If you're reading this ...

I don't know why I'm bothering to write a Sunday column with the end of the world scheduled for Saturday and all. Gravel-voiced evangelist Harold Camping's Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio has sprung for thousands of billboards around the world to warn people of our imminent demise, and he says this time it's guaranteed.

There's a sign on Medford's East Main Street near Oak Grove School, a big, colorful thing with an official-looking seal like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval with the blurb: "The Bible Guarantees It."

So if you won't be reading this Sunday morning, why am I bothering?

Good question. In a world with no future and no consequences, I briefly considered running amok. Why not rape, pillage and plunder? Do drugs? Real, high-fat ice cream? Stop flossing?

Instead I Googled Camping. Turns out he's an 89-year-old former engineer who looks a bit like Montgomery Burns. And it's not his first rodeo. He also predicted the end of the world in 1994. That didn't work out so well. Camping explained later that he'd just screwed up the math, and his followers forgave, forgot and continued to send the check.

The blown call in '94 didn't sway members of his flock who this time around have quit their jobs to await the apocalypse. Good luck to them.

Camping says he based his prediction on his study of the Bible, Noah's Ark, the feast days in the ancient Hebrew calendar, the lunar month, the Gregorian calendar, leap seconds at the end of each year, the gradual slowing of the Earth's rotation on its axis and lots of other esoteric stuff.

Isn't there something just deeply strange about that? You'd think God would spell it out plain and simple for everybody — this is, after all, a pretty big deal — rather than making up some cockamamy code so complicated that only one guy in the whole world could figure it out.

Anyway, what Camping actually says is that Saturday is merely the beginning of the end. The final end will be Oct. 21. The beginning of the end won't come all at once, either. Rather, like New Year's Eve, or those Y2K celebrations, it'll roll around the world starting at 6 p.m. in each time zone.

So at 3 p.m. here on the Left Coast, you'll have been able to check out the commencement of doomsday in New York on CNBC and Twitter. If you didn't like the look of it, you might even have been able to fly to Hawaii and put off the inevitable for a few more hours.

One more thing. It's not just Earth that's outta here. It's the universe. Sorry about that. Camping says God is going to destroy not merely the third rock from an insignificant yellow star on the outskirts of the Milky Way Galaxy, he's going to do the whole cosmic shebang. With fire.

Which would be a neat trick because there's no oxygen and no fire in intergalactic space (OK, there could be some fire in space if the right chemical compounds were present and subjected to enough heat, but only locally).

When a mass of hydrogen collapses under its own gravity and heats up enough, it becomes a star, and what happens in its core is nuclear fusion, which marks the start of the star's job of converting lighter atoms into heavier ones. So you might be inclined to give Camping the benefit of the doubt and think of his fire as the metaphorical kind, but Camping's not a metaphorical kind of guy. In fact, a certain dogged, closed-minded literalness is what he's all about.

Another problem with Camping's guarantee is that he says God will strike the whole universe all at once. Can't happen. The speed of light sets a sort of speed limit on rays, particles, information, everything.

The most distant galaxies we can detect, ones that were formed relatively shortly after the Big Bang, are a bit more than 13 billion light years away and receding rapidly. The light we see left them almost 9 billion years before Earth existed and has been zipping along at about 186,000 miles per second ever since. It was more than 99 percent of the way through its journey when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Nothing (barring weirdness with wormholes, branes, warp speeds, parallel universes and the like) can go faster than light because relativistic mass and energy approach infinity as you approach light speed (Google the Lorentz transformation for a discussion).

As far as we've ever been able to tell, any god that's out there operates within the laws of his own divine creation. That means his command to burn — the cosmic zap — will take 13 billion years to reach those distant galaxies. And then they won't be there, but still farther away. Nobody's staying up that late, even on the West Coast.

OK. If you're a follower of Camping I know what you're thinking. God can do anything. OK, then consider this. If God can do anything, can he make a rock so heavy he can't lift it? Sure he can, he can do anything. But wait. That means you're saying there's something he can't do. Now wait a minute ...

Speed of light speed limit? Same deal. If he can do anything, he can make a physical law that he can't break, can't he?

But enough amateur Mr. Science. I have another kind of problem, and it's with Camping's characterization of God. Camping says God got himself into a hissy fit with Earth because of Gay Pride (serial killers, terrorists and neo-Nazis don't seem to push his buttons as much as Gay Pride). So because of a minority among one species that showed up on one little planet like, basically yesterday, he's putting the heavenly kibosh on the whole world?

No, a hundred thousand million billion times worse: He's zapping the entire universe. Doesn't that seem a bit snarky? Would you want to worship such a being? I don't think I'd even want to have a cup of coffee with him.

Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. If you have comments or suggested topics for the column, please send them to rogueviewpoint@gmail.com.

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