This article addresses an issue that some people – an 89-year-old American radio entrepreneur in particular – would have thought an impossible subject to breach. But there is a simple reason why I was able to put pen to paper.

On Saturday evening at 1800 hours local time, the world did not end.

I’ll admit it livened up my day a little. At 1759, I was clock-watching. At 1800, I was looking around the room a bit; squinting at the sky; checking the use of my limbs. By 1801, I was sending jokey texts to determine which of my friends were still alive.

And judging by the mocking Facebook statuses and tongue-in-cheek Sunday headlines, I wasn’t the only one having my laugh at Harold Camping and his not-so-prophetic prediction.

Sure, it was an ambitious claim – declaring the ‘end of the world’ with the same authoritative tone that only the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, Nostradamus and Jesus himself have employed previously.

But have we been distracted by the lunacy of the claim and failed to acknowledge the bigger issues being addressed?

As atheists in front of Camping’s Oakland headquarters released human-shaped balloons heaven-bound into the sky to mock ‘believers’, those that Camping had managed to convince were suffering more serious consequences.

One retired New Yorker, Robert Fitzpatrick, spent yesterday facing the $140,000 bite out of his life savings, spent on publicising the Second Coming. Others gave away possessions or left their jobs in anticipation of their rapture.

And what about those who placed trust in savvy atheists? The owner of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets was revelling yesterday in the fact that his 300 punters would be regretting his no-refund policy. Looks like they won’t need him to take care of those “loving pets who are left behind” when their owners are “saved”.

Meanwhile, it was the less-easily persuaded Christians who were left to pick up the pieces. They faced the unenviable task of organising themed Sunday sermons of reassurance and manning the phones for suicide prevention hotlines.

But the fact is, prophecy predictions are not hard to come by. Every market square in the country has, at some point, featured an outspoken preacher warning passers-by of their imminent doom.

What we should really be questioning is why this foretelling was taken so seriously.

While only one of Camping’s eight children sided with their father’s views beyond the dinner table, American polls regularly reveal that 30-40% of its population believe that the Bible maps the future.

Yet it is easy to assume that this phenomenon was specific to those ‘silly Yanks’ and the 2,200 roadside billboards they erected to warn non-believers. In fact, the tremors of this earthquake forecast reached Christians across prosperous European cities, lonely Patagonian wastelands and even the Hmong tribespeople in Vietnam.

Is it a reflection of the USA’s tentative economic climate, her increasingly questionable status as the front-running political power, or the sheer might of her global communications network that she enabled one entrepreneur to make his voice heard louder than those regular street criers?

After all, would the American Dream tolerate extremists of any other religion who decorated their roadsides with messages denouncing the rest of the world’s population who dare believe differently?

Time zone by time zone, the apocalypse failed to materialise. The Middle East peace remained unresolved, the Icelandic ash cloud continued to drift, and the Eurozone crisis showed no sign of abating. The majority of the world’s population had had their chuckle and then got on with their lives.

Yet for a significant number of theists, the last laugh is but a distant prospect.

While extremists continue to scratch their heads and crease their brows at the clouds, sure that this is all just a test of faith, millions of other Christians face extra pressure to justify their faith in the face of ridicule.

This failed rapture is an opportunity to discuss the position of faith in modern society and address the fact that the West has not proved itself superior to other nations by overcoming religion’s stranglehold.

Camping has not answered his door or phone in the face of his global humiliation. But the global finger should not be pointing at one elderly man and his miscalculation; it should be pointing at the society that gave him a global stage.

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