How About an End to End-of-the-World Predictions?

In the event that Christian radio evangelist Harold Camping is correct and the Rapture does indeed occur on Saturday (May 21), please ignore the following.

Except for the section marked "Tribulation Check List."

On your drive to Costco this weekend to restock your cache of toilet paper, hummus and Diet Snapple, if you see a car with a bumper sticker that reads, "In case of Rapture, this vehicle will be unmanned," give it a wide berth. Just in case.

Back in 2009, Camping (who will turn 90 in July if he doesn't meet Jesus in the sky this weekend), announced that, after years of Bible study and complicated mathematical figuring, he had determined that the Rapture will take place on May 21, 2011 followed by the end of the world (aka Apocalypse/Doomsday) on October 21.

Now that the date is nearly upon us, Camping's prediction is gaining traction in some quarters. Some of Camping's followers have quit their jobs (and their churches), sold their homes and given away their worldly possessions. The final countdown has begun and they're ready to go.

The "Rapture" is an event many Christians believe is described in 1 Thessalonians 4, where St. Paul writes, "And the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."

For millennia, Christians have debated when, where and how that event will take place. There are many competing schools of thought, some saying the Rapture will occur before a period of "tribulation" on the earth, marked by violence, natural catastrophes, plagues and general
horribleness. In this view, Jesus will scoop up the faithful and take them to heaven before the holy, um, stuff hits the fan down below.

Others say the Rapture will take place in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation. Still others believe it will come at the end of the Tribulation, or at some other point in time, or that those
"raptured" don't go to heaven, but instead to a designated spot on earth.

Generally speaking, though, trying to guess the actual date of the Rapture is considered a theological faux pas: Another verse in 1 Thessalonians says Jesus will return for his faithful "like a thief in the night." In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself seems to put the kibosh on predictions of his return, saying, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

Still, that hasn't stopped Camping and other likeminded folks throughout the ages from trying to figure it out.

This isn't the first time Camping has prognosticated about what is commonly called in Christian circles the "End Times." In 1992, Camping published a book called "1994?" in which he predicted the end of the world as we know it would arrive in September 1994. When it didn't --
awkward! -- Camping said he'd made a mistake in his mathematical computations. (I hate when that happens.)

Camping and his crew believe that when the Rapture happens, 200 million people will be "caught up" -- about 3 percent of the world's population. The other 97 percent of humanity will be left to fend for themselves amidst trials and tribulations heretofore unimagined, until Oct. 21, when the final curtain falls.

More than 23,000 people have joined a Facebook group that's promoting cheery soirees for May 22 -- a kind of spiritual equivalent of pre-Apocalyptic alternative proms for those not invited to the dance.

"Turn that frown upside down," the "Post Rapture Party" group urges its members. "Here's an invitation to the party of all parties. Why? Because on the Day After Judgment Day we'll finally have the world to ourselves without those wackadoodle Fundies in our faces. Let's party!!"

If you are reading this on Sunday and the neighborhood seems strangely quiet, you've probably been left behind. Here are a few helpful hints to consider before heading to your post-Rapture picnic.

Tribulation Check List:

1) Now is the time to settle on a definitive "desert island" play list of your favorite albums.

2) Rent a copy of the movie, "A Thief in the Night."

3) Buy sunscreen (SPF 50 or greater.)

4) Hoard bottled water.

5) Download "War and Peace" to your e-reader, load the latest edition of "Angry Birds" on your iPhone, and grab the family Bible. (You're going to have some time to kill.)

6) Cancel your subscriptions to The Economist and The New Yorker. (You still won't have enough time to read them through before the next issue arrives, and they'll just keep piling up, making you feel guilty.)

7) Redeem your Frequent Flyer miles.

8) Update iTunes.

9) Seek shelter (preferably in a remote cave.)

10) Change your Facebook status to "left behind."

This column was originally published via the Religion News Service.