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By TOM EHRICH
c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) If you are reading this, then you apparently didn’t qualify for the Rapture on May 21. Or Judgment Day predictors need better math.

Either way, last Saturday belonged to God, not to fundamentalist cranks who peddle absolute certainty encased in right-wing theology.

If religion is correct in positing the victory of righteousness and the defeat of evil, we need to look beyond the culture wars for what “righteous” and “evil” mean.

Anti-gay, anti-liberal, anti-women, anti-science positions might appeal to fundamentalists who cherry-pick their way through Scripture, but they don’t constitute any righteousness that Jesus lived.

Indeed, if you track with the Gospel narrative, Jesus would be more likely to label absolute certainty itself as evil, along with rejection of the different, cruelty toward anyone (even enemies), and putting oneself over the other.

But end-of-time predictions have little to do with theology. They seem to reflect a quest for firm answers in ambiguous times. They reflect a belief that chaos, human nature and the vagaries of history can be overcome by a cleansing rain of divine fire.

When wars never cease, jobs don’t return, culture degenerates and even claims of national and racial superiority carry no water, it is appealing to imagine a divine reckoning that restores one’s desired order.

There is no point, they say, in trying to transform humanity, to lead people to the light, to heal wounds, to pray for the lost, or to proclaim a gospel of repentance. In other words, there is no point in doing what Jesus said to do. There is only a fervent need to be right, especially when everyone else is so obviously wrong.

This is the anthem of the powerless, or the newly powerless. It’s the existential version of the “Ugly Duckling” story, in which the ungainly turn into swans, and their tormentors must retreat in shame.

As always, ardent advocates step up with unshakable conviction to harvest impotence and turn the powerless into mobs. Being handed a weapon and being declared right make a heady brew. Donald Trump tried to harvest it for a presidential campaign; other connivers now wait for their chance to mobilize impotent rage.

This isn’t idle chatter. The cruel ascension of the greedy and powerful has left many victims. Among them are the powerless that see their last shreds of dignity evaporating — no jobs, no assets, no safety net. In our adulation of the rich, do we even see how many of our fellow citizens are seething in impotent rage?

Their fate isn’t cocktail party humor, but rather a profound political and social crisis, which the “haves” clearly have scant interest in resolving.

Rapture-anticipation Day was a religious sideshow, and it left impotence intact and provided even more ammunition for the deceitful. That, along with sincere concern for a society drifting toward demagoguery, should be our concern, not mock relief at having made it through May 21 without the Rapture emptying cars and causing auto accidents.

As faithful Christians, whatever our differences, surely we can remember what Jesus said about loving people, not chasing Mammon; about loving all, not just the few we like; about serving humanity, not harvesting their sadness and frustration.

Rather than joining politicians in siding with the rich who are stealing food from the poor, we must offer real hope, not phony Rapture calculations, to the hope-deprived.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)

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