"The evaporation of 4 million who believe this crap would leave the world an instantly better place."
- poet and NPR commentator Andrei Condrescu, speaking about a pamphlet abour The Rapture which he was handed by a street preacher. It asserted that roughly 4 million people worldwide would be instantly transported to heaven when it occurred.
Pete (not his real name), was a classmate of mine in my senior year of high school. He was a friendly, bright and ebullient kind of guy. We used to hang out in the lunchroom, the school library or wherever, and talk about everything from the policies of then-president Richard Nixon to the kind of meat they were using in sandwiches in the school cafeteria (he theorized that it was roadkill. I saw no reason to disagree with him). Then one day he changed. He'd turned into what was then called a “Jesus Freak”. In the early 1970s those words could have referred to the long-haired youths of that day who simply used the bible as a spiritual guide much the way others of their ilk often used Buddhist scripture. Or it could signify people who'd traded in their intellect for unforgiving dogmatism and utter intolerance for diverging viewpoints. Pete had obviously fallen in with the latter crowd. (Remember also that this was the heyday of cults whose recruitment techniques bordered on psychological warfare). Gone was the smart, like-able kid I used to hang out with. In his place was a mean, willfully-ignorant conformist with the countenance of a brainwashed prisoner-of-war. The sparkle in his eyes was gone. His speaking voice was a monotone bordering on an angry growl. Practically the only thing he ever talked about from that point on was saving my soul or that of any other unbelievers
It was from Pete that I first learned of The Rapture, which he assured me was going to happen any day and without any kind of warning. Trumpets would sound and The Chosen Ones would be instantaneously whisked off the planet to brand new condos within easy walking distance of the pearly gates. The rest of us poor sinners would be left down here on Earth to muddle through a totally icky chain of events called the Tribulation, presided over by a figure who seemed to resemble the manager at my first job.
Let me conclude by making a comparison between the (non-)events of last week with another phenomenon from my past. A popular belief among many student radicals (or should that be radical wanna-bes) of the early 1970s was that a great, apocalyptic revolution would come along and sweep aside not just the prevailing administration but any and all of the problems we faced, be they war, poverty, environmental pollution or final exams. In the end, The Revolution never showed any more signs of showing up than The Rapture. We watched the fantasy fade into the distance as our real-world problems stared us squarely in the face. We were ultimately left with no choice but to roll up our sleeves and work on tangible solutions to those problems through sweat and ingenuity.