Friday 20 May 2011

The Rapture's Not So Funny for the Kids

So US evangelical, "family values" guy and "End Times" expert Harold Camping has predicted the Rapture for May 21 at 6pm. At that time, he says, true, born-again Christian believers will be miraculously transported into the sky to meet with Jesus, leaving unbelievers behind, and the catastrophic natural disaster signalling the end of the world will begin.

Fundamentalist fanatics like Camping have been making predictions like this for years. In the 1970s, Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth was a bestseller on the back of the same kooky type of claims. But this latest prophecy is the first to hit the big-time in the internet viral age, when crazy stories spread worldwide with a click via Twitter and Facebook. It's ridiculous, and therefore it's funny.

But amid the hilarity of the news reports, the cartoons and the YouTube parodies, there's a very, very dark side to this Rapture-mania. Look at the family on the left. They're the Haddads, a Maryland family who put their lives on hold to prepare for tomorrow's Rapture. What are those three kids -- 14-year-old Joseph and twins Grace and Faith, 16 -- thinking?

I remember what I was thinking when, at the age of 15, I first heard about the Rapture. It was a Sunday night, and the sermon left me very, very sad. We'd be caught up to be with Jesus, my pastor said, but those who didn't believe would be left behind. All that whirred through my mind as I went home that night was the thought of my dad, an unbeliever, waking up one morning to find his family gone. I imagined him getting up at 4am, as he did 364 days a year to keep the family business going, and not finding my mom beside him. I couldn't stop thinking of the loneliness he would feel as he checked my bedroom and my sister's and found them empty. It was painful to imagine my dad going slowly about his daily routine with the people he loved most in the world gone forever.

But that was all part of the package with that kind of religious fundamentalism. Youth group, your parents have to convert, or they're going to hell while you go to heaven. Ladies, get your husbands saved, or you're being raptured while he stays on Earth to rot. Families, make sure you all have Jesus in your heart, because if not, you'll be torn apart forever.

Adults fall for this eschatological quackery, but when it affects children, it's tragic. It's an emotional and psychological abuse of vulnerable young minds. Evangelicals who subject their children to this can cast aside the rhetoric about the importance of a strong, loving family made up of mom, pop and two kids. Because, apparently, for these Christians, God's traditional family values end on Judgement Day.