which actually rejoices in the suffering of the damned. Christians are already being portrayed as ‘anti-gay‘, and now the well -oiled marketing machine for the secular humanist worldview has some powerful new caricatures it can trot out to erode the credibility of those it seeks to denigrate. Camping and his kind do a very effective job in undermining intelligent, thoughtful Christians seeking to be heard within the public space on issues such as medical ethics or social care.
There are other aspects to this sorry saga that one has to anticipate in terms of negative impact, because Camping has been wrong before. There is, on YouTube, the video of an interview between him and a very youthful Louis Theroux, who seems drawn to such individuals like a moth to a lantern. In that, Camping asserts, with great dogmatism, that the world will end in 1994, and even now he appears to be returning to the fray with renewed confidence, suggesting a revised October 2011 date. If the man had simply apologised, and retracted the whole sorry debacle, perhaps even the more committed secularists would let the matter go, but of course other than some mildly-expressed regret about an error in his calculations, Camping continues to pursue his path.
One makes an error when balancing the household budget at the end of the month, apologises to one‘s spouse and moves on. There is no crisis. This is a human error one is allowed to make without significant repercussions. One does not make that kind of error, assuming the prediction is even possible, when calculating the date for Armageddon. In this respect, Camping demonstrates the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of this kind of treatment of the biblical narrative – if there were any dependable factual basis to what he is up to, he has spent long enough doing it to get the answer right.
It does not, of course, take the committed sceptic very long to draw the line between this kind of monumental intellectual dishonesty and the genuinely credible propositions at the heart of biblical Christianity. If it is right to be sceptical about Camping‘s teachings, which are derived from the Bible, then (so the argument goes) it is equally right to be sceptical about the claims of other Christians, insofar as they may be derived from the same ‘dubious‘ source. And further, by way of extension, there is the implied criticism of the way that God has chosen to reveal his plan to mankind – surely he would have made himself clearer, surely an important date like Armageddon would not be so comprehensively buried in complex arithmetic that one could keep getting it so wrong?
It is difficult to identify how Christians should respond to these events. After all, we read the same Bible as Mr Camping, perhaps even the same translation. We believe that God speaks to us through it, and we also believe that at some point the Lord Christ will return to wrap up this sick and suffering creation, and usher in a new heavens and earth. And, whilst we don‘t engage in those rather sick thought experiments, trying to imagine how awful things will be for the unconverted, the reality is that we do long for our Lord. It matters. Judgement matters. The renewing of creation matters. The ending of sickness and death and hate and tears matters.I do not think that we have any option other than to face error such as this head on. There is no point in doing anything else than naming it, and seeking to demonstrate why it is so wrong. The fact that Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 24 that no man can know the date of his second coming supplies us with grounds to be quite categorical about the issue. And there is something else ‘fundamental‘ here.I have noticed, over time, just how similar the new atheists are to the fundamentalists that they attack, when it comes to their treatment of the Bible. Both groups grab for convenient bits of the text, usually wrenched mercilessly out of context in order to support their own agendas. Indeed, it seems as if many of the more militant sceptics are in fact recovering fundamentalists— one can almost spot where they learned their poor textual habits. This being the case, it is even more vital that Christians not only know their Bibles well, but also know how to use them.