Apocalypse, interrupted

The May 21 prophesy fizzled but was kind of fun while it lasted

May 21, 2011|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

Still here, are we?

I must confess to some disappointment that May 21 has come and gone and we all seem to be accounted for.

That a largely unknown 89-year-old radio preacher crunched some biblical numbers and turned May 21 into a worldwide mission or Internet meme or, who knows, the best punking ever — well, it was such a great spectacle that in some mischief-loving corner of my heart I was hoping it wasn't all hokum.

Tell me you weren't at least a little curious to see what the rapture would actually look like. A lot of depictions seemed to envision it lyrically, all harp music and people turning angelic and floating upward, like in an ad for a new anti-depressant.

But, c'mon, this is 2011! Don't you think it's likelier that there would have been a space shuttle-like throttle-up, with the chosen perhaps sprouting personal rocket boosters to get them through earth's atmosphere and finally getting the lyrics right to "It's The End of The World As We Know It." ("Vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched …").

So I feel cheated that the hype never materialized. It was sort of fun indulging in the what-ifs and just-maybes of apocalyptic thinking.

When I realized that the May 21st prophecy coincided with Preakness 2011, for example, it all started to make sense. Or rather, Kegasus made sense: Obviously, he is one — or would it be a half of one? — of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Once you started looking for signs of the Apocalypse, they turn up everywhere.

How else can you explain the Orioles' utterly soul-sapping week — blowing a 6-0 lead to the Red Sox on Monday, losing in the 15th inning to the Yankees on Wednesday, rolling over and exposing their bellies in that 13-2 game on Thursday, then giving up two touchdowns and a field goal in their 17-5 loss to the Nationals on Friday?

Could it be … Satan?

But perhaps my greatest disappointment in the stalled doomsday scenario is that all those people who had decided that they knew the time and hour of the rapture are still among us.

To be honest, I wouldn't have been entirely sad to see some of them high-tail it out of here. The kind of people who are so sure that they've earned eternal life — and are equally sure that others haven't — what can I say but, a: That's a wee bit sanctimonious on your part, and b: Don't let gravity hit you in the butt on your way up.

Maybe that's a mite harsh. I do think there are people who believe in this sort of scenario for the end of the world for entirely sincere reasons. I just wonder if Harold Camping, the 89-year-old radio broadcaster behind the May 21 prophecy (as well as a previous and equally incorrect 1994 prediction) is one of them.

Although he details a rather dense explanation for how he's determined the date — it apparently involves time-stamping when the floods prompted Noah to built his ark, and how May 21, 2011, is exactly 7,000 years later — it's apparently not all pure math. Camping has also noted recent tragic disasters, such as the earthquake in Japan and the tornadoes in the South, as well as the greater tolerance of gays as part of why the end was supposed to be near.

"There has always been some homosexuality in the world, of course, but now it is successful everywhere it turns," Camping told The Washington Post earlier this month. "Whole nations no longer consider it a sin, even though it is a sin. It fits into place now — God has orchestrated this to indicate we are right at the end. We are at the threshold of being destroyed by fire and brimstone."

So suddenly it's not just a guy armed with a Bible and a calculator. So maybe it's not quite so funny.

It makes me wish real life was more like a Woody Allen movie. Remember that scene in Annie Hall, where he's stuck in line in front of a blowhard going on and on about the theories of Marshall McLuhan? And the Woodster produces McLuhan himself, who proceeds to tell the guy how he doesn't know what he's talking about?

Too bad no one could produce the Big Guy on Saturday to similarly set Camping straight.


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