But I have noticed something else that is not a laughing matter: how the actions of some rapture-seized parents could, unintentionally in most cases, harm their children.
Think about it. How many news stories have you heard where people said they were convinced that they no longer needed earthly goods, and so they gave away everything they owned? In an NPR News story, Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports how Harold Camping’s predictions have inspired people to quit their jobs and leave their families. As one 27-year-old mother told NPR, “Knowing the date of the end of the world changes all your future plans.”
That mother, Adrienne Martinez, went on to say that, based on her belief about the impending rapture, she canceled plans to go to medical school. Instead, she and her husband quit their jobs and moved from New York City to Orlando to devote their lives to worshiping, proselytizing, and spending time with their two-year-old daughter. The couple is expecting another child next month, whom one can assume the Martinez’s believed would be born in heaven.
“My mentality was, why are we going to work for more money? It just seemed kind of greedy to me. And unnecessary,” Martinez told NPR. Her husband added, “God just made it possible—he opened doors. He allowed us to quit our jobs, and we just moved, and here we are.” Said his wife, “We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.”
Now that the prophesy has failed to come true, what is to become of this family and the countless others who also bet away their futures? In this economy, we can only assume that they will have a difficult, long read ahead, as they try to rebuild their lives. But, of most importance to me, how will the choice to risk flinging a family into a state of poverty affect their children? Furthermore, how will those children be affected, as their parents potentially suffer with psychological trauma, trying to come to grips with the realization that their high-stakes belief is untrue?
In my book, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, I talk about the emotional difficulties children face when they are taught such notions as Armageddon and the Second Coming. A number of people I interviewed spoke about how, as children, they lived in a perpetual state of fear, because they were convinced that doomsday could arrive any day. Now, this latest threat—that hell would literally break loose on May 21st—brings to light new forms of child abuse and neglect.
Consider what happened on May 20th, the day before the world was predicted to come to an end: Lyn Benedetto of southern California allegedly slit her daughters’ throats and wrists and then her own to avoid what she believed was the coming “tribulation.” Benedetto reportedly used a box cutter and paring knife in an attempt to kill her 11- and 14-year old daughters and then herself. Thankfully, the three survived. The girls were hospitalized and released to child protective services, and their mother was taken to jail.
We can wonder what kind of mental health syndromes or problems plague parents who jeopardize their children’s lives based on their religious beliefs. We can blame Harold Camping and some media outlets for propagating nonsense. We can laugh at those who take such nonsense as gospel. But, as I point out in Breaking Their Will, it is even more important to step back and question all religious ideas that are generated by, and spread, fear. Such ideas have the potential to lead parents to abuse and neglect their children.
[ADDENDUM: As you will see below, this blog generated numerous comments by individuals who described how the terrorizing "end times" religious teachings of their childhoods were emotionally abusive. The mother I write about, Adrienne Martinez, also commented, stating that her children were not negatively affected by her and her husband's decision to give up material wealth in anticipation of the world coming to an end. On October 28, 2011, Camping's website published a statement, saying that "it seems embarrassing" that Campings predictions were wrong, and he apologized for telling people that those who doubted that that the rapture would take place on May 21 probably had not been saved.]