Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 NIV).

Most of us who heard of Pastor Harold Camping's prediction of "the rapture" for last Saturday, May 21, 2011, just rolled our eyes. Or laughed. Or felt queasy that yet another counterfeit prophet had made it easier for unbelievers to mock Christian faith and harder for honest seekers to take it seriously.

Almost 20 years ago, Camping had gotten it wrong once. He had predicted the beginning of the end back then. "When September 6, 1994, arrives," he wrote in a book titled 1994, "no one else can become saved. The end has come."

Oops! That prediction didn't come to pass because of a mathematical error, Camping said. "I'm not embarrassed about it. It was just the fact that it was premature," he explained. But about the May 21, 2011, date, he insisted "there is no possibility that it will not happen." He'll have an explanation. Some of his cultic group will remain loyal. He will continue to ask for money.

By one account, he plastered his message of doom on some 2,200 billboards across the United States. A paid ad in Reader's Digest proclaimed: "The Bible guarantees the end of the world will begin with Judgment Day May 21, 2011."

Christians who have actually read the Bible know that the word "rapture" doesn't even appear in the biblical text and that Jesus said "no one knows" the time of his return. Indeed, he said, it would happen at "an unexpected hour." So much for Camping or anybody else who says he or she has figured out what Jesus said we would not know until it actually happened. Mark it down: anybody who says he knows the day or hour of Christ's return is a fraud.

Atheism is less an insult to God than much that passes for religion.
Christ was an appealing character in history. His message of salvation was not a scare tactic designed to shake people loose from their money; it was an affirmation of his love for the broken and a willingness to forgive and heal. It is not Jesus but "Christianity" that has given faith a bad name, not the honest and affirming Leader but the mendacious and fear-mongering who exploit religion.

Even worse than the occasional Doomsday False Prophet are those Brennan Manning has identified. "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today," he claims, "is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door [of some worship center] to deny him with their lifestyle."

My recent book I Knew Jesus before He Was a Christian ... and I Liked Him Better Then ( seems to have struck a responsive chord with many of you. Thank you for reading and reacting to affirm it. But remember that the book is not meant to be a commentary; it is a call to action. It is a challenge to practice faith in a simple, straightforward manner that reflects the person Jesus and feels no obligation either to defend or make peace with religious hokum and nonsense.

Atheism is less an insult to God than much that passes for religion.