Post by Derrick
Harold Camping’s Family Radio has gotten a great deal of unwarranted attention (and a pile of money, strangely) from its epically-failed May 21, 2011 prediction of the Rapture. (He now says it was “spiritual” in nature and says that we’re in for five months of judgment, culminating sometime in October.) The basis of his prediction was crazed–a concoction of speculation and numerology more like those spooky 19th-century extrapolations on the dimensions of Egyptian pyramids than any sort of recognizable Christian Eschatology.
The go-to counterargument, cited left, right and center, is Matthew 24:36, which claims no man knows the day or the hour. Even skeptics such as Phil Plait raise this point. Nobody seems to notice that this argument, that Camping has forgotten or ignored that particular verse, is simply flat wrong. Apparently, nobody actually went to the Family Radio web site (before it was taken down in a fit of pique), because Camping actually had a fairly extensive refutation of this claim, replete with scripture references.
I think it’s completely missing the point to criticize only Family Radio for supposedly ignoring scripture. We, as skeptics, ought to be pointing out that this is just one instance out of many where different groups of Christians pick and choose whatever verses suit their own individual fancies.
We’re quite familiar with Mainstream Christians’ tendency to pull out the No True Scotsman fallacy whenever that odious cult from Kansas claws their way back into the headlines. Again, the only skeptic I know of who regularly acknowledges the ample scriptural support for that hateful group’s anti-gay stance is Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience, who also points out that doctrinally, they are textbook Calvinists (who happen to have a particular single-issue fixation and a well-defined strategy for getting press.)
Both Family Radio and the Kansas Calvinists are practicing their religion as it is written just as much as anyone, despite their eccentricities. In point of fact, it’s the mainstream Christians who are ignoring more of the Bible, certainly the Old Testament. (To be sure, this is a good thing, and the more the better.)
When I see verses like Matthew 24:36, which do nothing but make excuses for the failure of God and scripture to measure up to any reasonable standard of verifiable truth, it makes me want to compile a list of what I call “sour grapes” bible verses. The epistles predict that followers and the word of god will be mocked by unbelievers; I frequently point out that this seems to be not so much a prophecy as an admission that Paul’s own message already wasn’t going over so well in some circles. If something is garnering ridicule, why would you consider that it might be actually ridiculous when you can jump to the conclusion that it’s all their fault, not your own. The verses which get thrown in my face about needing “spiritual discernment” in order to perceive that scripture is totally 100% true also goes on the list–you know your holy book isn’t looking so good when it needs to have sour-grapes excuses built right in.
So remember, children: don’t let these people play fast and loose with who is or isn’t on the level with their scripture. If nothing else, all these people running every which way is proof positive that not only is faith incapable of separating truth from fiction, it’s also proof positive that the bible is in no way the work of a perfect, infallible being. Not only would a perfect being not use so limited a tool as text to convey Truth-with-a-capital-T, if it did, wouldn’t they make it such that every person who read it must come to the same, exact, correct interpretation?