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The Good News is that the World Will End May 21st

Laurie Essig teaches at Middlebury College and is the author of American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards and Our Quest for Perfection. Essig writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm Blog, where this post originally appeared.
Photo of Judgment Day van by Scott Beale at Laughing Squid
photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

Like many people walking around Wall Street this weekend, I received a pamphlet telling me that Jesus is coming to wrap up this project known as the children of God. According the the pamphlet, on May 21st, 2011 there will be a deadly earthquake. There will be dead bodies in October of this year. The saved will rise up with Christ. The rest of us will suffer damnation here on earth. The people who gave me this pamphlet are part of Project Caravan, whose slogan is:

“Have you heard the awesome news? The end of the world is almost here!”

It’s awesome because it’s the Rapture, when the Righteous rise up to Heaven but everyone else is left to live out the End Days.

If you didn’t receive a pamphlet, perhaps you saw the subway or bus shelter placards warning of the End Days? These were bought with the retirment savings of Robert Fitzpatrick, a retired MTA employee and a Staten Island resident who is so convinced of the timing of the Apocalypse that he saw no need to save for his dotage. He is not alone.

The knowledge that May 21st will mark the beginning of the end was provided to us by Harold Camping, 89, who is president of the Christian Family Radio Network. Technically, Camping said that was the day there’s be a huge earthquake and Christ would come back down to earth, but the actual end wouldn’t happen till October. There are now thousands of believers roaming the earth to warn us even though technically Camping did predict the end of the world  in 1994 and he seems to have been wrong about that (unless the world did end and the actual torment is having to watch US politics devolve to the point where the Donald was actually a viable presidential candidate for more than two seconds?).

EssigI just searched “help me be part of the Rapture” and didn’t find much useful advice. It seems I’m supposed to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior and follow certain Evangelical Christian beliefs- like I’m morally superior to the rest of you sinners AND I get to control what you do with your bodies in the name of God- but the specifics of it are kinda unclear. If I truly believe that the End Days are here, can I spend all my savings on massages, really good champagne, and quit work? Is that going to hurt my chances of rising up and leaving you behind?  Can I rack up credit card debt even though technically I won’t be able to pay it back- – or is that  theft and is theft a big enough sin to actually keep me here in eternal torment AND having to pay back huge credit card balances? More importantly, can I do whatever I want until Thursday and then repent, accept Jesus Christ, live a homo and abortion free life for say 24 hours and then rise up?

As important as these questions are it is also worth asking what the possible lesson of the movement for End Days is about?  The Evangelical Christians most likely to spread the word about the Rapture are probably also those who have been hurt hardest by the current economic collapse– people without high levels of education who work in industries that have mostly been outsourced elsewhere.  They are also, like the rest of us, probably struggling to understand how the stock market can be “robust” and the Wall St. execs getting record bonuses even as unemployment, homelessness, and chronic hunger continue to rise.

In this sense, the appearance of Rapture-ites on Wall St. makes total sense since the workings of global capital are a great and unknowable mystery. Like all divinity stories, there is this sacred land, Wall Street, where magical and yet incomprehensible rituals and words fly about, like leverage and trading derivatives, all of which is then symbolized by numbers and signs.

And so the numbers of a thriving Dow intermingle with the equally inscrutable terms in Numerology to form a coherent set of meanings about “unrest in the Middle East,” “Osama’s death,” and, of course, the weather. Although I doubt Camping is any more accurate than the Mayans (who predict 2012 will be the end), I do think this sort of terror and desire to be set free from suffering without reason and seeing without comprehending is a universal human desire to escape. Not unlike my champagne and massage plan. Because if the world is ending this Friday, I want to make sure I have as good a chance at coming out ahead as anyone.