I was in a coffee shop last week, quietly minding my own business, enjoying a cup of my favorite brew and playing my sixth game of scrabble of the day on my i-pod when I overheard a conversation about the upcoming ‘rapture’.
According to the baristas discussing it, some geezer had predicted from various calibrations of dates in the bible, that Saturday May 21 2011 was going to be the date upon which all those Christians of a good and pious nature would be called to heaven and the rest of us left to make our way in the hot place.
Now, I must come clean here. Despite years of consistent bombardment via the Church of England, I am not a believer in God. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love to, but I just can’t. Mostly because, the infinite beauty and immensity of all that is within the universe outshines, for me, the narrow definition that seems to describe ‘god’.
I am not jumping on anyone else’s right to believe in ‘god’, I respect whatever choices anyone wishes to make; provided of course, that their belief system doesn’t involve the wholesale killing or suppression of another group which doesn’t adopt their views or precepts. It’s just that I find it hard to base my entire belief system on a book which, at best, is missing a few chapters and at worst, written many years after the fact, by at least 3 and possibly more entities, has been systematically translated and edited in the intervening centuries, probably more than once.
My father used to tell a story about Chinese whispers which, I suspect, may have come from his early military training. Briefly, it was about a general who was in difficulties and needed more troops. So he sent a runner with a message, who passed it on to another, who passed it on to another, who arrived at the required destination with the message “Send three and fourpence, I’m going to a dance” causing, no doubt, a great deal of confusion, if not hilarity. Thus proving that messages, however clear their original intent can very easily be distorted – the original had been “Send reinforcements, I’m going to advance”.
And thus we come to the rapture. Assuming that Harold Camping’s figures were correct, and I have no doubt that he checked and double-checked them, they were based on an incomplete, and much Chinese-whispered, set of information.
So, while the original message may have been “Greetings from Heaven” it might well have been mangled to “three things from seven” and put dear old Harold's calculations on entirely the wrong track. And while I feel sad for all of those in their best party gear, having run their credit cards up to the max in anticipation of an imminent trip to heaven, I have been enchanted by the idea that this is a country where such ideas can not only be expressed, but also pursued without fear of anything except perhaps a little gentle ridicule.
And while may not have been quite the rapture that was envisioned by those calculating its oncoming from the bible, but the whole thing has certainly enraptured me.