As many of you probably saw on countless billboards, busses, and subways, as well as in the news, in bookstores (and pretty much everywhere you looked), Harold Camping, the leader of an independent Christian ministry called Family Radio Worldwide, predicted that the Rapture would come on May 21st 2011. The Rapture refers to a specifically Christian belief that Christians, both living and dead, will be caught up to heaven, and is a piece of the Christian apocalyptic prophecy.
Harold Camping’s prediction was based on his particular interpretation of Biblical scriptures. However, it wasn’t just Harold Camping and the members of his ministry that believed the end would come last Saturday. Plenty of other independent Christian groups nationwide prepared for the day, as they too studied Biblical scriptures and predicted the end of the world to come on that very same day.
But then the date passed, and as far as anyone can tell, nothing happened. And Harold Camping became a punch line in the media. It’s likely that you’ve noticed the ridicule from “non-believers” that accompanied the apocalyptic prediction, or perhaps you’ve been the one telling the jokes. However, given the number of Christians in the United States, you’re just as likely to be on the receiving end of that ridicule.
In the United States, 84% of the population self-identifies as religious. Of that, 78% identify with some form of Christianity, albeit fragmented into countless denominations. Although many Christians may not have thought the end was coming this past Saturday, apocalyptic prophecies are often central to the beliefs of Christians nationwide. And keep in mind that the individuals who subscribe to these beliefs are showing up to work this week, likely facing mockery from their co-workers and supervisors. These jokes at Camping’s expense are quite widespread at this point. For example, just in researching Harold Camping, I could barely stumble across any factual articles on the web that didn’t taunt the prophecy, or sarcastically express a sigh of relief and thanks for surviving the end of the world.
Across religious traditions, you’ll find a variation of beliefs about life-cycles, resurrections of prophets, the after-life, or end-of-days prophecies like the Rapture. So, we ask you, what makes scoffing at those who believed Harold Camping’s prediction any different than calling a co-worker’s belief in the trinity ridiculous, or mocking an employee for believing in reincarnation?
In many workplaces, while overt harassment or hatred won’t be tolerated, there’s often a certain permissiveness around ridicule when it can be explained away as “just a joke.” Overt instances of clear bias are actionable because they can end in a high-profile lawsuit and do considerable damage to an employer’s reputation. Ridicule, however comes in a more subtle (and sometimes seemingly humorous) package, yet it can negatively impact employees’ morale, productivity, and overall satisfaction with their career.
Perhaps those “harmless” jokes about a co-worker’s religious beliefs – beliefs that are core to their identity – aren’t as harmless as you think. We ask you to keep this in mind when religion becomes a hot-topic at the water cooler.