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Rapture Fever: How Religious Beliefs Can Divide Families

If civil engineer turned self-taught biblical scholar Harold Camping’s predictions are correct, the end of the world is about two hours away (depending on your time zone) and anything I have to say about the purported “rapture” will be lost on the faithful, or those that are already en route to heaven (does Care2 transmit in heaven? I need to ask my editors). According to Camping’s camp, Judgment Day is upon us (May 21st, 2011) and through a series of bible-based calculations (7000 years after Noah and the flood) it is predicted that “believers” will be lifted up to the celestial plain, while the rest of us are left behind to endure five months of plagues, quakes, spotty 3G coverage, famine, Republican primaries, the upcoming season of Dancing With The Stars, and the burden of having to take care of all the pets left behind by the faithful.

Over the past few weeks, hoards of “believers” have taken to the street and populated the Internet with their conviction and their tearful goodbyes, as the heathen majority looks on with comical disdain, or just bafflement. While some are dutifully preparing for the biggest airlift since post-war Berlin, others are enjoying the hullabaloo and making feigned commitments to attend post-rapture looting parties. Whether the world ends today or moves forward business as usual is not the point. The point is that often times a particular heart-felt faith can divide a population just as easily as it can divide a community or a family even.

The New York Times reported this week on how families following Camping’s doomsday predictions are contending, not only with end of the world scenarios, but also great tension within the family when not everyone can get on board with all that fire and brimstone talk. ” With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.” It is not uncommon for religious beliefs to divide loved ones or families even, especially when children grow into adulthood and define their own system of faith (or not), and each family contends with these ripples in their own way. Granted, having half your family convinced that they will be residing in the clouds by Sunday morning presents its own distinct challenges of familial acceptance and respect. Still, faith divides us as much as it brings us together, and finding a balance of spiritual belief and general acceptance is an exceedingly tricky endeavor.

I have no answers on this one, other than to try to reign in the more erratic behavior with love and compassion, but that doesn’t always do the trick. I wanted to reach out to Care2 readers (those not presently busy hurdling through the stratosphere toward the ultimate skybox) and ask how you contend with strong religious, or faith, differences among family members and loved ones? Is it something that is addressed early on and never to be spoken of again, or is an ongoing issue? Have you ever ended relationships or friendships over conflicting issues around faith and religion? Do you have parents and/or children who don’t follow your belief system? If so, how do you smooth out the ripples?

And as a parting note: Just in case this is my last post, I thought I would pay tribute with a beloved song that references this day. Enjoy:

Read more: Children, Family, Guidance, Parenting at the Crossroads, Spirit, , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

82 comments

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6:00AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

I have been thru the ringer with losing my entire family due to this-then divorce -lost home/property due to income issues -then credit problems-then job is one the line due to credit issues ----its seems to never end--then you start to question your own belief and wonder if you now have been cursed because of failure to "get on board"

6:37PM PDT on Jun 28, 2011

... and nations!

11:42AM PDT on Jun 9, 2011

I am the only Born Again Christian in my family but it is not a bad things as Jesus says those who do not know they are sinning are not sinning it is only those who know and continue that are sinning. Seems fair right.

11:26PM PDT on May 24, 2011

Jesus said to ignore folk who predict the end times because nobody knows when this will occur except God the father. when Jesus returns to planet earth it will be in all his power and glory (not as a baby this time) coming in from the sky with all believers past and present. our responsibility till then is to accept him as our Lord and Savior and seek guidance for our life from the Holy Spirit. If we trust Christ and are in relationship with him then we have nothing to fear. if you think i am talking rubbish you need to change your heart attitude. unless you do then you will have a lot to fear in the end times or on your death bed.

9:04AM PDT on May 24, 2011

As a Pagan, most of my extended family is 'another faith' mostly various protestant Christians. My husband is an agnostic, which I actually find harder to deal with and respect. My children and I are very active and devout polytheists, following hundreds of ancient Gods and Goddesses, and for us it is hard understanding anyone who worships only one male God, much less someone who worships no God.

6:49AM PDT on May 24, 2011

My family doesn't talk much about religion to be honest. Most of us believe in a God, but our views on religion are different. For example, my grandmother loves to go to church, but my grandfather views church as unnecessary and a hindrance at times. As a Christian, I'm always amused by those out-there beliefs. These people who believed they had predicted the rapture also believe that each word in the bible is directly from God and completely infallible. If that's the case, they should have looked at it a time or two again because the bible clearly states that not a single person will know the date of the rapture nor the end of the world. These people just end up making religion, and more specifically Christianity, look bad!

1:34PM PDT on May 23, 2011

I've been there. At one stage I was far too zealous for my own good and it did begin to divide my family. I came on too strong and my mother, who grew up in an austere european society, withdrew from it. I handled it foolishly. I have not lost my faith, but I have gained wisdom.

In every faith, it is the extreme groups that ruin the credibility for everyone. Be it a small group of Christians following a completely non-scriptural 'prophecy', or a hostile group of Islamic followers, these kinds of people have missed the real point. The point is love. Love for one another and the love of the Creator. To make such a fuss about ideas like the end of the world, does nobody any favours. If all the followers of a faith would just focus on the fundamental principles of their belief, there would be far fewer problems in the world.

I would like to personally apologise to everyone, on behalf of the small groups who have given a good faith a bad name.

1:33PM PDT on May 23, 2011

I've been there. At one stage I was far too zealous for my own good and it did begin to divide my family. I came on too strong and my mother, who grew up in an austere european society, withdrew from it. I handled it foolishly. I have not lost my faith, but I have gained wisdom.

In every faith, it is the extreme groups that ruin the credibility for everyone. Be it a small group of Christians following a completely non-scriptural 'prophecy', or a hostile group of Islamic followers, these kinds of people have missed the real point. The point is love. Love for one another and the love of the Creator. To make such a fuss about ideas like the end of the world, does nobody any favours. If all the followers of a faith would just focus on the fundamental principles of their belief, there would be far fewer problems in the world.

I would like to personally apologise to everyone, on behalf of the small groups who have given a good faith a bad name.

1:31PM PDT on May 23, 2011

I've been there. At one stage I was far too zealous for my own good and it did begin to divide my family. I came on too strong and my mother, who grew up in an austere european society, withdrew from it. I handled it foolishly. I have not lost my faith, but I have gained wisdom.

In every faith, it is the extreme groups that ruin the credibility for everyone. Be it a small group of Christians following a completely non-scriptural 'prophecy', or a hostile group of Islamic followers, these kinds of people have missed the real point. The point is love. Love for one another and the love of the Creator. To make such a fuss about ideas like the end of the world, does nobody any favours. If all the followers of a faith would just focus on the fundamental principles of their belief, there would be far fewer problems in the world.

I would like to personally apologise to everyone, on behalf of the small groups who have given a good faith a bad name.

8:04AM PDT on May 23, 2011

Love.....NOT religion...too dangerous!

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