By now, should Camping have been correct, those of us left on this rapidly self-destructing earth should have been faced with a massive clean-up effort after the true believers were caught up in heaven on May 21. At least I suppose there would be a massive clean-up effort--those rolling earthquakes that were supposed to start in New Zealand and move around the earth would certainly have left a lot of destruction.
I grew up with these Rapture scenarios--and they scared me. What if I wasn't actually saved? What about all those people driving cars and piloting planes and operating heavy machinery and nuclear plants when they suddenly disappeared--and the cars and planes crashed and the heavy machinery kept going without guidance and the nuclear plants melted down--well, you can visualize the rest.
What scared me more is that it appeared that God really doesn't care about the whole world, only for the few that had managed to worm their way into God's pleasure. I remember being highly convinced that there were only a tiny number of "real" Christians, that is, those who believed exactly as I did. As for the rest--I did genuinely feel sorry for them, but there was also a unspoken and barely acknowledged gleeful sense of, "I'm in, they are out--makes me pretty special, doesn't it?"
All this makes for an amazingly mean and unloving deity and an amazingly mean and unloving group of people who are followers of such a deity. Why is there such a strong human penchant for a God who delights in sending much of humanity to eternal damnation?
Also, if God is really that cruel, then our only hope is to appease such a one. However, does appeasement work when such cruelty is at the existential core?
At the risk of my own eternal torment here, I call such a deity extraordinarily wicked. Why? Because I've known and read about way too many people who actually operate that way. They use power to declare certain ones "in" and certain ones "out" and demand obeisance and penance and appeasement to keep their wrath from falling even on the apparently favored ones. They are the tyrants that destroy others in order build up their own fiefdoms. They lead families, run businesses, populate the political world, start wars, stimulate terrorism, and make everyone around them miserable, using fear, guilt and punishment as ways to keep the less powerful dancing to their inner and twisted tunes.
Why do we want such Gods? I think because we ourselves like being capricious tyrants, so we need God to be a tyrant in order to justify our own actions. Some of the most evil people I know cloak their words and actions with "god-language" to mask their despicable thoughts and actions. They need God to be equally despicable, so they can justify their actions by claiming they were prodded by their God.
Was Harold Camping, the 89 year old self-taught Bible scholar an evil man? In some of the articles I read about him, he certainly doesn't come across that way. Yet he intentionally left the church behind, a church that might have helped keep him accountable to a larger body of biblical interpretation, and led a large group of people into deception and some real foolishness--like spending their children's educational funds because they thought they wouldn't need them.
I know the church has problems--but I have long decided that anyone who says he or she alone has the proper interpretation of Biblical truths with no willingness to listen to other scholars and seekers after wisdom and godliness is indeed a dangerous person--and may have very well crossed over the line to evil, however unintentional.
This is why I chose to become part of a connectional church. The United Methodist Church, for all its faults--and I can name them easily--does not let its pastors and leaders make pronouncements without accountability and needed checks from other sources. This journey to salvation cannot be done in isolation, or we'll wander off the path for sure. Unfortunately, Mr. Camping did exactly that, and many will suffer because of his arrogance.