Just in time for Christmas, as Christians throughout the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, a Raleigh, N.C.-based organization is getting ready to spend big bucks on billboards announcing the date of His return.
If you haven't already marked your calendar, it's May 21, 2011.
That's according to WeCanKnow.com, a site affiliated with Christian broadcaster Harold Camping. Back in May, I got a postcard that Camping sent out to media making the announcement that his particular mathematical, biblical and genealogical formulas had set the date of the Rapture as May 21, 2011.
Don't worry about whether we'll have a drought again next summer, either: Camping says the unsaved will endure "five months of shame and torment" - which, I'm just guessing, would be at least as bad as this past summer's political campaigns.
Then, on Oct. 21, 2011 - conveniently, before the 2012 destruction supposedly predicted by that much-ballyhooed ancient Mayan calendar - all of creation will be annihilated by fire.
At least that would save us from the 2012 election season.
In any event, the organization has upgraded the visibility of its prediction from postcards to billboards. They announced last week that they're paying to put their doomsday message on 50 signs around Atlanta. Several cities around the country already have them.
History records numerous inglorious attempts by various charlatans to predict the date of Christ's return. Unless we all missed something, they've all been wrong.
Now, to be fair, we can't call Camping a charlatan because his prediction hasn't actually been proven false yet by the uneventful passage of the date.
Oh, wait - yes, it has. See, Camping previously predicted that Christ would return, believers would be swept into Heaven and the world would be destroyed in September 1994. I'm pretty sure that didn't happen. Camping later claimed he'd made a mathematical error, but by golly, this time he's got it right.
By the way: Churchgoers will also want to know that, in addition to setting the date of Christ's return, Camping also says all churches have gone rotten and should be abandoned.
Instead, Camping insists, believers should engage in personal Bible study. Oh, and they should listen to his radio program. Personally, I plan to tune in - on May 22. I'll check back on Oct. 22, too.
Ready to ring
Of course, this campaign and its timing comes with an obvious question: For the amount of money spent on all those billboards, how many hungry people could have been fed? How many naked people could have been clothed?
If it's all going to end in a few months, I suppose there's no point to charity, is there? But I happen to believe Christ's own words that we don't know the hour of his return, and that we are supposed to help those less fortunate.
To that end, I reiterate that I'll be out ringing the Salvation Army bell in front of Walmart in Evans from 4-8 p.m. today. Stop by to say hello, and drop a donation in the kettle for those who are less worried about a charlatan's predictions than they are about food and shelter and necessities of life that we take for granted.
Speaking of the Salvation Army, one of their big fundraisers locally is their car auction. I attended the most recent one a month or so ago at their downtown Augusta headquarters, and it's definitely worth checking out even if you don't bid on anything.
The cars sold are all donated. So: I challenge Camping and his followers to put their keys where their mouths are by signing over titles to their cars with an effective date of Oct. 22. If he's right, the cars and everything else will be destroyed anyway.
If he's wrong? Well, maybe a little walking would do him good.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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