Religious Hucksters do more than wheedle money out of their flock.
They can destroy lives too.
There ought to be a law. But there isn't.
So, religious hucksters like 89-year-old Harold Camping continue to operate monumental con-jobs that bring in multiple millions of dollars in donations from gullible people.
In case you missed the details: Camping's latest Doomsday prediction stemmed from what he described as an intricate mathematical formulation taken directly from numbers in the Bible. As he figured it, all good and righteous Christians would be taken up to heaven 722,500 days after Jesus' crucifixion -- on May 21 at 5:59 pm. (He didn't bother to say which time zone would be hit first.) The rest of the world's population, his outlandish prophecy promised, would be left to suffer five months of cataclysmic earthquakes and other biblical tribulations until the whole planet ceased to exist sometime on October 21.
Funny, the scripture I remember says man will never know ahead of time when the Rapture is coming.
Now really, how could anyone take this guy seriously? He made a similar end-of-times prediction in September 1994. Oopsie Daisy! Guess that wasn't right. Back then, Camping declared a "miscalculation" and went back to the drawing board after the world did not end.
Nonetheless, the media trumpeted (you should excuse the pun) Camping's latest "drop-dead date" over and over, giving it importance it did not deserve.
During the last few years, Camping's 66 Family Radio stations all across the country have been trumpeting his forecasts for the destruction of mankind.
Over the last seven years, according to copyrighted reporting in the Contra Costa Times (a newspaper close to the Family Radio headquarters in Oakland, California) the non-profit organization "has raised more than $100 million in donations... according to tax returns."
You know, the bulk of that money likely came from people who least could afford it. The donations came from those who now tell stories of quitting their jobs, devoting themselves to poverty and to reading the Bible so they would be ready to meet the Lord. They have no idea how they will survive now that they've given away worldly possessions and used up all their savings.
One Family Radio listener named Adrienne Martinez of Orlando, Florida told National Public Radio she planned to go to medical school but decided not to because she firmly believed the world would end soon.
Another radio fan, 60-year-old Robert Fitzpatrick of New York, says he spent $140,000 of his savings on placards and posters warning of the judgment day.
In Texas, 42-year-old Julianne McCrery, described by friends as a woman who had long suffered from mood swings and had an arrest record dating back to before her son Camden was born, is believed to have murdered her son because she believed Camping's Armageddon prediction. McCrery loaded up her child and drove to Maine where police found her son's suffocated body by the side of the road. They caught up with the 6-year-old's mother in Massachusetts, sitting in her vehicle reading a Bible. She calmly told police, "I killed my son. I want to kill myself."
At first glance it seems almost comical that Camping would make such an outlandish prophecy -- not once but twice -- and that people would take it so seriously. After you learn of the very real human damage done it isn't funny anymore.
The cost of one man's incredible hubris is countless people left disillusioned and penniless. And, maybe, one little boy's life cut short by a mother who wanted him to get to heaven a week before she did.
Yes, there ought to be a law. But there isn't.
Remember television evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton and Oral Roberts? They're all the same. They offer up the comfort of the Lord and in return use threats of damnation if donations slow down.
In case you forgot, Oral Roberts took to the airwaves in 1987 to declare to his faithful that if he didn't get 8 million dollars right away the Lord was going to "call him home." He got the millions in donations and lived another 22 years.
America is a country that prides itself in its freedom of choice. These gullible people made bad choices and there's no law that governs that. But there is a moral one.
Harold Camping was quoted as saying he's "flabbergasted and stunned" that he and his followers are still on this earth. He has re-calculated again and now says the Rapture has been re-scheduled for October 21, 2011. As if Armageddon can be deferred like filing for an extension on your taxes.
Why in the world would anyone believe this guy on his third strike?
Roy Black, an attorney in Florida, declared on his Facebook page that Camping should be charged with "criminal fraud to obtain money by lies and deception."
Any takers out there? I'd love to see the feet of some of these false prophets held to the fire of damnation.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her Web Site: www.DianeDimond.com Her latest book is "Cirque du Salahi," the inside story of the so-called White House Gate Crashers. Available at Amazon.com