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Avoiding Guilt by Association

This past spring, doomsday prophet Harold Camping of Oakland, California-based Family Radio garnered great publicity by predicting that the second coming of Jesus Christ was to take place at 6 PM on Saturday, May 21. That the “rapture” of believing Christians and subsequent “tribulation” visited upon those “left behind” would occur at this precise time was, Camping claimed, a mathematical certainty, based on his reading of the Bible. But as fate (or, more properly, other celestial forces) would have it, the much-ballyhooed “Judgment Day” passed uneventfully, and Camping was exposed for the fraud he is. The media made great sport of the sad affair; schaden­freude was at an all-time high. Even Camping’s hapless followers weren’t spared, they who had quit their jobs, liquidated their bank accounts, and sold off their possessions (something Camping himself did not do) in order to broadcast and promote an event that was predestined not to take place.

The New York Times, for example, ran a story about the troubles experienced by the three teenage children of Robert Carson and Abby Haddad Carson, a Maryland couple who fell under Camping’s sway. Cheekily titled “Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending” (May 19), the article describes how, over the past two years, Abby quit her job, Robert stopped working on the house, and they stopped saving for their kids’ college educations in order to take to the road on “mission trips” to “sound the trumpet” about the alleged cataclysmic coming of the end of the present age. The family eventually found themselves in Manhattan, handing out tracts at a street fair.

To fourteen-year-old Joseph Haddad, his parents were a source of constant embarrassment. He kept his friends at arm’s length to avoid being labeled a religious nutjob himself. Worse was his loss of motivation in life. “I don’t really…try to figure out what I want to do anymore,” he said, “because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.”

That his parents cared more about saving strangers’ souls might have been because they weren’t certain that their children were rapture-worthy. “I’m fearful that my children might get left behind,” Abby told The Times. “But you have to accept God’s will.” In a less modest moment, Abby evidently presumed to know God’s will. “My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven,” said sixteen-year-old Grace. “At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.”

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