Michael Higgins: Eschatology does not, however, I am sure you agree, provide a map of the "end days," nor furnish us with the specifics the millenarians delight in spouting.
Lorna Dueck: And like in conspiracy theories, it's puzzling how people gravitate to trying to put a certainty into mystery. As Sheema pointed out, the religious text holds the credibility, not the person who interprets it. In the case of Christianity, the source of all these rumours that world is going to end in a calamity is the statement in Acts 1 that the Jesus who left this world will one day return. In my Anabaptist tradition, our forefathers once predicted that date would be 1533. It was an aberration from the words of Jesus in Acts 1 that "it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set."
Guy Nicholson: Lorna, there will be many readers who ask how much more credible it is to talk about the return of Christ than to talk about Mr. Camping's "end times." What would you tell them?
Lorna Dueck: Christianity does have a core belief that Jesus will come back to be seen by people on Earth, and to adjust our world into the beauty that has always been intended for it since "the beginning." It's credible to talk about that because our text, the Bible, contains so much of it in the teachings of Jesus. What's not clear is how to interpret it - will this arrival of Jesus be Armageddon-like, or what? I would tell people to take the advice of Scripture on that mystery and be prepared to meet God.
Howard Voss-Altman: Of course, the problem with such a return is not the return itself. It's those who preach that non-believers, e.g. Jews, will be consigned to darkness and hell for not believing in Jesus's divinity. Sadly, such teachings have led to systemic anti-Semitism in Christianity.
Sheema Khan: That's an interesting point you raise, Guy. The Day of Judgment is an article of faith in Islam. It is a day when all will be held accountable for their deeds. In Islam, no one knows, nor has the right to say when it will occur. However, there are "minor" signs and "major" signs of its approach. The minor signs deal mostly with the breakdown of public morality. One of the major signs is the return of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), who is regarded as a prophet, to slay the anti-Christ ( dajjal), and the ushering in of peace for a number of years.
Guy Nicholson: How much damage has Mr. Camping done with this prophecy?
Sheema Khan: Well, he has ruined the lives of those who believed in him. Those who never gave him much notice did not suffer anything. Of course, the larger question is, has Mr. Camping made religion a target for mockery? For those who looked disdainfully at religion, this event simply increased their "faith" in that. For those secure in their belief in the divine, I don't think much damage was done. Religion, or spirituality, continues to be a powerful force of sustenance for millions throughout the world.
Howard Voss-Altman: Sheema, I disagree. I think Mr. Camping's idiocy diminishes Christianity to those who are not Christian. Many non-Christians read about this sort of nonsense and dismiss Christianity with a very broad brush. This dismissal damages interfaith dialogue and the potential for common cause that many of us work for on a daily basis.
Sheema Khan: Hmm … if anything, I saw Christians (clergy and ordinary churchgoers) distancing themselves from Mr. Camping. I did not paint every Christian with the same brush. I used the maxim "Do unto others …" I certainly don't want all Muslims to be painted with the same brush as Osama bin Laden, or other religious extremists.
I think those of us involved in interfaith dialogue have to remember, and remind, that one cannot generalize about an entire faith based on the behaviour of one highly publicized attention-seeker. Terry Jones burned a Koran. Very hurtful to Muslims, but we know he doesn't represent the majority. During my visit to the Middle East, this issue was brought up by Muslims in the region. I reminded them not to judge an entire faith or group by the extreme actions of an individual.