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Enraptured by Life

 Love, compassion and concern for others are real sources of happiness. If you have these in abundance, you will not be disturbed even by the most uncomfortable circumstances. If you nurse hatred, however, you will not be happy even in the lap of luxury. Thus, if we really want happiness, we must widen the sphere of love. This is both religious thinking and basic common sense.Dali Lama

Judgement day is feared by the world and is the day that God will destroy the world because of the sins of mankind.Harold Camping

Rapture 1. The state of being transported by a lofty emotion; ecstasy. 2. An expression of ecstatic feeling. Often used in the plural. 3. The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven. tr.v. rap•tured, rap•tur•ing, rap•tures To enrapture. [Obsolete French, abduction, carrying off, from rapt, carried away, from Old French rat, from Latin raptus; see rapt.]

For a small but vocal religious sect, May 21 was supposed to be the beginning of the end – the Biblical Rapture, when all God’s chosen were supposed to be taken up into Heaven and the rest of mankind left to wallow in calamitous misery until October, when it would all be over for everyone in one final fiery exhalation.

I was 95% sure it wouldn’t happen. But I’m always only about 95% sure I’ll be alive the next day. I’m a realist, and try keep a healthy margin of error for things like unexpected fatal heart attacks, slipping in the shower, choking on a bone, and random freak accidents. In 2009, in Spain, for example,  a pedestrian was killed when struck by a suicidal woman leaping to her death from the 8th floor of a building beneath which he was passing. I figure anything can happen.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised God didn’t come calling, but I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if something had happened. But it wouldn’t have been “the Rapture.” It would have been life.

I wonder if the end timers are disappointed? A lot of them were hanging a lot of hope on going to meet their Maker. I assume most will chalk it up to some sketchy math – Harold Camping’s end time algorithms (PDF) definitely leave something to be desired:

“…all we have to do is multiply the number of years separating two events by the number 365.2422 to know the exact number of days between them. So from April 1, 33 A.D. to April 1, 2011 there are exactly 2011 – 33 = 1,978 years, with each year having 365.2422 days. This equals 722,449 days. The number of days from April 1, 2011 to May 21, 2011 inclusively (including the first day and the last day) is 51 days. Adding these 51 days to the number 722,449 gives us exactly 722,500 days, from April 1, 33 A.D. to May 21, 2011 inclusively.

“…The number 722,500 is made up of two sets of identical significant numbers. Each number is intimately related to God’s salvation plan: 5 x 10 x 17 x 5 x 10 x 17 = 722,500 “The atonement or redemption demonstrated by Christ’s suffering and death on April 1, 33 A.D. (the number 5) is 100% completed on May 21, 2011 (the number 10) when all the true believers are raptured into Heaven (the number 17).

I share this not to mock Mr. Camping who, like all of us, is certainly entitled to his own beliefs and has endured his share of mockery lately, but to suggest that his was simply an easy, amusing and titillating story for mainstream media to harness, and to  openly consider the best use of our days, whether they are numbered or not.

From CNN to MSNBC, a misguided preacher from California with a nonsensical end time message got more press than  floods in Mississippi , a suicide bombing in Kabul , the Watson computer being employed as medical database  or French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde stepping in to replace disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn .The fact that such a silly story can dominate the news for more than a week, giving short shrift to stories of real import might be the real sign of the end times – bread and circuses and all that.

But living with the belief that only in death we’ll find eternal happiness? What kind of way is that to live, waiting to die, whittling away the hours castigating others for their perceived shortcomings and failures and sins, while all around people are hungry and homeless and unloved? Surely there are better ways to spend one’s last days on Earth, if one truly believes they’re so precisely numbered.

Art Shostak, whom I’ve mentioned here before, shares stories of people truly living on the edge of end times: Holocaust victims for whom every day quite likely could have been – and for many in fact was – their last day on Earth. In his essay, The Future of Holocaust Memorialization: Altruism in Extremes, which I reviewed at Art Not Hate, Shostak explores how concentration camp prisoners and others defied the inhumanity thrust upon them by exercising compassion and care in the face of sure death for doing so. Shostak seeks to replace a potential “cult of martyrdom” in the Jewish story, with “the Torah’s insistence on life.”

An “insistence on life” sounds far more rapturous than waiting to leave this life for some imagined better existence in some ethereal promised land.   A call for love, an insistence on life, seems a far more productive and socially redeeming way to spend our last days on Earth, whether the end is  today, or tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

That is, as the Dali Lama points out,  both religious thinking and basic common sense.


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