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Jesse Weinstein

I'm not concerned about the Rapture, but I'm (a little) concerned that Camping (or whatever his name is) and his organization might be planning to "help out God" in some way on Saturday. They clearly have enough money and manpower to do a non-trivial amount of damage if they want to. I hope they don't want to, and/or that the police and emergency services are alert to whatever they decide to do.


Greta, I know what you mean in general, but I'm not feeling it in this case. I think as I get older, I'm actually getting more resistant to the nonsense. Part of that, I think I can attribute to the reinforcement I get from the online skeptic/atheist community. So thanks.

Also... if there were to be a rapture on Saturday, at least it'd mean a lot fewer assholes to deal with for the time we had left here. Sure, it'd prove they were right, but that wouldn't mean they weren't assholes, too. They'd have been right for the wrong reason (blind faith). And any God who wants that, doesn't deserve our worship, blah blah blah, you know the rest, sing along with me.

Jesse, I don't see Camping's followers as dangerous. They're expecting a wave of earthquakes... not much they can do to precipitate that. I expect them to just be dazed for a bit, until they decide on a new date. Some (few?) will give up on Camping.


I won't deny's crossed my mind, that fleeting bit of nervous-twinged feeling. Part of it, in my case (I think), is that I grew up in a fundagelical church (complete with people speaking in tongues and getting "slain in the spirit" and all that other nonsense). And it's from this upbringing that I pulled the one argument I have always had with people who claim they "know the date."

Even their own holy book says nobody can predict the hour of the so-called return of the father/son. Even the man who called himself the son of god admitted he didn't know. So anyone making predictions of this nature is, according to the very bible they preach from, committing a form of blasphemy (per the Abrahamic traditions). Not that I buy that wad,'s just something I am reminded of when I see/hear people make these "The End is Nigh" predictions.

Then I switch to the more skeptical gear (pulling away from my childhood teachings) and remember all the false predictions and all the depressing aftermath of people who have been fooled...and hope like mad that those people who were hoodwinked can pull their lives back together and not do anything desperate.

For myself? This weekend, two birthday parties and a trip to the salon for some ME time. If my nail tech suddenly vanishes, then I'll know I was wrong. ;p

Benjamin Machanik

I can't say that I've ever been that concerned with doomsday predictions from religions or mysticism. Maybe its because I've been overloaded with the amount of physical things which could kill us (comets, solar flares blah blah blah) that are horribly unpredictable.

A few years back there was some report from NASA that said that earth had almost been hit by a solar flare... 1 year after it would have hit. So I think that it'd be more realistic to be terrified about sudden unpredictable global destruction. But we can't really be scared of that cause their unpredictable so then we'd be scared all the time.

Incidentally, I find that the idea that the whole earth, let alone the human species, is inevitably going to be destroyed doesn't really depress me as much. Its similar to how lots of people tell me atheists should be depressed that we won't live forever or see our loved ones after death. I've gotten that alot recently as my dad passed last year September and I'm the only atheist in the family. I've found that it is sad, but I accept it as a fact of existence. I can't really become depressed about believing there's no life, it'd be like being upset that I was physically incapable of flight. I just can't imagine people living on after they die, it goes against what I believe about the universe, so I can't even wish I believed in it for comfort sakes


I keep thinking about all those End Of The World movies over the years where the small group that believes tries to warn the rest of the world and ends up being laughed at, mocked, and publicly scorned. Then, when disaster does hit, we get shots of these same mockers and laughers screaming and shrieking in terror as they're engulfed in flames, buried in debris, or swallowed up in a fiery, yawning crevice.


I too get that little twinge of fear, but I previously suffered from Anxiety disorder where I always imagined the worst was going to happen. Haven't watched disaster movies since I was young, just for that reason.
I like you have learned to listen to the voice of reason side of my is most always the "right" side.


I'm sad when the most respected news sources and bloggers spend any tme on this dumb subject. Maybe we should worry about Icke's lizard people too, becuase you know maybe, just maybe he is right?


I'm with you here; I've been spending a nonzero amount of time thinking about how stupid I'd look if they're right. But that's the beauty of skepticism. We still have the same kneejerk emotional impulses as other people, but we can fight them. We can ignore the bullshit emotional ploys of alternative medicine and the fearmongering of antivaxxers even though instinctively we want to believe them. Reason over emotion.

Me too: I'm an atheist, and yeah, I've felt it. Always do, whenever this happens: as with you, not for more than a second or two at most. Because it's ridiculous. But sometimes the hindbrain is stupid.

As for why that is... this is an absolutely fabulous analysis. (Characteristically, but you really hit it out of the ballpark here.)

Thanks, as always, for your writing.

Blake Stacey

I've had the "but what if they're right??" moment before on occasion, but not about this. Luck of the draw, maybe. After all, how much random noise bubbles up into a person's stream of consciousness every day? With all the brain's cacophonous multitasking, it's no surprise that thoughts come up which are foreign to our sense of "who we are" -- and sometimes they vanish without even the chance to be introspected upon.

Astra Navigo

Greta, it takes some courage to admit that one's basic tribal 'wiring' takes over from time to time. If I'm to be completely honest with myself, I'll admit that there's a little "if-everyone-else-believes-it-this-must-be-true" in my head from time to time - it's hard to be part of a 10% minority, even if we are genuinely smarter than the rest.

In this case, however, I've been sleeping well at night.

The reason?

Leaving Biblical interpretation and the fact that 90% of Americans seem to believe at least parts of that book, I come back to this:

Harold Camping is batshit-crazy.

This is where the hindbrain is overruled by the centers of logic and reason: (1) If Camping is batshit-crazy, then (2) anything he says is called into question, and (3) following him at all is completely out of any question.

Have fun at the party. Wish I could join you (but Portland to California on short-notice is a bit expensive)....

Robyn Slinger

If rapture believers were right and rapture did happen tomorrow, what would we do? I would say something along the lines of, "Oh, sorry, you were right, I was wrong". And too bad we wouldn't be there for long enough afterwards to investigate the consequences of our worldview having been wrong all that time.

Now what do you think will happen tomorrow when it turns out that the whole rapture is just baloney? "Ah, but 21. May 2011 was a metaphor. In real reality of true factual real life definitely happening, the Actual Date of rapture will be ..." whatever.

If I was to announce some big event like this or the coming of the Great White Handkerchief, I'd have the common sense to pick a date far enough in the future so that anyone alive today would have forgotten by then.


I really appreciated this post. It's a plausible hypothesis for the years of terror involved in my own deconversion. Very early on, I became unable to believe that I was "saved" - fundagelicals make testable predictions about the effects of being Saved, and no matter how hard I prayed, none of that stuff happened. Then there was a period of years during which I believed that I was deliberately created for damnation, since I couldn't shed the End Times teachings I'd absorbed. Maybe that's because I was surrounded by people who believed and talked about it a lot? Fortunately for me, the people in question also made a testable prediction, and once September 1998 passed uneventfully, the fear pretty much faded.


I identified as a Fundamentalist Christian for most of my life, so I've years of indoctrination adding pressure to my hindbrain.

I've had those twinges; more frequently as the day draws closer. They echo those that spring on me late at night when the house is quiet, the twinges that prod me to wonder if hell is real and to picture my children burning because I allowed myself to be led astray.

Rationality eventually wins out, but it speaks to the power of these superstitions that there's ever a moment of doubt. The fear might be wearing a clown suit, but it still exists.

Benjamin Machanik

Was thinking a bit more about this and I have to say that the only thing I want now is for yesterday to be over with so that Harold Camping can reveal the date he probably thought of prior to this when "the Rapture will actually happen" after tomorrow is inevitably a no-show. I'm betting September?

Liz Reynolds

The thing that pisses me off the most about this group is that they came to my college campus in their van last fall, handing out flyers and TELLING STUDENTS TO DROP OUT OF COLLEGE because they won't be able to graduate/use their degrees in time for the rapture and they need to give their tuition money to help spread the word of this crazy group. I only saw the van, if I had seen the actual people handing out the flyers instead of hearing about it second hand from my roommate of the time, I would have flipped shit.


I stopped having the "what if they're right" moments about 8 years ago when I made the decision to leave the church and walk on my own two legs. I had those kinds of moments when I was a kid every time some careless, psycho-religious adult would try to wrangle me in using the very same kind of fear mongering we're seeing from Camping and his group. The fact that some people are still having these moments as admittedly non-believing adults makes me wonder why they even turned away from religion in the first place. I question whether it was because they really saw how ridiculous it all was or simply because they were angry or disillusioned by certain flock behaviors, both of which being only a start to the journey of an apostate. Do your homework, people. This is how they get you. This is how they get every sheep that comes running down to that altar. The world will end! You're a terrible sinner! You're going to Hell! Jesus is the light!!

Fuck that noise. Get real.

Or, if you're still feeling superstitious and need a bullshit answer to a bullshit question...

Is this Camping jackass right about the rapture? Jesus, himself, says no.

"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Matthew 24:36

Jesus, reported by Matthew and Mark, says that only God the father knows when the "end times" will occur. In this same message he tells people to be ready at any time as if it could happen at any second. Great way to keep the sheep in line, right? Eminent doom is definitely on its way, but you don't know when it will be here. So, you better be on your best behavior.


Very well said! I had a strange episode like that a few days ago as well. A sudden twinge of fear followed by "what if." The thought was very much so that I kinda did a "what the hell was that?" before realizing just what had run through my head. I laughed at myself afterwards cause I wouldn't have expected myself to do something like that, but it still kinda got to me that I would have had such a thought, however fleeting. As you said, though, it's just how we evolved.

Thanks for sharing, it makes me feel a little better about having that same thought.

P.S. I really really wish I could go to the Rapture RAM (I live in the bay area too), but unfortunately some family members who are pretty religious are visiting this weekend and I doubt they would appreciate my bailing on them for an atheist meeting :).

John the Drunkard

I wonder what events on Saturday will be reverse-engineered to match the claims; 'see, that 16 car pileup on I80 happened on 5/21, just like Camping predicted.'

And I wonder how Camping's dupes will rationalize away his failure. How soon will he, or some other opportunist, make a follow-up claim to harvest the pre-selected suckers? How will the long term damage to families and individuals play out?


This is why I love you Greta. Yes, I have the tiniest twinges of doubt. I always do. I don't believe that the proposed events are at all plausible, but my Christian upbringing conditioned me to some bizarre ideas. Furthermore, my skepticism has taught me to only hold beliefs provisionally, even ones currently based on evidence. I know that I can always be wrong. Probably not this time.


Everything you say is true, Greta, but I've always thought there was another element to this particular type of irrationality. That is the human tendency to see things in human terms, to personify everything around us. Ater all, it is likely our intelligence evolved primarily to allow us to handle multiple social relationships, so it is biased toward evaluating everything that way.

In this case, subconsciously personifying the world itself endows it with that most basic of human realities: mortality. It makes perfect sense to us that the world will end, because all humans die. This gives apocalyptic scenarios a built- in appeal. I think this contributes to your brain's willingness to entertain the thought.

Now, think how much more strongly this must affect someone like Camping who is 89 years old. He has to feel absolutely certain that the world will end soon, and in that he is correct—because his definitely will. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study of followers of such movements that analyzed the age composition of the group? It might be enlightening.


I'm singin' with Skeeter:

Carrie Z.

I felt the exact same thing. Today, I was reading a few news stories about it. And I felt that quick flash of "what if," and then felt guilty immediately afterward. I thought, "Boy, did that really shake my non-faith?" But then I thought about the whole situation, and read a few of your blog posts and they reminded me of the reasons I became an atheist in the first place.

Robin Marie

Greta, thanks for this. I just told a friend last night that "some small, child-like part of me inside is like, oh no, what if they are right?!" Anyway we had a good laugh about it and indeed, it is such a fleeting emotion as to just be great fodder for laughing at ourselves -- but I'm glad I'm not alone :), and I think it's great you came out to talk about it and give what I think are very good arguments for why skeptics persist being, well, human.


Not worried at all, sorry. I have a prediction of my own. End Times according to atheism -

John Foust

You include the picture of his book, but you should also give some credit to Michael Shermer for the tiger story.

Erin Palmer

I had the twinge too. It started this morning and then it bugged me until I popped on and read your blog.
You're right. My brain is being tickled by the lemmings and I want nothing to do with it. But I decided to do something a little different with my day. I decided to pretend it was my last day anyway and use at as I saw fit. So far I've picnic'd with my daughter, let the house get messy, avoided the dishes, read some of my book, and had a beer. Cheers!

Greta Christina
I decided to pretend it was my last day anyway and use at as I saw fit. So far I've picnic'd with my daughter, let the house get messy, avoided the dishes, read some of my book, and had a beer. Cheers!

Erin, what a wonderful idea. That is awesome. Possibly my favorite response to this stupid Rapture thing so far.

Robert Arrington

"Being good skeptics doesn't mean we don't have these cognitive biases. It means we're aware of them."

This sentence is at the very core of the difference between skeptics and "believers." Great post Greta-I not only bookmarked it but downloaded it to my HD for, if you'll pardon the expression, "inspirational purposes."


I've had those moments too, although they aren't necessarily too scary. I guess that the one thing about Christianity that has always been most emotionally implausible to me (not intellectually implausible, but subconsciously, gut-level implausible), is this idea of a God whose forgiveness is utterly limited to believers, and whose judgment is beyond appeal. If the rapture happened, I'd keep saying the same things about the morality of the God of the Bible... only they would be directed not only at other people, but also at whatever entity had decided to perpetrate this travesty of a moral system upon the human race.

Legion was a terrible movie, but the one good thing about it is that the God of that universe was a being that could change his mind, whose good will could be appealed to.

Other than that, honestly, I'm glad that you wrote this post. I'm sure that there are a lot of atheists who have had some moments when they've considered it. One thing I attribute it to is the fact that we don't do very well with really small odds of really important things happening. It's also part of why people play the lottery even when they "should" know better, or get worried about really improbable ways to die. We know intellectually that "one chance in a billion billion" is pretty close to "impossible", but it seems like it's still worth thinking about and reacting to sometimes, if the pay-off (whether positive or negative) is large enough.


This is the first time I've been to your blog, though I can't imagine why. However, I know exactly what you mean. I find myself asking about whether it might be true as well, but only for that nano-second.

What I find truly interesting though is that my reaction has changed. A few years ago when there was another one of these "predictions", I felt that tiny frisson of fear and then it just went away.

Now it feels more like a frisson of fear followed by an eager anticipation. I find myself wondering what it will be like and hoping that I get to shake Jesus's hand and ask him if he really thinks I'm a bad person because I don't put blind faith in a ridiculous book and go to church every Sunday. Because if he does think I'm a bad person for that, he should have to look me in the eye and tell me.

John Swindle

I have felt those crappy twinges, too. We are part of the animal kingdom, and we get these occasional reminders of that fact. In order to benefit from critical thinking, it may help to view it as a skill that must be developed and maintained. People who don't can wind up believing any silly thing that comes down their TV cable.


Whenever I think about the what-if-the-rapture-folks-are-right scenarios, I always come away thinking the rapture would be awesome because I imagine a world without a politically-active religious right. We could finally have comprehensive sex ed in schools. Planned Parenthoods would get funding. Same-sex marriage would be legal. We'd be like Sweden.

So yeah, the rapture-ready should get to go to their special harpsichord heaven, and I would be happy to stay on a world without their kooky influence. In fact... that kind of sounds like atheist heaven (aka Sweden).



Also... if there were to be a rapture on Saturday, at least it'd mean a lot fewer assholes to deal with for the time we had left here.

I think Nate Silver tweeted to point out that if the rapture does happen, Obama will get a boost in his poll numbers.

Thomas Shamma

I know what you're saying, but I have to say it isn't fear that twinges up in the dark corners of my mind.

You know those zombie apocalypse people? The ones who go way out of their way to prepare for the eventual zombie apocalypse? Who know that it's not really going to happen, who (usually) say they hope it won't happen -- you know how, you can sort of tell, they really do want it to go down that way?

A darkish part of my brain that I'm not entirely proud of kind of wants the rapture to happen. Not a big part, but it's there. In a small way, I kind of want the rapture to hit so we can have confirmation, not just of a god, but which god, and in what way, exactly, he's a total asshat. (I am an atheist, but the fact remains that confirmation of one god proves almost every religious person on earth wrong in a way that we're not likely to accomplish in my lifetime.)

Plus, I'd love to see the atheist/humanist/skeptic movement suddenly become the central support system for the entire world, surviving post-rapture, while everyone else scrambles to adjust their worldview.

...Okay, maybe not *that* small a part. But it's more the writer/nerd aspect -- the skeptical humanist part of my brain is entirely unconvinced and not at all hoping for the rapture.


Nice read, I actually had the same thought weeks after I first heard about it.

Basically that nasty little 'pascals wager' argument came back to me, "If they are right, I am seriously fucked". But the moment of insecurity left and I went right back to my regular life


My Big fear that kicked in at 3am one morning (during an anxiety attack) was that I was once born again... during a long and dark exploration that led me to where I am now... So the fear was... what if it still counts? So at 3:15 am I was online trying to figure out how to get "un-born again" just in case. I came to my senses the next morning and was really embarrassed. Isn't that sad?


Yep, I admit it crossed my mind and, like you, I felt a bit embarrassed.

I'm encouraged to see some commenters here said that previous rapture failures had changed their mind about the religion or maybe (eventually) religion in general. I'm wondering and hoping that this rapture-fail may be a good thing for skepticism.


This is my first visit here, but I've heard about you.

Camping's Apocalypse II is history now, but I too had wondered--just a little--whether it might be true. Then I realized: if that happens to us disbelievers, then the very same thing must happen to the devout.
"What if the atheists are right?"
That's encouraging.

All we have to do is persevere. We have no batshit doctrines we must defend--we just have the facts.


I have to say that this 'rapture' scare didn't phase me in the slightest. It's not that I am completely immune the feeling you mentioned, but because I simply have enough conscious history with this nonsense that I'm effectively inoculated against it. I still remember the paranoia and stupidity surrounding the 1999/2000 thing (and experienced what you mentioned then), and the aftermath of that prompted me to research what other people believed about the end of the world. I saw that the end times had been predicted by one group or another approximately every other year since at least the 1800s or 1900s.

The next time the end of the world rolls around, I'll bet you have trouble mustering enough emotional effort to do much more than roll your eyes at it.

Kim Sweeney

I had the twinge. I had a different "story" for it, though. I figure that part of using our brains includes thinking of possibilities, imagining alternatives. And so I entertained the possibility, briefly. Very briefly. Like sometimes when driving across a bridge I imagine driving off it. I don't actually consider it as an option (I'm not suicidal), but I am aware of the possibility.

Greg McRay

I was looking for something like this and I am so glad that I finally found it

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