A cursory glance at the internet and other fringes of public information over the past few weeks has informed us that some religious people think the world is going to end this weekend. No, wait, even better – they think that on May 21 Jesus is going to arrive and gather up everyone who believes in him and take them to Heaven.
This is apparently so their souls will not be destroyed when the world ends five months later. Or, wait, maybe Jesus doesn’t arrive this weekend, he just kind of teleports people out of here, like potentially they fly up into the sky? Then five months later is when Jesus actually shows up and blows up the earth? It’s hard to tell, actually. The information is inconsistent. Unlike on most other matters related to Jesus, one cannot consult the absolute authority of the Holy Bible, as this current incarnation of the concept – the Rapture – isn’t from the Bible. It seems to have been invented in the 1700s.
It appears that every so often someone suggests that the Rapture is imminent, and then this information spreads in small part because of people who fervently believe it and in large part due to nonbelievers who ostensibly think it’s funny and are being ironic.
For example, the Rapture provides an excellent venue for many of your friends to Tweet ‘sweet, five months without Sarah Palin’, among other humor vehicles. It is unclear whether this website, ‘Eternal Earth-Bound Pets,’ – it promises atheists will care for the faithful’s left-behind pets in the event of Rapture, for a $135 fee – is a joke, an exploitation, or a sincere endeavor to offer a service that would be of material value to people who believe they will be whisked away by the Rapture.
Although the website firmly asserts it is not in jest and that its operators are “open to the possibility that our perspective may be wrong,” actual atheists would not believe in Rapture and therefore would be pretty exploitive to suggest that there is anything they could contribute in the event that it occurs.
But even the suggestion of the practical impact of Rapture is intriguing. Think of roaming, untethered animals, their printed plastic food dishes left empty; imagine the lonesome jingling of license tags bearing phone numbers that no one will answer any longer. A golden retriever lies beside a child’s swingset, nose on his paws, day and night.
Let’s just entertain the concept. What do believers do, feel, when the Rapture – which, eerily, shares a word root with the word ‘rape’ (rapere, “to snatch up”)? How does Jesus transport their bodies, fast or slow? At once or in waves according to geography? According to the purity of their faith? Will we be sitting awake at 2 AM, watching CNN night-footage of light clusters rising from major cities, millions of tiny shooting stars?
Or, instead, picture the slow levitation of limp, pale bodies, their faces transfixed, rapt, enraptured, the arms and fingers dangling like the people you see chosen from an Evangelical program’s studio audience to get healed. They slip effortlessly from the grasp, whether playful or ill-intentioned, of those left earthbound who grab them by the ankle or toe. Maybe the sky is clouded with the nebula of a million human bodies fading from view.
Come to think, as Heaven is a spiritual concept and not a physical location (isn’t it?), for what should the transported need their bodies, no matter what rosy illustrations of the great event have come before? A family of four is sitting round its dining room table, husband and wife, two little brothers, all hands-in-hands. Maybe they are praying; maybe they are just waiting, and then suddenly the useless husks go limp. There is the hollow wooden ‘clonk’ of Father’s head tipping forward onto the table; Mother’s tips back, face upturned and smiling, an expression she holds as her chair also tips back and down, down down toward the kitchen floor.
Or maybe they just become nothing, a diffusion of light particles, radiant and liquid, dissipating on the air like a body of dandelion seed. In every version their mouths are open, eyes wide, thrall, joy, shock, terror colliding.
And then there is left their pets and the nonbelievers. Imagine the sort of pall of anxiety that would linger in the wake of humankind’s largest-possible and most jarring ‘I told you so.’ A chorus of repentant weeping, voices near-mad with fear, echoes from an abandoned church where people beg day and night to be reconsidered. The people who replied, for humor effect, to the global Facebook event ‘post-Rapture looting’ will probably not attend, but other people will. They will probably have weapons. You should stay indoors.
Until when? Until the world ends? Will the sky turn sulfur-yellow and pea green, a bizarre climate that becomes more dissasociative and unsettling the closer it gets to the last day? Will you spend your last months occupying the big big house of some rich family who’s been Raptured, in comfort you probably never could have afforded in your own life? With just a few months left will you take their portraits down from the wall of the recently-abandoned home, or will you accord them the dignity of letting them stay as you count down the hours and the days? Imagine a tract of Bible Belt housing, miles of neglected lawn, of empty stores and homes and the kinds of people who would burrow into these quit spaces and build a Doomsday society there. From here and there beyond a shuttered blind, the blink of a security camera, or maybe a rifle scope. You can’t tell.
Maybe you should not walk down this street, and you should also take care to avoid the places where the relapsed and new-minted addicts, who no longer have any reason to repress themselves, congregate numbly around abandoned cars, inside and over them like lizards. You can hear the sound of them laughing from far away. Down the hall from you an elderly woman sits alone in the dark, waiting for a care worker who will never again visit.
The Rapture concept persists because, religious or not, everyone is secretly obsessed with the end of the world. Rapture jokes, Rapture barbeques Rapture Facebook events, ‘funny’ fake Rapture signs and news broadcasts that pretend with dry humor that the event is totally a ‘thing that is possible, at least,’ give the appearance of dismissing the sincerity of barely-plausible religious junk and allow us nonbelievers to ventilate a long-nurtured disdain for religion and/or religious people.
But maybe all the sarcasm also helps ignore some miniscule leaden splinter of fear that the creepy Rapture could actually happen. A point-one percent chance of something like that coming to pass is too much for some, when the something is the inexplicable transmission of people we know – maybe even family members, friends – into the yawning mouth of some divine unknown, leaving us behind to wait out the rest.
And maybe some of us would like to believe it; the pragmatic among us accept that there isn’t anything we can do about a world beyond our vision or understanding, and that’s if we even believe such unseen and incomprehensibly-powerful things exist. But the idea that you will never witness anything extraordinary, that you will live and die among the mundane with your feet planted firmly in your own little plot of backyard is stark; maybe it would be worth your own death to upend the system of reality. To see a rising tide of unfamiliar souls surging up toward a crack in the sky – imagine! – to know that if such a thing is actually possible, at least you can be here to see it.
I mean. It’ll probably be fine.