Thursday, December 04, 2008

harold camping

I currently have a long commute from work and unfortunately am faced with a small number of radio stations to choose from. (I'm a big NPR fan but during most of my evening drive home the local station switches to programming in Creole).

Occasionally I will listen to a radio call-in show run by an evangelist named Harold Camping... more out of curiosity than anything else. He is an odd bird. He teaches that the Church Age is over (and so all current churches are ruled by Satan). He's not a Jehovah's Witness but he teaches that Jesus is Michael. And most importantly, he teaches that the world will end on May 21, 2011. Initially I thought his ideas were harmlessly bizarre, but the other night I heard him advising a mother with a young child to not bother making college or career plans for their child's future because they won't have one. He's not just eccentric but irresponsible.

It just reminds me again to appreciate the fact that the Quranic descriptions of the end-times, however vivid, are not full of the sorts of tempting descriptions as the Revelation of St. John or the book of Daniel which would encourage folks to presumptuously predict the end of the world (see also the number of the beast). I'm not saying that Muslims never make eschatological missteps. But I would argue that the Bible encourages this sort of behavior more than the Quran does.


sondjata said...

Hmmmm... I think in light of current events discussion on how certain Christians use biblical texts to make wacked out statements and equally wacky life decisions, is pretty much a case of kettle calling the pot black.

Just saying.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Could you clarify please.

sondjata said...

sure: 1) The blood letting in Iraq.
2) The Mumbai killings
3) 9-11

All the result of warped interpretation of Islam.

Therefore it's pretty clear that in any religion it is quite possible (and probable) for people to come up with all sorts of ideas, therefore it is IMHO not really useful to say that a certain religion is more disposed to wacked out actions and thoughts.

Hence Pot-Kettle.

Though you could have used a better example in the Waco or Jonestown events.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Ok, I thought you meant something like that. I agree
that pretty much any ideology or philosophy can be distorted to support all kinds of evil. That wasn't my point.

My point is that because of detailed-but-ambiguous descriptions of the endtimes which are found in the Christian Bible (especially Daniel and Revelation) Christians have been especially tempted to make predictions about the future.

For example Christian Premillenialism (and it's corresponding Christian Zionism) (see skipping to Armageddon is a major aspect of Christianity which simply does not have a prominent analogue in Islam. (In fact I don't know of any analogue really).

And in the early-mid 1800s there was an international movement/tendancy in Christianity known as Millerism where (based on passages in Revelation and Daniel) huge numbers of Christians expected the second coming to occur at a specific date so they quit their jobs, sold their belongings and waited for Jesus to come from the sky.

In fact, even though the Millerites experienced what was called the Great Disappointment, they then struggled to find a number of different explanations for why Jesus didn't come in the way they expected. In fact the Millerites laid the foundation for
several other groups (Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists... and actually the Branch Davidians from Waco split off from the Seventh Day Adventists)

IRaq, Mumbai and 9-11 have more to do with politics. They aren't about theology so much. And they definitely aren't about making predictions of the future.

svend said...

Funny you should mention Seventh Day Adventists, as that's the first thing I thought of when I read this. They have/had this notion of the Great Apostasy centuries ago, a point since which all Christian Churches have been in league with the Devil.

re: prophecies
I find it very difficult to make comparisons given how hugely different the respective religious scriptures involved are. The Hebrew Bible has so many more genres of literature and the Book of Revelation is so atypical of the Christian Bible that many early Christians questioned its inclusion in the canon (partly because, unlike the Gospels, it's really "jihadi"--the Jesus of BoR sure doesn't turn the other cheek).

One thing I thing Muslims are frankly quite behind contemporary Christians on is comfort with openly discussing competing interpretations of prophecies. The Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox and the mainline Protestant Churches all accept the possibility if not the likelihood that the BoR is entirely figurative. There are numerous schools of thought among contemporary Christian theologians (Full Preterism, Partial Preterism, Futurism, etc.) about the extent to which various prophecies are meant literally and/or have already been fulfilled.

Many Muslims today, in contrast, fetishize robotic literalism and lash out at those who try to grapple with the hard issues involved in seemingly prophetic texts even though figurative readings are hardly alien to the tradition (e.g., the way some classical scholars held that certain prophecies in the Hadith of Jibreel were fulfilled figuratively in Islamic history).

At least Christians can discuss these questions without facing bullying from closed minded literalists who don't understand hermeneutics.