By Pam Linn

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Enraptured or just irresponsible?

All the recent hoopla from the Christian radio evangelist in Oakland puts me in mind of the old guys who used to walk around New York’s Times Square wearing raggedy clothing and a sandwich board hand-written: Repent. The End is Near!

Nobody appeared to notice them or give them money but then Doomsday predictors have always been part of the American landscape, objects of derision to whom few paid any heed.

What seems to be different in this century is their ability to attract media coverage, even as they are mostly the targets of late-night comedians.

NPR’s Peter Sagal, host of the news quiz “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me” opened this weekend with: “If you’re still here and listening to this show there are only two possibilities: Either none of us made the cut or – and this is more likely – this is heaven.”

Nowadays, with the proliferation of social media, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, just about any nut case with nonprofit status is able to raise appalling amounts of money. And for what? Not to feed the poor; not even to ensure one’s individual salvation. It seems to be all about self-promotion. The biggest winners in evangelist Harold Camping’s doomsday prognostication scenario were the outdoor advertising companies that sold billboard space promoting the impending end times.

According to Associated Press reports, Camping’s Family Radio International collected millions of dollars in donations, which paid for more than 5,000 billboards advertising his doomsday prediction that the Rapture would take place at 6 p.m. May 21, 2011, followed by six months of pestilence, calamities and suffering ending on Oct. 21 when the earth would be obliterated by a giant fire ball. This ad campaign could have no legs because if Camping’s Judgment Day predictions were right, we’d all be gone and if they were wrong, well, life, however imperfect, goes on. Camping’s similar prediction for 1994 was also a dud. His explanation was that due to a “mathematical error” it was “premature.”

Now we all understand advertising if you have something to sell. Bomb shelters during the Cold War for instance. But this was more like a political campaign. Self-promotion on steroids. At 89, Camping is probably ready to meet his personal judgment. But preying on the insecurity of his followers seems unconscionable. Sure, these are uncertain times, what with political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, increasing intensity of hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Predictions of turmoil are likely to be at least partially correct somewhere, sometime.

Of course, the rest of us are more inclined to blame these events on climate change rather than on a wrathful god and unrepentant sinners.

Living in a residence for seniors has allowed me to understand a bit more about how older people reconcile their lives in preparation for the end. Some find solace in their churches, volunteering to help the less fortunate. None of these folks, it should be noted, subscribe to Camping’s idea of the Rapture.

Acceptance of the inevitable seems to make us kinder as we age so any talk of a pending apocalypse is just a distraction.

When I was a child I was religious, following the advice of nuns to confess my sins, do my penance and always be prepared to meet my maker. Their math was off by about 70 years but, hey, just a minor miscalculation. My biggest sin was the telling of tall tales. I even confessed to sins I hadn’t committed just to keep the priest entertained.

Religion seems to have the strongest hold when its followers are caught in the grip of fear and ignorance. Does believing in the Rapture make people more caring or simply absolve them of any responsibility? The world is coming to an end so who cares: No need to repair the roof, conserve energy, recycle, diet, walk, grow our own food or actually learn anything.

The scientists and pragmatists among us have a different take. If we stop polluting our air and water, and give up or at least modify our addiction to fossil fuels, perhaps we will leave a livable planet for our grandchildren.

They, in turn, won’t need to believe in the radio prophets of doom selling the Rapture on any timetable.