This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lessons of Doomsday 2011

Unless someone has hidden under a rock for the last week or so, it has been impossible to notice the the claims by Rev. Camping that the Rapture and Doomsday were to occur at 6 pm, EDT yesterday. The public took great delight in ridiculing his claims, Christian and non-Christian alike. He probably had it coming, least of which because we are advised not to be date setters. This verse included in the Gospels probably because the early Church had more than its share of those who believed the return of Christ was sure to happen on some set date - or imminently. Indeed, the letters of Paul and his calls for personal sexual sanctity come from this expectation.

I have never been one to believe in the Rapture of the faithful. The verse which says we shall meet the Lord in the air is more about individual end of life experience than a prophetic event - and it may be based on Paul's own near death experience when he was stoned and came back to life. Modern neuroscience is positing that such experiences can be chalked up to brain chemistry and physics - which makes sense since when one is dead, the organ that remembers things - the brain - is not working.

Belief in life after death requires more faith than belief in God, since no evidence is possible. Even reason fails us - since using reason one can only conclude that if we survive, we would experience a being whose very presence would annihilate our souls in the same way as if we had no soul or if only a Nirvana existed. Only through faith in a loving God is it possible to expect that whatever happens, we will be taken care of.

Much of the belief in the Rapture comes from Revelation 7:1-8, which states that twelve thousand people from each tribe of Israel shall be sealed. While the numbering has numerological significance, as significant is the fact that the children of Israel are called out, not the followers of Christ. If any kind of Rapture occurs, it would seem to apply to the Jews and descendants of the exiles of the Northern Kingdom - who frequent readers know I believe to be the Romany, as well as the Palestinians who can trace their ancestry to the David kingdom. (I don't recall inviting non-Israelite Protestants to our party - especially given their history of persecuting us - indeed, for that reason, they should not expect to be raptured).

Rather than being preserved, the followers of Christ are identified in Revelation 7:9-17 as those who suffered and died for the Jesus. It is a weakness of faith to want to go the easy route. In the early Church, glory was reserved for martyrs - those who would lose their lives for Christ - who would give all of their possessions and follow Jesus. There was no Prosperity Gospel or what we call "cheap grace" in the early church (or rather, there probably was, which is why it is mentioned and condemned).

This desire in the followers of Luther likely comes in reaction to as unhealthy obsession with personal salvation in the Roman Church, with the selling of indulgences to finance the building of St. Peter's Basilica acting as its own form of cheap grace, as is the obsession with mortal sin, especially sexual sin, in modern times and the need for frequent confession (an obsession which has thankfully declined in recent years).

The obsession with personal salvation leads to beliefs such as the rapture and the equally condemnable example of Bishop Olmsted excommunicating Sister Margaret McBride for allowing an indirect abortion to save the life of a woman dying of pulmonary hypertension because of her pregnancy. Had he not pronounced excommunication, he likely feared for the state of his own soul - in a very real way taking the life of another to save his own. Such an action, especially in the name of Christ, sets the Gospel on its ear.  As condemnable is the current campaign against gay marriage, including the denial of health benefits to all married Catholic Charities employees in the Archdiocese of Washington as a way to avoid paying them to gay spouses.

It is ironic that the Rapture was predicted for this weekend, as the reading today in the Roman Church was from the Acts of the Apostles where the Deacons were appointed so that the Apostles would not have to wait tables, but instead concentrate on preaching the Gospel. They were already forgetting the example of Jesus washing their feet and the parable of the Good Samaritan (brothers of the Romany), who helped the victim of an attack where members of the priest caste had not.

It is easy to see this as a commentary on the Jews. It is harder, but more necessary, to see this as a comment on what the Church should be focusing on - and what we should be focusing on as Christians - serving the least among us - both on an individual basis and in the public sphere. To deny the social nature of the Gospel is to again obsess on personal salvation rather than serving others as Jesus would have us serve them - not to get into Heaven, but to bring Heaven to the Earth, as we pray to do in the Our Father.


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