The Rapture is an event in Christian eschatology (theology regarding the end of the world and the final judgment) wherein the faithful of Jesus Christ will be “caught up” in the clouds “to meet with the Lord in the air.” Popular depictions of the rapture often include Christians floating up in the sky, leaving behind all the heretics and heathens to suffer on Earth during an era of torment called “the Tribulation” as described in the book of Revelation (or, as I like to call it, some guy named John’s really bad acid trip). This leads up to the end of the world. There are many variations of the doctrine and it would be tedious and uninteresting to dwell on the variants. I should note here though that the Rapture is not officially espoused in any recognizable form by the Roman Catholic Church, Christianity’s largest sect. It is particularly identified with the Evangelical Christian movement as they are often the most vocal about the coming end times. Many mainstream Christian denominations (including Catholicism), however, look forward to the obliteration of the world and human civilization in some form.
This past Saturday, May 21, 2011, was the latest in a long line of failed predictions for the Rapture. You may have seen buses and banners all over the country set up by a certain FamilyRadio.com calling on everyone to repent and believe in Jesus because the end times are finally here, 2000 years after Jesus promised to come before some of those present with him would die. On that day, Christians were supposed to disappear from the face of the Earth. If you were on a plane piloted by a Christian, you’d have been out of luck.
It’s Monday now and no one seems to have noticed any mysterious disappearances involving people shooting up into the sky. Seems like the Rapture was a bust.
But what if it did happen?
What if we are now living in the Tribulation as foretold by Tim LaHaye’s million-dollar Left Behind franchise of books and movies?
How could this be, you ask, if your pious Christian neighbors are still here?
Well, what if all the Christians who were raptured were only those who lived alone and nobody noticed their disappearance? Sounds absurd? Well, yeah, but you can’t disprove it. Welcome to religion.
But, say that it did happen last Saturday. Say that now we’re all just stuck on this blue rock hurtling through space at a hundred thousand kilometers per hour, without a God to cry out to and left to fend for ourselves. Now, we’re all just earthlings.
It’s an unsettling notion. Our first instincts upon realization of this fact will tell us to collapse into a ball and wait patiently for our certain death in this lonely and cold universe. Good news, though; our second instinct will shake the first one off.
Have you ever tried to spend the entire day lying in bed? Not sleeping or thinking, just lying still and doing nothing. This perfectly simple task begins to become increasingly impossible to perform as the day progresses. That’s our second instinct kicking in. Even for helpless humans, inactivity is unappealing.
So, we eventually curl out of our post-apocalyptic fetal position and wake inside a new world. We notice that it looks exactly like before, except that we are missing the consolation of a savior who will fix things in the end. No matter. We go on living.
With the assurance that, now, God is on nobody’s side, we are forced to become more humble and more aware of our limitations. We are compelled to judge things with the understanding that we are, in essence, sentient meat and different from other animals only in intellect and range of awareness. Since everyone has clearly been wrong on the question of God save for the few who have been raptured unnoticed, no knowledge is infallible or sacred. Everything can be challenged without risk of ostracism or violence.
With the true Christians now with their maker, no type of human being is more favored by God than another. The deeds of us left here are the only metric by which we can consider each other, not the unquestioned assent to some esoteric tradition handed down by our parents.
But without God watching us, all actions become uncomfortably trivial in the grand scheme of the cosmos. We are the only species we know that has awareness of its own inevitable death. Though we believed that our corporeal deaths were temporary and could be healed eventually by our Creator, we no longer have that. Our mortality suddenly becomes very real, without the prospect of eternal paradise. We are now but a fledgling group of apes: one species out of millions on one planet among ten million billion. No longer chosen by God. No longer having dominion. No longer special or given divine right.
Yet it is the exact same circumstance that makes us small and unimportant which makes our fragile human lives precious and valuable. Somehow, even without a divine guardian, humanity retains its worth in the vastness of space. With heaven no longer on the table, we discover that we only have each other now. Building a lasting society dedicated to the pursuit of happiness: that is the only way the human race can achieve the immortality it so unceasingly pursued.
Maybe God has left his children who were unable to live sufficiently propitiating, credulous, or subservient. But even without the meaning imposed by a celestial watchman, we have the freedom to make our own. We can choose that meaning to be compassion for each other instead of eager excitement for the destruction of all we have built. We can choose our life’s purpose to be made in consideration of our kinship with all life on Earth and not the bigotry and ignorance of our pre-apocalypse. This life, this planet, is all we have now. If the world has indeed ended, let’s start a better one.