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January 30, 2006

The rapturites among us

After I wrote about the rapture letters, I viewed the film The God Who Wasn't There (thanks to Aaron Shaffer (Manager of the Freedman Center) who loaned me the DVD) and the filmmaker included an interview with the creator of that letter writing site. He seems like a nice guy who sincerely believes that the rapture is going to occur in his lifetime. The film also says that an astounding 44% of the American public, like him, are either certain or think it very probable that the rapture will happen in their lifetimes! You can see the relevant clip from the film here.

This statistic is quite amazing. If you think about it for a minute it means that almost every other person you pass on the street, almost every other co-worker or fellow student believes that it is certain or extremely probable that she or he is going to be whisked into heaven within the next couple of decades. Who are these people? Where are these people? Are we living in two parallel worlds in which one group of people whom the rest of us are unaware of have this truly bizarre notion that Armageddon is going to occur very soon?

I must confess that I have never personally met anyone who has openly expressed such a belief. But a friend who reads my blog and had until then had never even heard of the rapture happened to mention this to a co-worker who casually said that yes, she believed in the rapture. My friend was stunned that this seemingly normal co-worker believed in this bizarre notion.

But even though I have never met a rapturite (rapturist? raptor?), I am curious about them. Do they buy life insurance? Do they worry about their children's and grandchildren's future? Do they plan and save for their retirement and old age? The US is notorious for the low savings rate of its people. Is this because so many people feel they do not have to worry about the future because they are going to be raptured away? It would interesting to do a number of correlation studies between people who hold rapture beliefs and all these other things.

Is this also why, as a nation, the US seems to be so cavalier in its attitudes towards protecting the environment and on global warming and energy and other resource conservation? Other nations take the threat of global warming far more seriously. Are the rapturites in the higher echelons of government? This would be serious because then would influence major policy decisions. Lest you think this is far-fetched, it was not so long ago that James Watt, President Reagan's Secretary of the Environment, seemed to echo rapturite ideas.

I have not been able to find another source for the 44% statistic quoted in the film but the popularity of beliefs that strike me as bizarre no longer surprises me. After all, many people believe in miracles (89%), the devil (68%), hell (69%), ghosts (51%), astrology (31%) and reincarnation (27%), for none of which does there exist any empirical evidence whatsoever.

It can be argued that believing in the rapture is no more preposterous that the standard religious belief in a god who can intervene in the natural world, and that would be true. But the policy consequences can be very different. All these other religious beliefs have been around for a long time and are compatible with people having long term goals and interests. Atheists and non-rapture religious people can share common concerns about the environment and work together to create a better world for future generations. The rapture belief is particularly unsettling because it is such a short term belief and can have serious negative policy consequences that affect us all. Having such a large number of people subscribing to such beliefs can throw a real wrench into any planning for solving long range problems.

In the short term, it can lead to some wacky ideas. For example, there was a recent report that a group of evangelical Christians are planning a Biblical theme park in Israel that could also serve as a launching pad for the rapture.

If a crackpot idea appears on the horizon, can our old friend Pat Robertson be far behind? And sure enough, behind that theme park idea is that go-to man for every loony idea related to Christianity, whom I have come depend upon for a supply of black humor. Robertson can even explain why Sharon had a stroke. He says: "Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is being punished by God for dividing the Land of Israel. Robertson, speaking on the “700 Club” on Thursday, suggested Sharon and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by an Israeli extremist in 1995, were being treated with enmity by God for dividing Israel. “He was dividing God’s land,” Robertson said. “And I would say, Woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the E.U., the United Nations or the United States of America. God says, This land belongs to me. You better leave it alone.” (See the video here.)

Why is Robertson so adamantly opposed to any plan for a future Palestinian state? One explanation for this is that the rapturites believe that the expansion of Israel is a precursor to the coming of the rapture and thus strongly oppose any plan that involves even the remote possibility of creating a Palestinian state, showing once again how damaging rapture beliefs can be.

This particular piece of Robertson buffoonery was too much for the Israeli government that until then had seemed to be willing to play along with the rapture idea (even though the rapture itself foretells a particularly nasty end for Jews) because of the booming Christian tourist industry it generated in Israel. They cut Robertson out of the deal. Whereupon he immediately apologized, proving that old adage "money talks."

The Porpoise-Driven Wife

Bill O'Reilly warned us that allowing gay marriage would eventually lead to interspecies marriage and for once he was right, as can be seen from this story of a woman who fell in love with, and eventually married, a dolphin.

If some religious people are having conniptions over gay marriage, imagine what they will say over this. Can the Armageddon be far behind?

(By the way, whoever at Media Matters came up with "The Porpoise-Driven Wife" deserves a prize for the best headline of the year.)

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Comments

Mano,

I doubt that every other person you pass on Euclid Ave. believes in rapture. People who don't believe the rapture is imminent probably have a pretty clear majority here. The rural south and midwest is a whole other story.

It would, indeed, be interesting to read a study about how people who believe in the rapture behave WRT saving, life insurance, etc. I think I heard a theory somewhere that the sexual repression that exists in Christianity stemmed from early Christians' belief that the end times were so near that it would be immoral to bring children into the world.

Posted by Trish on January 30, 2006 01:14 PM

Where I grew up the opposite question would have to be asked: where are the 54% that do not believe the rapture is going to happen soon?

Notice in this map that we live in the bluest county in Ohio. I grew up in a county more pink. It is interesting how belief systems are so regionalized evein within our own state.

Posted by Aaron Shaffer on January 30, 2006 01:16 PM

Bush does not want people to talk about global warming - check out this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/29/science/earth/29climate.html?_r=1

Posted by arvin on January 30, 2006 02:06 PM

I enjoyed that movie as well. (Thanks Aaron) I wonder if that means that 44% of our populace now belong to evangelical/fundamentalist churches that profess this belief, or if they've picked up the belief from the Media, the Left Behind Series, etc.

When I was growing up I'd never even heard of the Rapture. I'd heard of Armageddon, but was taught that people had been saying the end times were nigh for millenia, and thus one should take it all with a grain of salt.

According to http://www.religioustolerance.org/rapture.htm The rapture is a fairly recent 19th century interpretation of scripture only followed by a minority of christians. The 1800's also seems to be a time period when the split between the mainstream and evangelical/fundamentalist protestants really took hold. According to http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/sbaptists.html This was the time when the Southern Baptists split from the Northern (now American) Baptists due to their conflicting beliefs regarding slavery.

I realize we've cycled through many conservative and liberal times regarding religion over the centuries, but what about our times is it that has made something once considered a fairly obscure belief to have taken such hold. Is it due to ease of communication? Fear? Something else? I don't think I've ever met anyone who actually believes in the rapture either, but I seem to hear about these beliefs far more often now than before.

An interesting take on the resources issue can be found in an excerpt from a textbook that was posted on http://www.beliefnet.com/story/161/story_16152_1.html The gist of it was that when God gave us dominion over all he made sure to give us enough resources as well. Thus our worries about running out show a lack of faith in him to provide. It's a rather convenient little defense, but then again what do I know? I lack faith!

Posted by cool on January 30, 2006 03:10 PM

Even growing up in church, I had never heard of/understood the rapture until Mano talked about it (and the Simpsons mocked it soon after).

I'd have to poll to be certain, but I'm fairly confident that I only know 1 person that believes in the rapture. If any other religious person that I knew believe in it, I would be shocked. Needless to say, I don't have much faith in that 44% statistic.

"Aw, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Fourteen percent of all people know that."

And yes, I just spend 5 minutes looking up the exact text of that quote.

Posted by Barry on January 30, 2006 03:29 PM

I wonder, along with cool, why it is that the rapture is so appealing at this time. It is not just a religious belief, it seems to be a deliberate turning away from the world.

I can understand Barry's skepticism about the 44%. So was I but the person who said that in the movie was Sam Harris. He has studied religion and written a book The End of Faith that has been well received. I have been meaning to get it and see what it says.

I think that Aaron and Trish are probably right, we just happen to live in a largely rapture-free zone. That's a pity, in some ways. I would have liked to have talked with some of them to see what is so appealing about this belief. The guy in the movie Scott Butcher seems like a nice guy to talk with.

Posted by Mano Singham on January 30, 2006 03:56 PM

Do you suppose it is that the Rapture itself is appealing, or merely that it comes as part of the fundamentalist package? This sector of Protestantism seems to be gaining mass appeal.

It's an easy religion to follow, all you have to do is accept Christ and you win the Kingdom of Heaven. The Rapture is both part of the package of this form of Christianity, but also one of their marketing tools. Buy into Christ, win salvation. Don't buy into Christ and you'll be writhing in agony on Earth while the saved watched the battle from above.

When you take this compelling message and broadcast it on T.V. to the comfort of your home (Where a kindly preacher can heal your afflictions if you put your palm on the screen and pray), or you spread it from the pulpit of the megachurch that offers comfy seating, daycare, and an inexpensive buffet restaurant, then you make it even easier for people to join the program.

With threats like the Rapture and eternal damnation one can imagine why more people would want to take Pascal's Wager.

Is such a desire for future happiness based on unhappiness here? Or is it based on fear of something worse? How can one make objective moral and practical decisions about life here and now and life in the future on this planet if one is planning a future that exists somewhere else?

Posted by cool on January 30, 2006 05:00 PM

Cool,

I think that the belief in the rapture must be based on some deep unhappiness here, some deep dissatisfaction with the world as it is. It seems to me to be similar to the wish that people sometimes have that if they just died, they would be free of the troubles that face them. It is not quite a suicidal wish, but a desire to have the decision made for them.

Normal religious beliefs are more forward looking.

Posted by Mano Singham on January 31, 2006 08:59 AM

My Inaugural Address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!

At: http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman

Your jaw will drop!


Posted by Secret Rapture on February 22, 2006 01:46 PM

The real issue here is of poor education, in science and more generally. Leading to people accepting pleasing views that do not challenge them.

To be internally critical of your beliefs and courageous in their application in the real world even in the light of opposition is an ideal not just Christians should live up to.

Posted by de Jersey on September 23, 2006 07:33 PM

Alright. So here it goes. Some people decide to buy life insurance. Well that is all fine and good if you believe that the world isn't going to end. What I can suggest to these to these people is to buy term life insurance. Why? Because the world might not end for maybe 10 or 20 years.

Ok. So I'm joking. I like to make lots of funny posts about this on my site.

Posted by Buy Life Insurance on January 10, 2010 09:21 PM

Every person holds interesting beliefs... I'd dare say that some of your most deeply held beliefs would be surprising or "bizarre" to the majority of the people you interact with on a day to day basis. It doesn't mean that your beliefs are wrong or that theirs are.

Also, to say that the majority of "rapturists" as you call them make policy decisions based on that belief is relatively ludicrous. No "rapturist" with a brain would say they know when it will happen, which would require them to continue life with the possibility that it won't happen in their lifetime.

Also, to point to the most ridiculous religious nuts on the planet as the "leaders" of general religious movements is frustrating and demeaning to religious people that have little to no presence in the public eye but actually make up the vast majority of actual religious people in the United States.

Posted by Term Life Insurance RockStar on April 20, 2010 05:47 PM

Everyone beliefs vary, people of other countries do things and worship everyday to what seems normal and they look at the rest of the world like they are crazy.

Posted by Ohio Life Insurance on April 22, 2010 11:32 AM

It is so fashionable to belittle people who hold beliefs that have been fostered for thousands of years. We, who believe new scientific theories (which are often discredited in our own lifetimes, such as the model of matter) are so superior to them.

Posted by Life insurance for a term on April 22, 2010 03:09 PM

Thanks Mano,

I must agree that you raise a very interesting question & I haven't personally met a lot of people that believe in rapture either. What astonishes me is the overwhelming number of people that are so easily converted to believing in such things without an ounce of proof. Faith is a very important skill to master but must not be confused by delusion.

Posted by Cover Critical Illness on July 26, 2010 12:07 AM

While I am a Christian, I am also one that has a commitment to studying the Bible. It clearly states that the end times "will come like a thief in the night".

No one can possibly know when it will actually happen...but we can be assured that it will.

Those that believe it will happen in their life time are also the same people who call themselves "Christians" yet say that Jesus wasn't born of a virgin birth, or any of those other bizarre statistics that float out there.

Posted by jason the life insurance marketing champ on July 28, 2010 01:57 AM

Spirituality is a massive topic and is almost being considered a sensitive topic like religion. I also agree with the statement "Even growing up in church, I had never heard of/understood the rapture until Mano talked about it (and the Simpsons mocked it soon after)." Now I am enlightened. Thank you

Posted by Family Health Insurance Rate on August 20, 2010 09:10 PM

Like all of the other end-of-the-world as we know it theories, I am sure this date will peacefully pass by, just like all of the others. In the meantime, it certainly can make spending money on the latest gadget a guilt-free experience.

Posted by Calgary Life Insurance on August 27, 2010 05:16 AM

It's unbelivable. I thought that America was the bigest industrialzed place in the world, the most capitalist nation, where the religion became something like go to the bakery and buy a bread. In Europe I see the christianism just on sundays! hehehe

Strange...

Posted by Steig Larsson on September 10, 2010 05:52 PM

Do you think it is a way to not deal with the here and now? A belief that things will end abruptly so why invest in today? Thank you for a great post - I was not aware that so many people think like this. Gives you something to think about.

Posted by Jason Enckell on October 17, 2010 09:51 AM

Thanks for a great post - something to think about. I have never really thought about 'the end' and when you realize how many people not only believe it but live their lives by it, it makes you wonder. Thanks

Posted by Julie Heerdtman on October 19, 2010 08:13 AM

Rapture, physical belief and Armageddon. Yeah, we are all in a spiritual since "leading our lives," however, did anyone stop to think about the Mayan calendar ending this upcoming year? What were our ancient ancestors trying to tell us? This outweighs our corrupt capitalistic society in my mind. You?

Posted by simpsons box set on November 30, 2011 09:33 PM