So my own personal journey to the west technically began Thursday morning when we left Brooklyn, but I think of it as starting today, when I left my home of the past two years. Right now we’re coming to the end of Ohio, headed for Michigan; we ought to be in Buchanan eating sinfully delicious ice cream at 6 PM, which is as good a place as I can think of to be for the end of the world.

Let me tangent for a sec. The last apocalyptic fervor I remember was for Y2K, and it made perfect sense that everyone was paying attention to that: it was scheduled for a holiday, after all, and even if people didn’t think the world was going to end 2000 years after the birth of Christ, people would be paying attention to the turn of the century.

But I’m honestly surprised by the amount of press the Rapture has been getting over the past week or so. How did this one get so big? Was there this much attention paid in the mainstream media to Harold Camping’s prediction in 1994? (I was only six, so I wasn’t in a position to notice.) Or is this a function of a much more energetic, fast-moving mass media? Or is it, perhaps, the result of evangelical Christians becoming a voting bloc/prominent demographic over the past couple of decades?

I suppose it’s a combination of ingredients not unlike a doctor’s prescription. I’ve been following Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog since high school (back when it was at Typepad and now that it’s at Patheos), which has given me some level of insight into a culture of evangelism, pre-millennial dispensationalism, and Rapture-readiness that I would not otherwise have been exposed to with my liberal kind-of-Catholic upbringing, my dirty hippie high school, and my snobbish intellectually elitist university. And if there’s one thing I learned from Fred Clark, it’s that this whole Rapture idea has been gaining widespread popularity for decades.

Still, it’s basically a fringe position, it seems like, which is why it’s so confusing to see so many people mocking it on my Facebook feed, to see profiles of believers in the New York Times headlines delivered to my inbox. It feels like — I don’t know, like suddenly the whole media is paying attention to people posting passionate tracts about how James Potter was an abusive father or how Ferris Bueller is basically Fight Club. People are laughingly creating events like “Post-Rapture Looting” and making plans leave piles of empty clothes on the sidewalks. Is this level of reaction normal for apocalyptic prophecies?

As I write this, it does occur to me that there’s one simple explanation for why everyone is paying attention to this: Harold Camping spent a lot of his followers’ money on advertising it. (I woke up this morning thinking “God, what a great scam you could run! Collect thousands and thousands of dollars from your followers, then clean out the church bank account, leave a pile of empty clothes in your bed, and get on a plane for Cancun, leaving your flock convinced that you were the only one found worthy of being taken.” Maybe there’s a movie there, eh?)

Anyway, while I have rather a dim view of people like Camping who convince their congregations that the end is nigh, I’m in Fred Clark’s camp when it comes to the congregations themselves:

… This is what they thought the scriptures meant when they spoke of “the fear of the Lord” — the powerless terror of the child of an abusive parent.

And that terror is what Harold Camping and his followers are feeling now. And it is what they will be feeling again Saturday evening, after that terror and despair first abates, then metastasizes in the realization that the world has not ended and that they are not the righteous remnant they staked their identities on being.

… That some of this trauma is self-inflicted or that, like most victims of con-artists, they are partially complicit in their own undoing doesn’t change the fact that we’re still talking about thousands of people in pain, fear and despair.

It may take a while to help them pick up all the pieces after the great earthquake that never happens, and I’m not even sure how to help them. But I want to try — partly out of pity, partly out of duty, but ultimately out of love because, after all, they’re family.

So yeah.

. . . I think I originally was going to make a point about how the Ohio turnpike sort of defines road-tripping for me, and how that’s a little depressing given that I have also road-tripped through the emptiness of Wyoming, the greenery of Washington and British Columbia, and the grandeur of the Yukon, but that point seems to have gotten a little lost.

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