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Doomsdays throughout time
March 6th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

A look at the ways the world could end

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Think you’ve got a prediction for when and how the world will end? Get in line.

A caravan of RVs is now touring the country to warn people about the end of the world (they say it will happen May 21), but they're hardly the first ones to embark on such a mission.

Throughout time, and across continents and belief systems, humankind has dished out enough end dates to fill a doomsday menu.

The backgrounds of the people who serve them up may differ, as might the details of what will unfold, but the general apocalyptic worldview is nothing original, says Lorenzo DiTommaso, an associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Montréal, Quebec and author of the forthcoming book, “The Architecture of Apocalypticism.”

“It’s a philosophy that explains time, space and human existence,” DiTommaso says. And by buying into this sort of outlook, a person can find comfort in a “comprehensive answer.”

Having studied apocalyptic movements for nearly 12 years, DiTommaso has strong opinions. He calls the apocalyptic worldview “adolescent” because it’s “a simplistic response to complex problems” and one that “places responsibility for solving these problems with someone else or somewhere else.”

As a result, there are dangers to this thinking, he says. Why care about protecting the environment, curing cancer or stopping poverty and violence against women, for example, if you believe it’s all going to end soon anyway?

The imminent doomsday date that’s gotten the most attention in recent years is the December 21, 2012, prediction gleaned from the Mayan “Long Count” calendar.

But not to be outdone by those pesky Mayans, there are some Christians who claim the Bible teaches that Judgment Day will come on May 21 of this year. They say those who are not saved in the Rapture will endure great suffering up until October 21, 2011, when the world will be kaput.

“There’s competition,” DiTommaso says. The Mayan calendar prediction “has gone global, and in the ecology of apocalypticism that’s the big tree right now. So the 2011 prediction has to fight for a bit of the sun. And the supreme irony is no matter how big the tree, it always gets cut down.”

Both predicted ends “will come and go – quote me on that,” DiTommaso says. “Unless the apocalypse we’re bringing on ourselves happens first, it’s not going to happen.”

Author and professor Lorenzo DiTommaso has studied apocalyptic movements for more than a decade.

Those who’ve dedicated the next few months to warning people about the May 21 date, however, hold that they understand what others – including, for instance, DiTommaso – fail to see. They accept the Bible as the undisputed word of God, and they find within the carefully studied scripture “infallible proofs” that the end is not only near but firmly scheduled, says Harold Camping, the force behind the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio and the biggest proponent of this doomsday date.

“What happens if nothing happens on May 21? I’m asked that question again and again,” Camping says. “It’s a question I don’t even entertain because it is going to happen. It is going to happen.”

So how do staunch believers, including those who quit jobs, bail on families and give away possessions in preparation for the end, bounce back if these fateful dates they think will bring massive destruction amount to just another ho-hum day?

Surprisingly, they don’t all feel duped, DiTommaso says. Some may fall away or slink off to something new, but when your worldview is apocalyptic in nature, a failed doomsday doesn’t leave you easily shaken, he says.

Instead, what religious people generally do, he says, is write off the end-that-wasn’t as an interpretation hiccup. With deeper study and prayer, they’ll be lucky enough to find another doomsday around the corner.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Death • End times • Faith • Jesus

soundoff (666 Responses)
  1. cynix

    "You know not the hour nor the day."
    Anyone trying to predict the future is foolish. There's a reason why the headline never says, "Psychic wins lottery"

    March 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  2. Servant of G*d

    I welcome starbrothers of righteousness only for my Lord AmenandChrist sake...... behold I am the Earth and I will defend it with Magic, thou shall not fall if you are good I welcome starbrothes, now the invading ones behold I am above all destroyers...satan is not going to have any kingdom or zeus whatever, its God allmighty who is going to morph into Darkeness upon all unbelieveers there is only ONE mightY GOD AmenandhisSOn JesusCHrist.......AlphaandOmega, King of kings....

    March 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • esse

      Get a freakin life, you sheep. BAA, BAA

      March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • xpeditor

      esse you seem like a very angry person. No worries, I will pray for you. You'll be just fine 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • xpeditor

      And in all fairness to esse, Servant of G*d; you sound like a loon. You actually took the time to come on here and rattle that off? smh

      March 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  3. Bill

    It is amazing how far some people would stretch their imagination when it comes to this kind of religious crap. It is sad that most fo them do not extend this level of creativity in other, more productive pursuits.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      Do your research and studies the Imagination is very Real................sheep!

      March 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • esse

      Hear, hear!!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • xpeditor

      So Bill and esse....let me get this right. You guys do NOT believe there is a God?

      March 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  4. John

    As a Frisbeterian, I believe that my soul will go up on the roof and no one will be able to get it down.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • esse

      Man, that is funny. I'm ROFL, dude!!!!!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • cynix

      HA HA HA HA HA! Awesome.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Peter Leusch

      yay! someone has a sense of humor.....

      March 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  5. bobby

    i cant wait till may 22

    March 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • esse

      I don't want to wait until May 22 – I want it to end now! Wah!! It amazes me how much stock the world puts into a work of fiction that was written for the sole purpose of instilling fear into the human race and filling the coffers of organized religion! What a crock . . . . . .

      March 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  6. Ben Ben

    I believe in the Bible and what it says. God has everything in control and nobody knows when the world will end.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  7. Jinggleberry

    Make sure you guys buy my apocalyptic book every few years, okay, so I can purchase more villas, yachts, condos and travel all over the world for free to sign my book. It will be an apocalyptic book but has sequel in it like harry potter. My book big hit was 1984, then 2000, 2004 and soon 2012. Remember to buy my book okay because all other books out there have no interesting sequels.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  8. Henry

    The BIBLE states that NO ONE. NO ONE!!!! will know the coming of this day. NOBODY!!!!! READ THE BIBLE FOR YOURSELVES. These 'Christians' that claim that the day will end on a certain day are wrong. The Bible says that this day will come like a thief in the night.
    There is no need for these people to study the end of the world, because you will never know. You may see signs/indications that the Bible talks about, but you will NEVER KNOW!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • esse

      Henry – you haven't come to realize that your bible is a fairy tale. Wake up! What on earth made you so arrogant as to believe that you have any significance at all in the order of the universe? You're no further along than a 3 year old child.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • donHo

      signs like when I'm having a severe diarhea? or when I lost my job when I feel like the world is about to end?

      March 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  9. Philo Cafe

    Aliens have been here, seeded the planet, and will return to see how well their earth-sized experiment has come along. As we do in science when we have a defective strain of bacteria we've grown in the lab, they will probably wipe us out and start over. There will likely be battles between aliens that want us wiped out, and others that want to protect us. Unfortunately, the Earth may become a casualty of the alien battles.

    Where did you think all the different religions of the world came from? Nearly all the world's religions describe this, only in a context appropriate for the time and level of scientific knowledge and understanding. Wouldn't aliens appear like "gods" to the ancients? Wouldn't they still?

    March 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Jeff

      L Ron Hubard is calling you!

      March 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Philo Cafe

      @ Jeff

      More like Eric Von Daniken. Any resonable person cannot dismiss the plausibility of the "ancient astronaut hypothesis." Don't take my word for it; evaluate for yourself. It actually makes present world religions make a lot more sense, historically speaking.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Jinggleberry

      You should write science fiction book like me instead of blogging here. It's a lucrative business and the money is good.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      Hostile aliens are breakfast..............Humans have the Power of the Cosmos....Lord is my sheperd I shall not fear no evil...................AMEN

      March 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  10. Ousal Dove

    No man, it already ended, you all just missed it! This is into the 1,000 yr rule of satan/obama the great pretender....

    March 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  11. nobody

    Greedy

    March 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. phoenix

    the mayans were like a christian essenes group, the heathen will be the new ass wipes in that time zone rejecing christ.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  13. nobody

    Greddy and currupt goverments will end are life on this planet.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  14. James

    Well the Dinosaurs had their turn.......the mammals had their turn.......time for the plants or the bugs to rule

    March 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • esse

      James – funny you should say that, because the only living things that are immune to radiation are insects. They will indeed inherit the earth after the supreme mammals destroy it.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  15. Jeff

    Finally an Apocalypse with some zombies, at least we will get a few months of killing them before it all goes!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Rez

      Best brush up on your zombie survival guide.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • phil

      that would be so cool, metallica's for whom the bells toll will be jamming while i mow down those zombies wityh my SAW

      March 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Why

    why is everyone so obsessed with the end of the world. its a terrible thing to think of. i dont get it. why get people all riled up and scared over 200 different 'possible scenarios.' who honestly wants to hear this crud?

    March 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  17. Travis

    Two words: Peak Oil. The world continues on but mankind lowers his lifestyle expectations. By 2100, world population declines to one or two billion. Wood stoves gain popularity. Countries in cold climates continue to do better than Africa.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  18. Tim

    Interesting ..... the atheist and the bible thumpers both think these guys are nuts ..... obviously for different reasons.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  19. El Diablo Blanco

    Re: Myself "...ONLY GOD knows...Jesus doesn't even know..." – Umm, are they one in the same? That statement is too funny to even try and illustrate the contradiction!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • pfunk

      i dont get it? Makes sense to me, Jesus to some people is the 'son' of god, not god himself.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  20. Frank

    We are all going to die, so the end of thje world will be on my death.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Jack

      indeed, the end of the world comes when one die. i agree. there is no rupture coming, only death.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Darketernal

      its funny to google search for 220 Dates for the End of the world!!! , all of the predictions where wrong.

      Disasters are a normal part of life. Each year THOUSANDS of earthquakes occur, many hurricanes and tornado's come and go, vulcano's erupt. So there is ALWAYS disaster going on. And the further human kind expands, the more susceptible to disaster they will be.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.