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Camping Out

by Noah Lugeons

I watched it all.  I had the good fortune of being in the streets of Manhattan at precisely 6 pm, just when the rapture was not happening.

The group has been there all week. They’ve been everywhere, actually, plaguing the city like a dumber version of New York’s sewer rats. They’ve been handing out pamphlets, preaching to innocent people waiting on the walk light, waving end-of-the-world signs around and reminding New Yorkers that there are worse infestations to have than bed bugs.

I’m talking, of course, about the missionaries sent out into the world by one Harold Camping. His “precise” “calculations” were enough smoke and mirror to inspire plenty of mathematically challenged dim wits to follow him into the wild broke yonder. But it wasn’t enough for them to sell their property, pull their children out of school and quit their jobs. They wanted you to come too.

I’ve passed them almost everyday over the last couple of weeks. I’ve choked down clever insults throughout. As I watch them in their devoted fervency I don’t know whether to feel sorry for them or mock them. So I mock them. They cringed when I said “see you tomorrow” yesterday.

But today I could not bring myself to say a word. I got off of work early enough to be on the subway by 5:30, but I made excuses to stick around. They were still there in the streets and I couldn’t leave until I saw their reaction.

I wish that this was the part of the blog where I embedded a time-lapse You-Tube video of their growing disappointment. I was unprepared for my reconnaissance mission today so instead I’ll simply leave you to imagine the slow and dramatic shift in facial expressions that I witnessed between 5:58 and 6:02.

For many of them you saw the whole spectrum of facial nuance. Fear, acceptance, joy, impatience, confusion, disbelief, sadness and anger passed by in quick succession as the minutes ticked away and they all started to wonder if the good lord knew about day light saving time. Much of the crowd looked heavenward, shielding their eyes from the setting sun and waiting in palpable anticipation for the clouds to part and Ted Nugent to appear behind them.

That much I expected. Hell, that was the show I’d been waiting around for. That part didn’t surprise me.

What surprised me is that you really had to look for it. You see, the faces in the crowd that were filled with emotion were in the minority and the ones filled with genuine emotion were rarer still. Perhaps many of them were too stoic to bear their inner feelings. Perhaps they’d already heard that the rapture had failed to occur in every time zone between the International Date Line and Labrador. But I find another explanation far more likely.

Perhaps they knew they were full of shit.

I don’t doubt that many of them were completely snowed by Camping’s fraudulent hysteria. I would say that at one time even the majority of them were blinded by their desire to live in the end times. But I suspect that as the day drew nearer the conviction began to fade. I suspect that by 6:00 pm, not a damn one of them actually thought that the rapture was on its way.

I visited with a friend downtown before heading home. On the way, I swung by the spot on 6th Avenue where I’d seen them and to my surprise most of them were still there, still wearing the same dejected expressions they’d worn when I happened by them before. I was left wondering if any of them had a place to stay that night. It would have been pretty disingenuous, after all, to pay for an extra night at the hotel. It might well be that the stragglers I saw tonight were broke, homeless and estranged from their family because of the lunatic they chose to follow.

I think of the 7th Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I feel that I understand them so much more. These people will have no choice now but band together in their destitute humiliation. What other church would have them after this fiasco? Rather than admit to their own gullibility, they will continue to elevate the con-artists that brought them here and they will continue to praise the con-artist prop that lives in the clouds.

Think of the parents of these drifting, wayward automatons. The majority likely tried to talk their offspring out of such a bastardization of the scripture. Many of them likely tried desperately to reason with them while they were selling their homes and cashing in their retirement. Many of them failed and then sat miserably at home wondering what went wrong.

Teaching your children that magic exists and that anybody who invokes the name Jesus can wield it has consequences. When you raise them on lies you make them easy prey for liars. How can you reason a person out of one ridiculous belief if you’re trying to move them to another, equally ridiculous belief? The mainstream churches have been quick to disavow Camping and his followers, but they won’t go as far as to disavow the product that he is selling. The rallying cry of “don’t believe bullshit unless it’s our bullshit” doesn’t inspire the customer as much as you’d think.

So I implore the Christians of New York City to go out and clean up the mess they made. Open your home to one of these idiots while they get on their feet again. Wander around the city with a tent. Bring a chicken dinner to Chicken Little. You’re the one’s who sold these vulnerable minds the foundation of nonsense that Camping exploited. It’s the least you could do.

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