Sunday, May 22, 2011
Till Death Do Us Part
You have to feel sorry for 60-year-old New Yorker Robert Fitzpatrick. After blowing his entire life savings on posters predicting the end of the world last night, he woke up this morning to find he was still amongst the heathen.
It must have been a bitter blow for him and thousands of American believers who’d been convinced by the California preacher Harold Camping that it was “Rapture Day”, when they’d all be transported up to heaven as huge earthquakes destroyed the rest of us left down here on Earth.
Robert had spent $140,000 putting up thousands of posters around the New York subway and bus system. I assume all believing bus drivers had considerately taken the day off work: after all, if any of them had been raptured off a moving vehicle, it would have caused no end of traffic chaos down Broadway.
Camping had worked out the date using a series of complex calculations based on the anniversary of Noah’s flood (7,000 years ago on Saturday) and various biblical passages. As a result, thousands of Americans sold their homes and valuables and quit their jobs, all clearly surplus to requirements in the afterlife, and handed over their money to Camping’s church. It’s reported that he raised tens of millions from believers over the last few months.
They weren’t put off by the fact that he got it completely wrong last time: he originally said that the Rapture would happen in September 1994. In fact, apart from the 5,000th performance of Cats on Broadway, there wasn’t a lot of seismic activity anywhere that month and, denied his Journey To The Heaviside Layer, the discredited minister went off to lick his paws and invent a new date.
This latest prediction has resulted in a roaring trade for poster manufacturers, end-of-the-world party organisers and also for a company in New Hampshire called External Earthbound Pets. For just $135, paid in advance, they agreed to collect and care for any furry friend left behind after its owner had been raptured away. No Armageddon, no refund.
The fact that Harold Camping’s absurd prediction gained such traction is a tribute to the extraordinary gullibility of the human mind. Is there nothing that people won’t believe, given a bit of hype? From fad diets to reality television, from conspiracy theories about Bin Laden to the journalism in the Daily Mail: people believe all sorts of nonsense as fact. It’s just as well – without fantasy, wouldn’t life be intolerably dull?
At precisely 6pm last night, just as the world wasn’t ending, Jo and I were at a wedding reception drinking a toast to the bride and groom. As they began their new life together, Jo and I were thinking about that daunting phrase “till death do us part”.
We agreed that, when you love someone so much that you can’t imagine life without them, the best way to go is probably to share some God-invoked end-of-the-world scenario. The mere thought of separation is more than either of us could bear, so it would be good to know we were victims in the same Armageddon. We’d have loads to gossip about as the conflagration hit: it’s always exciting to be a witness at a breaking news story.
But then we realised we’d have a problem: how to ensure we’d be together after the big event. You see, Jo is Jewish and I’m Church of England. As we can’t both be right, there’s a real risk that one of us ends up alone on the wrong side of the fence, looking after the pet-minding. Unless, that is, we’re both on the wrong side and we should have turned Buddhist. Still, as the Grateful Dead song goes: “I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe, at least I’m enjoyin’ the ride”.