Someone posted the following question in an atheist group I follow on Facebook:
For the reader who’s not familiar, this question refers to the “Rapture”, an alleged future event in which the resurrected Jesus of the New Testament appears in the sky to trumpet fanfare and all Christians zoom up into the sky — including those long dead and buried.
So what would you do?
The question assumes the reader isn’t rising to meet the aeronautic Jesus, that you’re one of those “Left Behind” (if you haven’t seen the film, you’re among the vast majority).
• Who Gets To Go?
But the question also assumes who gets to go. As I’ve mentioned previously (here, and also here), there isn’t one definition of “Christian”, no universal governing body of Christianity in the world that sets such a standard. And the Bible certainly isn’t clear. One Jesus speech in Matthew (here) says eternal reward in Heaven is for those who fed the hungry, invited in strangers, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited prisoners. But other scriptures say entirely different things about the qualifications for Heaven tickets: being baptized gets you eternal life (Romans 6:3-5), but it doesn’t matter because God chose beforehand who goes and doesn’t (Romans 9:22-23), or you could just speak three words and believe in the resurrection and you’re still good (Romans 10:9).
In other words, there’s no way to tell who among our population will get to ride the Great Zipline Into The Sky.
We also don’t know how many will get to go. Jesus said they will be “few” in number. Revelations says exactly 144,000 will be chosen (and some sects of Christianity today still believe this).
I think my answer to the original question depends how these questions are answered.
There are literally billions of possibilities as to who goes/stays. For simplification, I will divide the possible Rapture lists into major categories: (1) everyone who believes in a God, (2) everyone who is generally a good person, (3) only those who believe in the Christian God, (4) only those who believe in a specific sect of Christianity — for example, Southern Baptists, (5) only the 144,000 “select”.
• All Believers
If everyone who believes in a God disappears into the great beyond in one instant, the world is going to be a very empty place. Estimates range anywhere from 70-95% of humans believe in a God of sorts. Almost everyone I know will be gone, including most of the population of my city. I imagine infrastructure like water and electricity would go offline fairly quickly. On the plus side, there would be literally millions of guns lying around, which I could use to hunt food (not to mention the billions of canned goods in the now-empty homes). I know how to obtain fresh water.
I would be lonely, but would probably survive for some time. And everyone else I ran into would have been — like me — an atheist until very recently.
My first action would be to look for children or the aged left behind, to make sure they’re okay. Closely following that, I would check on as many family pets as I could.
• All Good People
If everyone who is generally a good person gets taken up, then I imagine I’d get snared the sky net too. But if I’m left off the list because of that one time I miscalculated a tip or ran a stop sign, then I’d be left in a world with fairly crappy people — because only NOT good people would remain. Of course, it depends on where the good/bad line is drawn, and whose version of morality we’re using.
This one has the potential to be the scariest of the various scenarios for anyone left behind — if we assume that rapists, murderers, bullies, thieves, and people who steal cable are all that’s left. But if the line is drawn so far into the “good” territory that I’m left here for minor infractions like telling a lie in third grade or failing to visit anyone in prison the past few years — then I imagine almost everyone will be left on Earth and life will go on as before.
If I’m considered good enough to be taken, I don’t know what my “first action” would be, because it will all depend on where we end up and what there is to do there.
• Only Christian Believers
If only Christian believers are taken, the United States would suddenly be very empty — more than 70% of us gone in a flash. Higher than that here in Texas, and perhaps lower in Oregon or Vermont. In heavily Buddhist or Muslim countries, most people would still remain. For them, life would go on as before. Here in the U.S., it would be much like the first scenario — our first order of business would be to check for children, senior citizens, and pets who were left behind, and then to set up new ways of finding food/shelter.
Islam would suddenly be the only major religion in the world, which — before long — would have major implications.
• A Single Sect
If only a single sect is taken, it would depend on which one. If it’s a huge one like Catholicism, and everyone who was baptized as a baby gets to go, then everyone would notice. But if it’s a small one like that non-denominational church down the street, then only people in that immediate vicinity would notice. Most of the sects we’ve heard of are large enough to have branches in most states and cities, so most of us would probably know someone who vanished.
I suppose my first act would be to comfort anyone who lost a friend or family member.
• The 144,000 Select
If only 144,000 people get to go, as indicated in Revelations, we might not even notice it. Those who track missing persons might see a slight immediate uptick in reports, and one out of every 15,000 families will be missing someone. Life will go on as before, with no perceptible difference for the vast majority of us.
• Why Even Think About It?
I only considered the question because I couldn’t help it.
I was raised in a shard of Christianity that believes the rapture is imminent. We were taught, like Jesus told his disciples, to be on the lookout for it at any moment. We were shown scary films during childhood about how the world would fall into chaos once all the Christians disappeared into the sky. We listened to songs like “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” — by Larry Norman here or later, DC Talk here, with Norman).
So every time I turned around and someone had silently stepped out of the room, I briefly wondered if the Rapture had occurred and I didn’t make the cut. Every time I woke up late on a Saturday morning and the house was quiet because my family was doing yard work — there was a moment of fear.
I haven’t had this thought or fear in quite a few years now, which is a relief. It’s been at least two years since my last nightmare of Hell or living through the “Tribulation” (the 7-year period that’s supposed to follow the Rapture — or precede it, depending on which sect you’re in). When I saw the question, it brought back a flood of thoughts, and I realized I would see this all differently now.
It’s a pointless exercise, of course. Jesus said in the Bible that the Rapture would happen sometime during the generation that was alive when he was alive. Given uncertainty as to the year he was born, let’s say 100 CE at the latest. So even if the part of the Bible about the Rapture was true, it’s already happened long ago. Everyone alive now is descended from those were left behind.
On a personal note, I want to make one thing clear. If the “Rapture” happened tomorrow, I’d still be an atheist. The mysterious disappearance of thousands — or millions — of people would not by itself be enough to convince me of the existence of a God.