The Rapture and Religion

May 20th, 2011

In Constitutional Law, no other topic made me as rapt (no pun intended) as free exercise and establishment clause cases. I usually don’t write about religion (other than using excessive Yiddish colloquialisms) because I find the topic so personal. Specifically, I have not opined about May 21, 2011, which a sect has determined is the date of the rapture. But, I had a few thoughts.

The ridicule against this sect has been enormous. They are the butt of every joke, and everyone takes relish in making fun of them.

How ludicrous, detractors say: that some preacher can read the bible, add and subtract some numbers, and figure out the exact day and time (6:00 PM EST) that the world will end, and those who practiced a certain lifestyle will rise to heaven. Even pious people, who may have beliefs that the rapture will come, at some later time, criticize this preacher.

For what it’s worth, I do not believe the world will end tomorrow. Way too much cool stuff ahead. Also, I won’t bother probing the motives or motivations of this sect, or what they’ll say when the world is still here tomorrow (probably blame an arithmetic error). Too easy.

My point is a little bit more meta. Is this sect’s theory any more ludicrous than a belief system that postulates that after a person’s heart stops beating, and he assumes room temperature, a soul (whatever that is) ascends to the heavens (wherever that is). The soul is adjudged before an omnipotent being (whoever that is) at the pearly gates. His entire life is reviewed instantly. If he led a good life, he is admitted to eternal paradise. If not, he is sent to a land of eternal torment and punishment. Or, after a person dies, he is reincarnated in the form of a different animal. Or, after a person dies as a martyr he receives 72 virgins. Etc.

All religions have their own vision of what happens in the afterlife. Is it really that different to say that these amazing things in the afterlife happen to believers on May 21, 2011, or after someone dies? Putting aside my own beliefs, objectively, I am not willing to say they are much different.

People, perhaps insecure in their own faith, and unsure of what is to come, feel free to impugn this  group. To doubt this sect’s beliefs is to doubt all religious beliefs, which are inherently premised on faith and are largely unprovable dogmas. And that, is really the animating factor in this ridicule. It is not politically correct to attack people for being religion; but it is open season to make fun of this sect, outside the mainstream.

This scorn isn’t just from non-religious people. I asked a devout Christian I know if she was ready for rapture. She said no. I asked why. She said this leader was a kook. I asked her how she knew? She said her preacher (presumably who has a better window into God’s plans) would know when rapture is coming. It’s easy enough for religious people to laugh at this preacher in California, but are their own personal beliefs much different?

This is why I don’t like to write about religion. A person’s beliefs are so personal. I’m not prepared to sit in judgment of someone else’s beliefs, or criticize their freedom of conscience.