For example, Edgar Whisenant wrote a best-selling book 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988. His prediction: final trump to sound between September 11th and 13th. When those dates turned out to be trumpet-free he pushed the date forward, first to the 15th, then October 3rd. Still nothing. This didn’t deflate Whisenant, though, who released another book the following year, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989, and would continue to release updates until 1993.

Predictions of the end time are born out of intense, numerology-heavy readings of the Bible, and as reactions to ongoing world events. The recent triple-whammy of disaster landing on Japan has, as you’d expect, sent the scene into a tizzy. But events as varied as the Rodney King shooting, the founding of the state of Israel and any manner of celestial objects getting within astronomical spitting distance have all sparked doomy predictions. As for the close-study readings, Camping’s method is an exemplar of clarity and logic compared to some I can mention. Dan Brown’s got a lot to answer for…

None of this would be a bother if it didn’t involve hucksters conning gullible rubes out of their hard-earned, and self-styled prophets setting themselves up as cult leaders. End of the world predictions can mean exactly that. Suicide cults like Heaven’s Gate and the followers of messianic maniacs David Koresh, Jim Jones and Joseph Kibweteere are all evidence that apocalypses can and do happen, and are events that we cannot see coming, and have no way to prepare for.

As for Camping and his Rapture? Well, his past record isn’t encouraging, and frankly his methodology has holes wide enough to steer the Halle-Bopp comet through. I’m not convinced. And anyway, aren’t we supposed to have until December 2012, when the Mayan calendar runs out?

Tell you what, while we’re waiting, let’s have a little dance, shall we?

This post would not have been possible without reference to Chris Nelson’s extraordinary Brief History of The Apocalypse, which is anything but brief and will eat your day if you let it.