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Fundamentalist Snake Oil May be Hazardous to your Financial Health

It has been months since Harold Camping decreed that the rapture would come on May 21, 2011. For those interested, here’s how he knew.  Of course, it didn’t happen. The rain date is October 21. Well, actually, the rain date was May 21, since the original prediction was for 1994. So, October is really the rain date for the rain date. Math is hard.

I’ve made mistakes. Everybody has made mistakes. When the well being of others is involved in the decisions I make, I try to be a bit more diligent in my discernment. If I screw the pooch and others suffer, I try to make it up to them somehow. It’s my own sense of what it means to be responsible.

In fact, I would argue that a sense of responsibility is one mark of what it means to be an adult. It’s an internal motivation that naturally flows from empathy and compassion. It leads me to recognize that my actions in this world affect others. I do not go plowing through life like a bull in a china shop.  I am able to act in a way that “responds to others,” which is to be “response-able.”

For those who cannot act responsibly, there is accountability. This is the external force that says, “you have done wrong to others; you owe it to them to make amends.” The idea behind accountability is not just to promote reconciliation founded upon a justice, but also (and more importantly) to prevent the damaging acts from being repeated.

I’ve already discussed why fundamentalism deserves to be treated differently than other religious stances.   In short, it is actively dangerous as it engages in a form of emotional and spiritual abuse. This whole scenario of predicting the rapture reveals a new layer to the problem. Harold Camping has done harm, more than once, and will continue to do harm.

Interviews with those who’ve committed themselves to his movement (I call them “victims”) have been very telling.  The financial damage distinctly stands out.  Some have spent their life’s savings because they truly believed that nothing else mattered. Some maxed out credit cards and will pay on the debt for years to come. Before we say, “it’s just finances,” I should point out that financial damage is still real damage, and in some cases it has been crippling.  People who bought his theological bullshit spent and lived as if there were no tomorrow. And then tomorrow came. The irreversible damage had been done.

Thusfar, I haven’t come across any pledge on Camping’s part to reimburse his victims for the effects of his behavior. In fact, it appears that he stands by his words, even to the point of saying it really did happen, but not finally.  Obviously, he is not going to accept responsibility for his beliefs-in-action and the damage they have caused. Will there be any accountability? Apparently not. In fact, he’s going to do it again in but a handful of months. Rinse and repeat.

Charlatans are a dime a dozen. Buyer beware. In this case, we see lots of harm done, and still no foul called. We don’t want to cry foul. To do so would be the equivalent of belittling someone for their religious beliefs. We generally don’t approve of that in our culture. Maybe it’s best to be silent, lest we make religious people feel bad.

This is exactly what the fundamentalists want.  When people are being victimized, victimizers hope for silence from bystanders. Without it, they couldn’t abuse people as they do. Indeed, we need to cry “foul” when people’s beliefs manifest harm in the lives of others. To portray Camping’s belief system as having possible merit–as being something other than a dangerous, irrational delusion–is to encourage theological predators as they work to ensnare their prey.  No, we can’t hold Camping accountable.  We don’t have that kind of power.  But we can speak up and decry the lie.