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The Luxury of Religious Fanaticism

For a good many people, Harold Camping’s failed “Judgment Day” prediction for May 21 was anything but a laughing matter. His followers have been beset with all manner of crises: Some were left with broken hearts, some with broken homes, and some just plain broke. Despite the evident folly of their credulity, their suffering is real and, in some cases, quite severe. Many have lost their livelihoods, and we are now learning that others have lost their very lives.

In one of the most widely reported cases, a California woman, distraught that she and her daughters hadn’t been taken up to the clouds in Camping’s predicted “rapture,” slit her daughters’ wrists and throats before slitting her own wrists so they wouldn’t have to endure the “tribulation” visited upon those “left behind.”

When he was informed of what this woman had done, Camping responded: “Murdering is a terrible thing. It’s contrary to everything the Bible teaches.” When asked whether he would accept responsibility, Camping refused. In contravention of David Mills’s assertion (see the preceding New Oxford Note) that, having set himself up as a teacher, Camping shoulders at least some of the blame for the misery he has caused his followers, Camping retorted: “I don’t have any responsibility. I can’t take responsibility for anybody’s life. I’m only teaching the Bible…. I don’t have spiritual rule over anybody.”

Camping, then, surely wouldn’t assume any responsibility for the suicide of the Florida man who, in a fit of hysteria just prior to midnight on May 21, jumped to his death, saying that he had to “get to God.” Or for the suicide of the Russian teenager who hanged herself in order to avoid the tribulation. “I don’t want to die like the others,” she wrote in her diary. “That’s why I’ll die now.”

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