For all I know, people in the western Pacific and eastern Asia are being bodily taken up into Heaven as I type, but I have found no credible news reports of such. Still, even if the world doesn’t end tomorrow, there’s still, as Britney Spears’s new music video reminds us, Dec, 21, 2012, to think about. So let’s think about the Rapture.
My friend the Rev. Ken Carter, pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte (and pastor of a United Methodist congregation here in Greensboro in the mid-1990s, when I met him), tweeted this:
references to #rapture end of world on fb [Facebook] & twitter allow cultured despisers to display free-floating aggression toward something: why? #God
Ken, as have been many members of my family over the years, is in the God business, so I understand his defensiveness. But, as I suspect he well knows, even many of us who count ourselves believers have been pretty hard on this whole world-is-ending-on-May-21 meme (guilty as charged here, here and here, for example).
For one thing, many, if not most, Christians rely on Jesus’s caution in Matthew 25:13: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” In other words, when Jesus comes again, it will be a surprise even to those who claim to know the Bible and the teachings of Jesus best.
But (allowing for the heightened risk of misunderstanding created by the 140-character limit of Twitter posts) Ken also, I think, is straying into a bit of broad-brush countercriticism of critics of the posted May 21 Rapture when he refers to those critics as “cultured despisers.”
For one thing, the phrase suggests he assumes that it’s only the “cultured” who “despise” the Rapture message — that, in other words, this is an issue of classism. Perhaps that’s not what Ken meant, but that’s how it comes across. And I know of no real evidence to suggest that May 21 Rapture criticism is rooted in classism.
He is right about aggression, but in many cases, I do not think that aggression is particularly free-floating. One of those cases is my own.
Because here’s the thing: Many of the same people who are touting the Rapture on the morrow are some of the same people who cling most tightly to beliefs that, counter to the teachings of Christ, increase the amount of human suffering in the world rather than alleviating it. And many of those people hold, or strongly influence those who hold, great political and economic power in our society, with the result that that power is used to make weaker people even more miserable than they already are.
Not only is this behavior bad in and of itself — direct disobedience of Christ’s teachings — it, in marketing terms, tarnishes the brand. It makes Christianity look silly and hypocritical, and some of us whom Ken dismisses as “cultural despisers” actually care a great deal for what these jackleg haters are hijacking.
Every time I read or hear about another instance of this kind of abuse of power, I want to slap someone. That’s not very Christian, I’ll be the first to admit. But neither is it “free-floating aggression” — against God or anything else worthy of worship. It’s a very focused aggression: focused on people who enjoy their power too much to stop using it for harmful ends or are too damned stupid to acknowledge their hypocrisy, let alone atone for the damage their beliefs and actions have caused.
I confess that another way in which I am an, ahem, imperfect Christian is that if the Rapture does come tomorrow, I expect that those who actually get Raptured will have been, like the boggle-eyed long-term employee who gets singled out for a lifetime-service surprise award at the company banquet, utterly unaware that they were among the Chosen. And I derive a distinctly un-Christian level of pleasure from the thought that after they’re gone, a lot of sanctimonious, self-righteous jerkwads who had taken special care not to drive tomorrow lest their driverless cars maim innocent (well, clearly not innocent if they’re still here) pedestrians after they were Raptured, will be left standing on the sidewalks, shaking their fists at the heavens and shouting, “Well? WELL?!?“
Eyes on the ball, people. The Second Great Commandment is the prize. Keep your eye on that, and it won’t matter when the Rapture comes.
(Image: Longcat and Tacgnol of Fark.com; caption by DivaGeek)