I was reading one of the many “Hey, the apocalypse didn’t happen” news articles over this past weekend—following the no-show from Jesus Christ on the day the much-publicized group Family Radio said he’d be doing that whole second-coming thing—and there was a truck driver who’d taken off work to drive from Maryland to California for the Rapture. You’d think he’d have enough driving while he’s on the clock, but nope. He took off from work to be near Harold Camping, the head of Family Radio, maybe in hopes that some of Camping’s Jesus cred would rub off on him. I don’t really know how it works.
But, hey, I get the impulse. The truck driver, whose name is Keith Bauer, said he did it because he thought heaven would be better than earth.
What do you say to that?
Here’s a dude—let’s assume since he’s driving a truck he hasn’t had it as easy as the most financially or class privileged among us—who hears someone telling him that he’s about to see the most important thing any human being has ever seen: The end of the world. He hears someone telling him that in the whole development of homo sapiens, the time in which he lives is the most meaningful, the most important, and that he is going to be a part of it. That there’s a God, and that God is about to reach out to him personally and bring him to paradise. Can you imagine how jealous everyone else in heaven would be?
So off goes our friend Bauer, driving to California. Or you get someone like Robert Fitzpatrick, from New York, who blew $140,000 spreading the word that the end was nigh. It seems insane, and asinine, and like the kind of thing someone would make up, but it’s not. It’s a real impulse, and it’s nothing new. People have been saying it’s the end of the world pretty much since people knew there was a world to start with, and when the world keeps going, the people who said it was all over feel dumb, then we all sit around for a while until the next time.
I get it, though. I really do. Life is hard, and most of the time it sucks, and it’s short, and if you don’t believe in something like a magical place where your grandparents and Jimi Hendrix live and where you’ll go when you die and see everyone you ever loved, you’re more or less screwed when it comes to finding any traditional idea of meaning for it. And that sucks double. You can jump off a roof about it, you can suck it up and go on, or you can opt out of the realization altogether with a belief system that says your life is not meaningless, that you’re important, that the universe and all the cruelty therein makes sense and—most importantly—that things get better. That sounds pretty good. Sign me up.
The only problem is it’s a load of crap and just about everyone knows it, but people don’t seem to have any trouble getting around that. We lie to ourselves all the time. I’ll be perfectly honest and say I have days where the only reason I get out of bed is because my internal monologue is full of shit. That’s what life is.
And it’s a shame that that’s what life is, but as much as Mr. Bauer and anyone else who has a concept of “heaven”—of course it’s better, guy, it’s heaven—wishes it wasn’t the case, the world is all we’ve got, and if you’re willing to get over it and open your eyes, you might see that for all the awfulness, for all the lacking pity and rampant misery on this planet, it’s also the source of our every ideal of beauty and goodness, even that of any and all gods, and that fulfillment and meaning don’t have to come externally. Not too long ago, you could be burned alive for saying something like that.
That might be progress, it might not. All I know is there are always going to be people who either can’t or won’t see both the good and bad around them, and people for whom the only answer is an externally-derived purpose. That’s why, when stuff like the Family Radio capital-r Rapture comes along (and then very much doesn’t come along), it’s more sad than funny.
I’m not saying that to be a condescending prick to believers—shit, I’d buy in if I could—but just because as enjoyable as it is to mock these things, they actually speak to a genuinely tragic part of who we all are.