You may remember that May 21, 2011 was supposed to be the day the music stopped, well at least Gospel songs, since all the “real” Christians were supposed to be raptured into the air so that all hell could finally break loose here on earth. This was one of several predictions of the apocalypse by Rev. Harold Camping, who runs a “Family Radio” Bible-debasing empire. When May 21 passed, Rev. Camping when back to the numbers and lo and behold there was a new date of October 21, 2011. As he put it on his website, which has not been changed in the past several days:

Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured. We must remember that only God knows who His elect are that He saved prior to May 21.

Mr. Camping and his followers are still here, so either the date is wrong again or perhaps the truth is that all the “real” Christians were indeed raptured out of this world but in fact there were none left, even Billy Graham, for the big event. There are a number of Christian groups who insist other Christian groups are not really Christian, such as the attack on Mitt Romney as a heretic Mormon or the man who on the day after the world was supposed to end disrupted a canonization ceremony in the Vatican and burned a Bible. Given that there are also Muslim groups which insist certain other Muslim groups are not really Muslim, perhaps there are no “real” believers at all, at least not in the narrow sense of the Campings and Ibn Taymiyas of this world.

This time around, without the “Family Radio” media campaign on billboards, there were other important news items; there were actually plenty of important news items back on May 21 as well, but this time there were no annoying reminders on Facebook that the secular jig was up. There will be more dates proposed and no doubt more gullible individuals will stand ready to be beamed up to Beulah Land. Camping might take some note of hope in the fact that Turkey has just experienced an earthquake, although it came a couple of days after the “for sure” Biblical date. And, after all, Turkey is mainly a Muslim country. But then we had a quake here on the east coast a month or so ago (perhaps Camping believes our President is secretly a Muslim, like some 20% of Americans and 30% of Republicans apparently think).

You might be wondering why yet another failed end-of-the-world prediction by a Bible-belabored Christian who thinks he is one of the few “real” Christians is worth a commentary on a blog devoted to thoughts on Islam and the Middle East. For most Americans, even the bulk of self-styled “evangelicals,” Camping represents a lunatic fringe. As the votes are being tallied in Tunisia, Egypt prepares for a vote, Libya begins the process of picking up the pieces after Qaddafi’s exit and Yemen is still waiting for Godot (I mean Ali Abdullah Salih) to go, there is a fear among many Americans that after the dictators another form of lunacy will take hold: Muslims who argue that only “their” way of being Muslim is valid. Actually, this problem is quite widespread and it is not as simple as Sunni vs. Shi’a, although that is an old and convenient fault line.

The problem is that there always seem to be enough interpreters of holy books around who think they are acting for God or even as God. All the major monotheisms have had their “false” prophets, but the pointing of fingers at who is really following or not following the will of God continues to haunt believers and non-believers alike. I much prefer the absurd predictions of Camping, who is willing to let God zap the unbelievers rather than thinking that killing or cajoling a less “real” believer is one of God’s commandments. If God or Allah or Yahweh really has the power ascribed to him by the prophets of old, why do people not believe that He can make things happen on His own? Given the overt foibles of humans, it is hard for me to imagine a God of mercy and rahman allowing (and especially willing) His followers to constantly get in each other’s faces. Did God really create men so imperfect and enslaved to bodily lust that even the sight of a woman’s hair leads them to unstoppable temptation? Was God pleased when the Prophet Muhammad’s grandsons were killed in a politically motivated lust for temporal power? Did the angels in heaven cheer when Bin Laden’s planes crashed into the twin towers or when Qaddafi was beaten to death? And if God created people so they could in effect become gods, then perhaps we never really left the garden of Eden and that forbidden fruit from the Tree of Life flows though our veins to this day? Perhaps the world ended before it even began.