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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. houjeeb

    what is really happening is not the end of the world .... it is the end of time as we know it .... the end of the one thing that gives any man an advantage over a fellow man .... only time ends .... signs leading up to the end of time are easily recognizable and are happening now ... all things begin happening faster and faster .... everything increases exponentially out of our control .... measures to stop this are futile .... debts and gains increase in the same manner .... grief and happiness .... love and hate ..... all mankind at the end of time will understand what this means ..... this understanding has begun in humanity and is part of all groups of men .... in the end no man or group shall have any advantage over any other man or group .... it is the simplest way for things to happen and be understood ..... the secret is to make it to this point and not get caught up in any of the exponentially increasing negative flows of consciousness that are directing and gathering groups of humanity on earth right now .... if anyone out there .... specifically the leaders of the different groups of humanity ... however not just limited to the leaders .... really anyone .... who can identify with the acceleration of time .... would like some better understanding of this phenomenon and how it cannot be stopped .... just ask and i will try to explain it more definitively in the near future .... even if yiu think you are the most powerful leader and the smartest physicist ever ....i am sure that even if you cannot feel this happening right now ... having more knowledge of it will help you lead and explain it to others in the fast approaching future ....thank you for letting me have my say and i hope this helps to get the word out ... hou

    March 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  2. Servant of G*d

    Nevermind I dont reason with the true terrorist of all souls.....You get what you deserve!!! Roar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  3. Alfred

    Sounds a lot like Global Warming and "Climate Change." Predicting Doomsday right around the corner.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • RobertOKUSA

      There's a giant difference! All religious scripture (doomsday) is man-made and demonstrably false:
      http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/refuting_the_bible.html
      However, the basic tenants of global warming and global climate change are rooted in science and haven't been disproved.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  4. r

    I have noticed an increase in CNN posting such articles...all made to have Christians look crazy or discredit the Bible. Why not do Muslims the same then. Oh sorry right...can't offend them or they may get mad.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • RobertOKUSA

      *All* religious scripture is man-made and demonstrably false.
      http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/refuting_the_bible.html

      March 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  5. oiy

    4 days before my wedding anniversary so at least i dont have to get a gift

    March 7, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Cassy

    lol...apparently they rescheduled it for May 21st..dude..when is it spose to end..??

    March 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. ELH

    Our world is but a dust-mote in God's eye. Oops, here comes the Visine!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  8. Philo Cafe

    One of the biggest problems with so many humans is that they can't wait for the world to end. These impatient human beings would bring about the end of the world themselves, some of them just to prove a point.

    Most of us are rational people. But all the world needs is lot of ignorance, and a few clever and powerful psychopaths to bring about the end of the world. And it seems we have plenty of both already.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • RobertOKUSA

      Unfortunately, some of these religious zealots are world leaders who have/had access to nukes (e.g., President George W. Bush) or are tying to obtain them (e.g., Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).

      March 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  9. oiy

    Why is it always the 21st?

    March 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Cassy

      because the 20th is booked...lol.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • oiy

      hahaha that was good Cassy

      March 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Joefish

      I was born on June 6, 1966 (6-6-66) and still seem to be a nice guy most of the time!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  10. Ruth

    Let's talk about this rationally on December 22nd 2012.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  11. MyFeetAreOnTheGround

    I couldn't care less about some loon's chicken-little routine, but it's flat-out evil and demented that these deluded people brainwash children into believing their end-of-the-world nonsense. Shame shame SHAME! What will you tell those kids when your endgame doesn't happen? More irrational fear-mongering BS, I bet!

    March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • oiy

      Right on Myfeet, these poor children are being robbed of childhood

      March 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • MyThoughts

      The beauty of it is that you do not have to tell them anything or make up any lame excuse, you just give them the Kool-Aid and shoot anyone who runs.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  12. Gemini

    May 21 is my birthday. I feel honored. 😀

    March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Cassy

      lol hell yeah, I would too!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  13. Cassy

    lmao...omg that's funny! *hunkers down and prays for daylight* Must get wine coolers for this big event. =)

    March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  14. G. Christopher

    It's always fascinating to witness the complex paradox of religious belief. On the one hand it is something spiritual that
    SHOULD promote love, compassion, equality, peace — despite it's failure to do so (witness the rancid hatred of organizations such as the Westboro Baptist Church, the extreme Conservative Religious Right, or the acts committed based on extreme Islamic beliefs. On the other, there is a strange absolution by some religious followers, (similar to that reported in this article) whereby putting your entire faith in God absolves you from TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR OWN ACTIONS. It is all to easy to fall into that trap — my sins will be forgiven so I'll do whatever I want, even if it hurts others,
    our planet, our creatures, each other. A sort of bizarre 'permission' to accuse and hate people unlike you with the ultimate
    understanding that you'll be forgiven. The reality is far from either scenario. Doomsdays come and go. Extreme swings pass with fashion. The GOOD in GOD is the 'average person' who holds a deep respect for humanity, for our planet, for those
    around us. The GOOD in GOD is the ability to be spiritually sound, have deep faith and know that holding it as your own
    is the best way. That accusing others, demonizing others is not a means to an end – the end. Rather, it is about Respect,
    Love, Dignity, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Honesty, Kindness. Period.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • S. Davis

      Very well put.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • RobertOKUSA

      Religious people are some of the biggest hypocrites I've met in my life. They lie, cheat, party, and steal Monday through Saturday, but as long as they go to church on Sunday, they believe all will be forgiven!

      March 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  15. Y2K

    You forgot to mention Y2K. Or Pat Robertson every 4 years (or when he needs more fundraising). Both are/were equally as ridiculous and hilarious.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  16. oiy

    "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" So these people just throw away the verse that says no one knows when its gonna happen and I like how its only 5 months from the rapture till the end when it clearly states it's gonna be 7 years of tribulation.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Bryce

      Thumbs up. Also, it's kind of stupid to view the bible as undeniable proof, considering it's a collection of dozens of books by assorted authors written over centuries cobbled together by a pagan emperor, translated through various languages (Aramaic to Hebrew to Greek to Latin to English), and edited by various people to say what they want it to.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  17. 0231

    I really thought satan would be much more convincing, or at very least, literate...

    March 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Phebe

      "Satan"??? My, my...

      ...that was certainly civil discourse. Have difficulty w/quantum physics, do we 0231?

      March 8, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  18. Phebe

    "Let's speculate. What would the world look like if god, suddenly was gone?" Answer: Nothing, it would not exist. Google "the God particle".

    "I can tell when the wind is present and when it is absent. But, verily I say unto you, there is no difference between god with us, and god absent from us." i.e., The wind is proven w/scientific constructs...physics proves the existence of "God" – google "chaos theory" and/or "fractals". God was a mathematician!

    You said: "Understand that death is not a scarey thing to God." Death is God's remedy for separation from God. Many cultures maintain this premise in their own historical context.

    "Dude! Are you simple?" A civil discourse would be more conducive to increasing knowledge.

    "Your belief in god is pure delusion." Ditto above.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  19. QS

    LMFAO!!!! Can't....breathe....must stop....laughing! ;-p

    March 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  20. tom

    If only the emotional energy that generates this silliness could somehow be used to stop hunger and violence in this world...I'm not a religious man, but my gut tells me that Jesus would approve.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:53 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.