Like most everyone I know, I’ve been pretty entertained by this whole the-world-is-ending-on-May-21 spectacle. I’ve gotten a kick of those who are planning post-rapture looting parties, or are signing up to be the caretakers of the pets of those who are raptured. I looked through several fabulous pamphlets, including “Another Infallible Proof” and “I Hope God Will Save Me,” from which I learned that about three percent of the population will be saved; that the Bible contains multiple infallible proofs, related to both the timing of the Flood and the Crucifixion; that God’s message is not meant to be easily understood; and that gay pride is a sign of the end.
(I was less interested in the numerical calculations than in the theology, which seems pretty hard core Calvinist. God will save whom God will save, and nothing you can do can in any way contribute to your salvation. This was repeated throughout the pamphlets in emphasized boxes. I was a bit surprised in that I was expecting an invitation at the end to recite the Sinner’s Prayer and accept Jesus, thus giving you a way out of the coming doom—but according to this group, the best you can do is express to God a desire to be saved. And here’s the kicker: God might or might not decide to do so, and it’s not up to you to dictate that. In that context, that nothing you do makes any difference, I don’t really understand the purpose of the billboards. Unless they’re simply meant as announcements, as opposed to calls to repentance.)
But as entertaining as I find all this, it’s hard to laugh too hard at other people’s religious ideas without seeing angels and gold plates out of the corner of my eye. Yes, this all sounds pretty crazy to me, and I have serious questions about the way this guy is interpreting the Bible. But I also belong to a tradition with a lot of ideas that sound pretty wacky to outsiders (Kolob? polygamy? seerstones?), and which has put our own unique spin on particular biblical passages. Is it really all that much stranger to believe that God has put a numerical code into the Bible revealing the end of the world?
It’s tempting to draw a line. There’s the crazy people (the ones waiting to be raptured today), and then there’s the normal religious believers (us). We’ve certainly worked very hard to be respectable, to be mainstream. We talk about strong families and downplay deification. We build universities and play football. We don’t exercise spiritual gifts (like speaking in tongues) at church. We even have ads sharing this message: “I’m a normal person—and I’m a Mormon!” Nonetheless, I suspect that for many people, Mormons are only slightly less crazy than the May 21st-ers.
Of course, I’m still unpersuaded about the world ending. But that’s only because unlike everyone else out there, my crazy-sounding religious beliefs are actually true.
- 21 May 2011