Belief Beat

In the days since the unrapturous Rapture, I’ve seen a lot of comments here and on other religion blogs asking why Harold Camping’s prophecy got so much coverage in the first place, alternately accusing the media of snarky schadenfreude or just bad news judgment.

Here’s a good response from Religion News Service’s daily roundup yesterday:

Outside the Camping crew, some suggest that the media should don sackcloth and ashes for its role in the Hypeapocalypse. It’s shameful and cruel to laugh at the beliefs of others, TNR said.

I agree that some stories bore cringe-worthy blends of snark and condescension; and that dashed hopes are, at bottom, sad. But the antidote to shoddy journalism is good journalism, not self-censorship.

The Camping Crowd spent hundreds of thousands on billboards and paraded around town squares nationwide, telling one and all that the Rapture was coming on May 21 (in part because of gains in gay rights) and that everyone outside their angelic band was going to hell. All on the word of an 89-year-old civil engineer with a Bible and an abacus.

In fact, a good case could be made that the May 21 stories should have been tougher. A California woman tried to slit her daughters’ throats on Friday because she feared the Tribulation was coming. A man killed himself in 1994 after another of Camping’s failed prophecies. Bank accounts have been drained, reputations ruined and families torn asunder. Point is, Camping’s ideas have human costs, and thus deserve fair but incisive coverage.

Meanwhile, given that Camping is still insisting that the May 21 Rapture has happened — just in a less-visible way than he predicted (unless you’re counting the Missouri tornado and other natural disasters, though that might just be a normal summer) — we can expect that he and his Family Radio ministry adherents will continue trying to convince the rest of us that Judgment Day remains slated for Oct. 21. So, stay tuned (or prepare to ignore) more coverage this fall.

P.S. For what it’s worth, barring any major new developments, I’ll stop covering this now — as is my policy with the Westboro Baptist Church’s attention-seeking antics.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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