The beginning of this blog and end of the world

Read this post now because we won’t be here tomorrow, at least that’s what Harold Camping of Family Radio Worldwide has persuaded a good many Christians. Jesus will return sometime before midnight, and faithful Christians will join him in the air. Everyone else is in for six months of hard times (we’re talking an apocalypse of Ghostbusters proportions) and then God will wrap it all up in October.

This tattoo expresses the bearer’s faith that he or she will be lifted into the skies to be with Jesus, maybe even sometime today.

Photo and tattoo by Veracious Rey (courtesy of Wikipedia)

It’s tempting to make fun of May 21 predictions. It’s not only tempting, I already have,1 as have David Letterman, Joy Behar and Bill Maher (although I should point out I was making jokes first).

A number of Christians have called Campbell an outright heretic and others have laughed him off as a lunatic. On the other hand, many of Campbell’s followers are no doubt certain that they will comprise the bulk of the saved taken at Rapture. If a Christian doesn’t believe in the Rapture, how can he really be a Christian?

In other words, it’s business as usual for Christians in America. There is an infectious paranoia that seems to run through mainstream Christianity on both sides of the liberal divide. Conservative Christians threaten to rob us of our civil liberties, liberal Christians threaten the survival of the faith.

Conservative Christians tend to be slightly more vocal with their concerns (the wave of “culture war” books started from their side), convinced that if they don’t cry wolf on broadcast television and radio, they will lose the culture war and be driven to extinction. This runs counter to the whole theme of Rapture since it doesn’t matter how the secular world treats us, Jesus is taking us away from the real catastrophe. But that’s how paranoia works.

It doesn’t matter that no one in America can be forced to pray to a God they don’t worship in public meetings and schools. Christians are being persecuted because they can’t force other people and their kids to pray to Jesus. This seems odd, because I grew up with stories lamenting the fact that Hebrews and Christians were forced by foreign empires to pray to Babylonian and pagan Gods.

The lesson was that the faithful should be willing to prove their faith rather than bow to persecution to conform to secular agendas, not that they should impose their faith agendas on others.

The faithful should never bow to pressure to pray to other gods. But the beauty of America is that public schools and institutions can’t force Christians to pray to Allah, or Rama Krishna or God sans Christ. Protestants don’t have to observe Catholic ritual, and Catholics don’t have to observe Protestant ritual.2

No one can legally force Christians to practice safe, premarital sex, oral sex or even watch sexual acts in performance. No one can force Christians to take drugs, profess communism or vote for Democrats. No one can force Christians to swear allegiance to America (although Christians are the first to frown should someone else decline), as believers were forced to do by empires in the Bible.

Personally, I thank God whenever I think about it that I live in a country where Baptists don’t have to behave like Episcopalians and vice-versa. How many other countries do that? Can you imagine being Shia in a Sunni country, or a Palestinian in Israel? Remember what it was like for Moslems under the Taliban in Afghanistan?

How great do we have it? We can carry Bibles in public, and testify to our faith in college classes. This is where the paranoia creeps in, however, because that’s not good enough. As long as another classmate can say being Christian is stupid, we’re being persecuted.

Christians will only truly be free when the debate and culture are one-sided. America won’t be truly Christian until Christians can tell their classmates they’re going to hell and force everybody to pray in class, but their classmates can’t say Christianity is stupid or that they don’t want to pray. I’m not going to mention the Golden Rule here, but….

Oh, I just did.

Too many Christians have declared their righteous indignation. They are appalled that the America that treated them so well treats atheists, agnostics, Moslems and liberals just as well.

Jesus told a parable about laborers who were hired to work his vineyard for the same amount of money even though some started work later (Matthew 20). The employees who worked the longest felt they’d been treated unfairly. The employer had to remind them that he paid them what they agreed to work for. It wasn’t unfair for him to reward others as he saw fit.

It seems to me that what Christians are really suffering is righteous indigestion. God has graced us with more blessings than believers in any other country, but we don’t want to benefit from the fruits of our faith if people who believe differently benefit as well. We forget that many of the revolutionaries and soldiers who fought to earn and maintain those rights weren’t Christians. They deserve those rights as much as we do.

The weird thing is, I get it. I get it because I grew up as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK). In a Baptist Preacher’s Family (BPF) you have to make sure everyone is behaving just like you because you don’t want your parents, siblings or children to go to hell. So you don’t even give your BPF the choice. You remind them daily that they’re going to hell if they don’t behave and believe just like you.

Atheists, agnostics, liberals, leftists and even Moslems fought and fight today to secure our rights, but we can’t let them enjoy those rights because it isn’t in their best interest. They need to find the grace of God as we did. We can’t just thank them for our freedom to worship and express our faith, we have to deny them those rights and force them to find salvation.

There’s also the verse to consider, “one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.” If you let a few things slide, let a few people slack off from praying in public, then you’re opening the door for everybody to backslide. Of course, it isn’t a verse, at least not in the Bible, but there are one or two verses that can be made to sound like it.

And that’s where the paranoia returns. These agnostics and atheists may have fought to secure our freedoms, but the freedom they enjoy to not worship God could tempt us to follow suit. If we allow them the right to disbelieve, or watch porn, or vote for Obama, we could be seduced into the same lifestyle. And if not us, our children.

We can’t have that.

It shouldn’t surprise us to realize that belief in the Rapture spread as the the fear of Communism rose. It might have been okay for Christians to believe in a millennium of peace before Christ’s return before the French Revolution and the rise of labor and communism, but not after. Violent public action left people with fears of apocalypse, and suddenly Jesus needed to get here first.

After all, he had already shed his blood. Why should we shed ours?

Christians couldn’t be expected to survive a world where atheist secular powers could rob them of their religious freedoms (freedoms they never had in the time of Christ and the apostles). Once they had a taste of Christian empire, they could not be expected to go back to persecution. And as long as Christians remained in the world they faced the threat of extermination, or worse, co-option.

What better deus ex machina than The Rapture? Before it gets really bad, we opt out.

It’s time for another illustration, whether we need one or not. This is a vision of Jesus rescuing souls from hell on earth.

(courtesy of wikimedia/public domain)

Sooner or later Christians need to realize that we will always face difficulties, even when we have it as good as we do in America. Christians are supposed to suffer. Suffering encourages us to refocus on our faith, and through the practice of our faith we learn to escape suffering. How do we practice our faith? By serving others rather than demanding they cater to us—even if those others don’t believe as we do, and think we are fools to do so.

In short, we don’t need to be Raptured to be at peace with the Lord or in the world. No matter how bad it gets.

And members of the religious right who are so desperate to be Raptured should remember that they will survive eight years of Obama the way they survived eight years of Clinton. The way my friends and fellow believers survived twelve years of Reagan/Bush and another eight, under another Bush, that were even worse.

Maranatha


1Mainly in my reviews of the Crossway ESV Bibleback and Just 1 Wordonline Bibles for iPad Envy. If it strikes you that this footnote is little more than a shameless attempt at self promotion, you might be right. But I also didn’t want to simply copy and paste the jokes into this post without giving credit to whom credit is due. Even if it’s me.

2Many Americans don’t even know that Christians were killed on both sides in wars between Catholic and Protestant political powers prior to the enlightenment and in Ireland as late as the last century. Even during the nineteenth century Protestant missionaries were killed in Mexico, including (my Baptist grandparents never failed to remind me) members of my own family.back


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