The Rapture of Daylight Saving Time

It's 6 p.m. Do you know where your Rapture is? (via Wikipedia; Free Art License)

So much has already been written and ridiculed about the prediction that this coming Saturday, May 21st, will be the Christian Rapture that I’m loath to add more, especially on this blog network that is largely dedicated to science. But apparently I am, because amidst all the other parts of this belief that seem preposterous to unbelieving, atheistic me, one part stands out as particularly nutty. (I know; don’t even start.) Chalk this up as a commentary on the nature of irrational beliefs.

According to some strains of Christian theology, the Rapture is when the good and faithful of the world will be drawn up physically into heaven. Depending on interpretations of the relevant verses in Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, the Rapture may or may not also mark the return of Jesus to earth, and may or may not mark the start of a hideous period of Tribulations for us left behind. Apparently, there’s even some disagreement about whether the living saints pulled into heaven then return to live among us. (The  Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins represent just one best-selling and oh-so-cinematic version of these prophesies.) The Rapture has been foretold many times in the past: for 1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1975, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, and twice in 1994, according to Wikipedia. Preacher and radio evangelist Harold Camping was responsible for the second of those failed 1994 predictions. Yet, undaunted, he is also the one whose numerological mumbo-jumbo is primarily to blame for raising expectations about the supposed Rapture for this Saturday.

Not that I’ll be part of it in any sense, but I began to wonder what time on the 21st the Rapture is supposed to occur. At the very least, if people are going to shoot into the air, I’d like to have a camera ready. Going through Harold Camping’s exegesis on the subject was singularly unhelpful to me: his divination of May 21st as the date seems to have a sprawling, complex numerological basis but I couldn’t find anything that related to the time of day. Nevertheless, Camping has apparently been saying that the Rapture would occur at 6 p.m. Because he is based in Oakland, Calif., I assumed that meant 6 p.m. Pacific time. This time struck me as odd, however, because it would mean that by the time the Rapture started, the date would no longer be May 21st in Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe. Of course, given that the international date line is itself an ultimately arbitrary human artifact, such a rigid and precise determination of the Rapture from scripture seemed baffling, anyway. I suppose the faithful should be glad for Daylight Saving Time, since that means the Rapture will arrive an hour earlier than it otherwise might.

And yet it gets worse. Because various people assure me that the actual belief is that the Rapture will not occur at 6 p.m. Pacific time but at 6 p.m. locally, all over the earth.

I realize it’s absurd to say this about an event that supposedly involves people vanishing or flying up into the sky at Heaven’s command, but I’m sorry, this part about 6 p.m. local time just isn’t believable. Why would that that be the case? How would that even work? Doesn’t this mean that every time zone around the world experiences its own separate Rapture, with great longitudinal swaths of the population transcending in blocks on the hour while the true believers to the west wait 60 minutes or more for their turn?

Bear in mind that the Rapture, within this theological framework, marks the beginning of the end times, leading up to Jesus’s millennial rule of the earth and Judgment Day. It is what Christian theologians throughout the ages would have called a really big deal. Why, then, would the transcendent and omnipotent God of Creation shape the timing of this nigh-climactic event to reflect the political and economic invention of time zones?

Or maybe I’m picturing this wrong. Maybe the salvation of Rapture sweeps across the globe in keeping with the sun, so that it happens everywhere at 6 p.m. local astronomically. Yet that idea has problems, too. First, in that case, the Rapture won’t actually occur at 6 p.m. according to most people’s clocks. “Between 5 and 6 p.m.” would actually be a more accurate prophecy.

Moreover, I thought that part of the point of the Rapture was that it very abruptly separated the pious believers from the sinful and disbelievers, who had rashly ignored all the teachings and testimony preceding the event. If the Rapture moves slowly around the world, however—and by modern standards, an event unfolding across 24 hours is slow—then people to the west of the international date line will have plenty of time to hear about what’s happening, repent by 5:59 p.m., and Rapture their way out of damnation or Tribulations or whatever the heck it is that’s supposed to happen. Would God stage a Rapture that let the sinful game the system? Or would God stop listening to people’s prayers and repentance once the Rapture started? And if God then wouldn’t care about their prayers, why would God care what time it was for them?

Nope. I realize that not all those who believe in the Rapture subscribe to this 6-p.m.-everywhere version of it (just as not all Christians believe in the Rapture, period), but I’m baffled how anyone can. I suspect that as with many beliefs in the paranormal or supernatural, this particular one works in part because believers can let themselves get caught up in a general enthusiasm for an idea without engaging more thoughtfully and critically with what that idea actually means or implies.

As for me, it sounds like brunch is still on for Sunday.

Update (5/21): Oh, what a surprise. It’s Saturday, and yet there’s no sign of any Rapturing going on. But as a consolation, here’s a link to Vaughan Bell’s fine essay on what happens to doomsday cults when the world doesn’t end.

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43 Responses to The Rapture of Daylight Saving Time

  1. Coturnix says:

    Local time, because they don’t travel much? Narrow horizons and stuff…

    • hillcrester says:

      Has Air Traffic Control been alerted? I’d hate to see all the “good” folks sucked into jet engines like just so many geese.

  2. If they got the heavenly paperwork wrong and suck you up by mistake, can I have your brunch reservation?

    • John Rennie says:

      First, what kind of Rapture wouldn’t grab you, Maryn?

      Second, if I were pulled toward the Celestial Palace by mistake, I would undoubtedly be spat back earthward with a velocity that would put the Tunguska meteorite to shame. So yes, you can have my reservation.

      • Jane Johnsen says:

        John Rennie:
        I have know you since you were a child and I don’t believe you would be spat back with any velocity. You jest I know. I would hope to be one that was chosen but would wonder if they had really made a mistake.

  3. giltay says:

    Nevertheless, Camping has apparently been saying that the Rapture would occur at 6 p.m.

    I heard Mr. Camping on the BBC global news podcast this morning (about the last 4 minutes). The bizarre 6-PM-local-time bit seems to be exactly what he’s predicting. I’ve transcribed part of his interview:

    So on that day, there is going to begin with a huge earthquake. When we look at the language of the Bible, it’ll probably begin wherever the clock shows 6 PM standard time. That will begin in one part of the world, of course, and as any city or any area of the world comes to May 21, 6 PM on their clock, about that time there will be a huge earthquake. The Bible says it will be an earthquake far, far greater than any this world has ever experienced. For the rest of the world, where it has not arrived at yet, it’ll take 24 hours to go around the world and so the whole world is under destruction, but while they’re waiting, they’ll be able to view and watch what’s happening in the countries where it has happened already.

    Roger Hearing asks him some questions about what his method was and why we should believe him now after 1994 passed with no end of the world, but Camping becomes increasingly illucid. Then again, I initially misheard “clock shows” as “cop shows” which may have thrown me off.

  4. Ed Yong says:

    So the Rapture finally arrives and it takes the form of a Mexican wave of salvation? Pass. I’ll stuck to looting

  5. Pingback: The Rapture of Daylight Saving Time – PLoS Blogs (blog)

  6. Pingback: Christian Leaders Respond to Camping’s May 21 Rapture Prediction – Christian Post

  7. pacificpsych says:

    This really sucks. First, us non-Christians are doomed from the get-go. Second, weather’s been so bad, hard to enjoy these last days. On top of all this Fringe ended for the season and now we’ll never know what happened. Why is God doing this to his chosen people? WHY?!

    Makes you wonder once again why some delusions are ‘OK’ and some get you labelled psychotic.

    • hillcrester says:

      Baba Ram Dass (aka Dr. Richard Alpert) has the explanation concerning society’s reaction to delusional people. He says, to paraphrase, they don’t lock you up for claiming you are Jesus; you only get locked up as “insane” when you start claiming that others are NOT Jesus. In the case of the evangi-delusional named “Camping,” once you can get people to give you at least $1,000,000 you are no longer delusional, you are a Trump-style con artist and get a TV program.

    • pottlukk says:

      pacificpsych………… and I have the same sense of humor. I love it.

  8. Ed says:

    Okay so when the Rapture begins, one person is on a rowboat just west of the International Date Line. An hour into the event, he rows east. What happens to him? Does he cheat the rapture, or is there a second wave that comes back for him?

    Basically, will the Rapture be a bit like the plot of Final Destination?

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  11. Zadoc Paet says:

    Wow, this is crazy. I see billboards for this all over my city.
    Poll: Do you really believe Jesus will retun on May 21?

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  15. seth brown says:

    Don’t know what to say.All I know it’s might be true.Just lets hope and pray for our sins before it’s too late.God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins at the last minutes no matter who we are.

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  17. Well, I for one, am really glad it’s a rolling start by time zone. I have spent enough of my life waiting in line, and I’d rather just sail through the Pearly Gates, thanks.

  18. Ron says:

    For a Christian based theologian, the idea of any man knowing the day and the hour that such an even itself brings suspicion as it is clearly stated, if one takes the Christian Bible literally, that no man knows the day nor the hour of this predicted catastrophe. So, then, is Mr. Camping more than a man? Is he a demi God or a God that he has first hand information? And then the next question is this: is it really a responsible and ethical thing to be telling people this event is going to happen while at the same time taking tons and tons of money which is not going to be needed if it does? In this instance, any day an 89 year old wakes up is a good day. So, if he doesn’t wake up from his afternoon nap should we say he’s been raptured?

  19. Ed Boyle says:

    The time of the Rapture doesn’t matter. Since the Earth is flat, it will happen everywhere at the same time. Obvious?

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  21. TwuBeliever! says:

    i’m glad to know that it’s gonna be 6pm local time – a rolling rapture will keep the queues shorter (not that they’d have been all that long, anyway).

  22. Yuri says:

    I looked at the website that summarizes what Camping believes. May 21st marks beginning of punishment and burning for all nonbelievers after Christians leave. He believes that the millennial rule of Chirst has been in effect and is over.

  23. I really got a kick out of your article. I am a Christian and while I think it takes more faith not believe in Jesus (God come in the flesh to justify those who receive the pardon), than to believe.

    I really like your style and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was cracking up! I will be at church on Sunday as your eating!

  24. Herman says:

    If I remember correctly, somewhere the bible states that “Jesus will come like a thief in the night.”. There you go.

  25. Pattie Lane, Peter Morris says:

    Hi John. My husband and I enjoyed your article very much. We thought it was pretty funny when we found ourselves googling for the exact time of the rapture–and your article kept the mood going. Imagine our surprise when we checked for the name of the author and discovered we recognized you. My sister Heather played with your sister growing up. Thanks for the laughs. You brightened our morning.

  26. Crys says:

    This article is Hee-La-REE-US!! Well if the rapture does come local time.. I believe I just got jipped! haha I just flown into Germany. Looks like i should have stayed in the states to gain some extra time o_O 2.5 hours left till my doom!

  27. Robin Weeks says:

    So, like, should I be outside at 6 pm, or what? What if it’s raining? I don’t want to catch a cold right before I figure out that I’m NOT being raptured.

  28. Valerie Moniz says:

    Very funny article. Love all the comments as well.

  29. pacificpsych says:

    Hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but it’s 8PM in the Holy Land and the world hasn’t ended. I guess we all have to go wash the dishes after all…

  30. Alan says:

    Good stuff. I’m a Bible-believing Christian who fell for a prophecy in the 90s (not quite the rapture, but similar enough). I have since developed a healthy skepticism and general suspicion of those who claim to speak directly on behalf of God.
    Just speculating, as I have not read the guy’s site, but the 6 p.m. deal may refer to the Jewish time clock for when a day changes. If I have learned correctly 6 p.m. will technically be Sunday, May 22. Go figure.
    Now to all, Christian and non-believer alike, I do recommend a healthy bit of forgiveness for folks who have fell for this. Yes, they need a good “I told you so,” but along with that please be forgiving. They probably have good intentions and now they will learn a very hard lesson they will have to live down the rest of their lives.
    As a side note I really dug Ed’s rowboat math problem. (Go to the top of the page, hit CTRL-F and type rowboat) Hilarious.
    God bless and peace. May we be found pleasing in God’s sight when Jesus DOES return :)

    • John Rennie says:

      Thanks, Alan, for some good and considerate points. The idea that the 6 p.m. time is linked to Jewish tradition about when days begin or end hadn’t occurred to me. But isn’t the tradition that the new day begins at sundown? And if that’s the explanation, shouldn’t the prediction have been that people would be Raptured away at sunset rather than at a particular clock time?

      Of course, I continue to feel silly for overthinking this wackiness, particularly since the prediction is now a proven failure.

  31. Shannon Carpenter says:

    i enjoyed reading everyone’s comment’s especially the one about the rowboat and being outside at 6 pm in the rain getting sick just to find out that the rapture isn’t going to happen lol…all of this made my day and made me smile big =D

  32. Scott says:

    “No one knows when the end will come–so we must always be ready.” Good thing Camping was wrong. I dont think I could have put up with an eternity filled with “I told you so”

  33. Jane Johnsen says:

    I am of the belief that no one knows when that day will come. God has not given me a date of my death as yet either. Predictions are made all the time and some of us fall for the idea to have some kind of proof that this indeed will happen one day.
    Been interesting reading. Sent by your mom and Michelle.
    Jane Johnsen

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