If you're reading this prior to Saturday, 5/21/11, you have TWO upcoming options for "checking out" early! Tomorrow (5/21/11) is the first, according to Oakland, CA-based, Harold Camping. Based on his mathematical calculations of biblical dates, 200 million believing Christians will be whisked into the air tomorrow at midnight (time zone by time zone); then the rest of the world comes crashing to an end six months later in October. If you're reading this on Sunday, 5/22/11, or later (and all your Christian friends are still around), Mr. Camping was wrong, and you'll have to wait for the Mayan calendar's cataclysm in December of 2012.
With regard to Mr Camping's predictions, many of us have read the stories of his fellow-believers, their divestment of all their worldly goods, and the splintering of families, with a sense of disbelief. Some view these folks as crackpots, or deluded -- yet one more indicator of the craziness that religion can engender. Some others, more gentle, have viewed these folks with some concern, even pity. I'm going to take a slightly different tack, but first . . . news from DU.
Some of you may know that DU's Hillel Center (the center for Jewish students) was to have been the target of a protest yesterday (Thursday, 5/19/11) by the folks who recently won a US Supreme Court decision that allows them to protest at funerals, including those of US soldiers. They hold up signs such as "God hates the US" and worse. They were coming to DU as part of a whirlwind protest tour through Denver that included a high school graduation (because a student had written an article critical of them), a mosque, and the Hillel center (the latter two because they haven't converted!). All of the targeted groups were prepared in their own ways -- but for naught. Severe weather in eastern Colorado/western Kansas kept them away.
Many Americans consider this group as wacky (although more disturbingly so) as the followers of Mr. Camping. DU's never-arrived protesters are a part of an extremely small group of believers who are willing to fight for, and proclaim, their beliefs--despite the fact that probably 99.9% of the American populace disagrees with them and wishes they'd disappear. The same determination can be said for Mr. Camping's followers. They are willing to give up all their worldly goods, sever family ties, and wander around a dis-believing public claiming that they know that within a few days, they'll be gone, and billions of people will be left on earth to suffer for six months.
Whether both groups are crazy or delusional is a diagnosis "above my pay grade". Whether they are pitiable is up to everyone else's "compassion quotient". What is clear, however, is that they are committed to what they believe. I've long been interested in the question of commitment and what it might demand. Giving up one's life for others' perceived benefit is either total commitment or craziness, depending on which side of the divide one stands. Such an act may, for example, yield the Congressional Medal of Honor; it may also be categorized as an act of terror.
So, in situations such as the beliefs/actions of these two groups -- beliefs/actions about which many (including me, to be sure) have serious reservations, I'm always a little bit in awe of the commitment level that is required to put one's life on the line in that way. Do I love my life too much? Do I love my family too much? Am I too much a coward? Am I too rational? To what am I committed to that level of (seemingly) irrational behavior?
Personally, I imagine (hope?) I'll continue working through the answers to these questions tomorrow, next month, through 2012, and into 2013.