In case you were wondering, here's a chart. Larger version here.
According to some calculations, most seeming to stem from the fundamentalist preacher Harold Camping, this Saturday, May 21 is the Rapture. Among those who do not hold with this, the typical reaction seems to be "party!"
While predictions of imminent apocalypse have a long pedigree, and one not just confined to Christianity, the Rapture is a recent and mostly American invention, arising out of 18th century Puritanism.
Growing up in the rural part of the Bible Belt, where mainstream and open-minded denominations rubbed shoulders with the more esoteric fundamentalists, this idea in particular always struck me as among the strangest. I remember a particular religious bookstore with a bargain bin of apocalypses, containing predictions that Gorbachev, hippies, AIDS and computers, among others, were signs of an imminent end.
At one point, around 4th grade, I acquired the sort of fascination with the concept that only a child can muster. After taking down a Bible and skipping forward to Revelation, I decided that the world would end the next week, around 10:40 in the morning, during the language arts portion of class. I waited quietly at my desk, inwardly relieved when the appointed time arrived and my teacher was not devoured by serpent beasts. Or harlots, for that matter, who I assumed were some type of badass female supervillain.
Later, I understood the roots. Poverty and upheaval are key to the American story, creating fertile soil for visions — not just religious or Christian — of sudden triumph. It is a hard world, and those who endure long enough would dearly love for the sky to open in their favor, just once.
In best secular fashion, more and more people are getting in on the celebration, and NPR is even asking for a soundtrack. After all, in my lifetime, we've had the Bomb, homegrown terrorists, Y2K, foreign terrorists and economic strife. As long as I can remember, things far more real than Rapture have loomed.
But here we are, still alive, throwing a party. Heaven can wait, we're only watching the skies.