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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. Name*Lee

    I hope I can finish my puzzle before then

    March 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  2. bruceb

    How come everyone gives a date, but no ones gives a time. Will the world end in New Zealand at 00:01 minutes past midnight, New Zealand time, while its still 06:00 pm May 20th in San Francisco?

    Wouln't it be nice to still have three hours to be able to party in Seattle when the world has come to an end in New York ?

    March 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  3. 1coolmormon

    When our savior returns the earth will be cleansed of evil.its actually not the end, but is really a new beginning because satan will be bound but before the christ returns there will be turmoil of every kind because satan knows he has but a short time. If you read and pray you will know this inside to be true.

    March 8, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  4. SKWORL

    So,here is my theory. The earth is being distroyed more and more every day, as are we as a human race, hence the saying "dying since our birth," and therefore the earth will end, along with all life because it obeys the natural laws of existence. If the death of our earth is immenent, why worry about when it is? Just be happy you made it another day in our world.

    March 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  5. James

    Where in the bilbe do I find the word RAPTURE, I'm not looking for an explanation of what it means, where is this word found?

    March 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  6. DonDillinger

    @Samuel Adams
    I am sorry that you have those feelings in your heart, and it is understandable. I would ask those same questions, if God loves why does he allow children to be killed and earthquakes...etc. Understand that Gods' ways are not our ways, we cannot understand his logic and it is useless to try.

    You have to realize that there is a war... There is a Devil.. The Devil is the creator of lies, and pain, and too sin. God doesn't want children to be murdered and killed, it's that the world has turned so evil and the Devil has a mass control.. I know what you would say now is that God should just stop it all and save the world, but it doesn't work that way.. You cannot mock God and say stop allowing people to be killed or to do some miracle.. God works in his time and his days are not like our days, his nights are not like our nights..

    So with the Devil in control of the world, how can God have control? God created us not the Devil.. We are God's children, but many people allow the Devil to kidnap them, and God is fighting to get them back.. So to think that God is causing pain is false.. God is love. Open your heart take a look around you, do you think anything that is going on is of the work of God?

    Yes, it is true that people use the Bible for profit or monetary reasons, but the bible says many will come in my name, but they are false profits, again this reference tells you not to be deceived by man.. So don't look to blame God for anything, God is actually fighting for you.. and all he wants you to do in return is love him and believe and have faith.. That's the power of God he gives you a choice to love him.. The Devil tricks you into loving him..

    Choose God...Just believe and have faith..

    March 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  7. lance

    This is a perfect example of how religion can be detrimental to the progress of mankind.

    March 8, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  8. Gabe

    I've been a Christian since I was an adolescent and I must say, with both humility and puzzlement that it makes no sense to me that Christians, who preach faith and trust in God, are the people most anxious to know the future.

    March 8, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  9. Kenrick Benjamin

    The bible book of Revelation is a beginning and not an ending people through out society and time seem to be hell-bent on the end of time. Once again REVELATION is a beginning it telles what has to take place before the world becomes a righteous world.

    March 8, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  10. mustbejoking

    This is a painfully obvious attack on Christians by a jewish journalist. And Jews wonder why people are getting sick or their whining.

    March 8, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • wimsy

      What utter nonsense.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Carla

      Christians are a sect of Judaism. Jesus and his pals were Jews. Give it a rest, Hitler did enough. Take your bias and bigotry out of the discussion.

      March 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  11. Griz

    amen, Gabe 🙂 very well said ... some people in this blog have gone as far as to say that the koran makes more sence ... this is bad to say because the koran teaches that the poor and needy are worthless and damned people ... if they read the bible it says quiet the opisite for the poor and needy are gonna pass the pearly gates before anyone else cause most likely they have more spiritual wealth then the rich do cause it takes way more faith to survive that way then it does a rich person who takes everything for granted .... look at isreal they have everything they need because they suffered and kept the faith of God close to their hearts and helped eachother everyday idk one news flash that isreal was hating eachother so why do we hate eachother ... learn from the children of God and become a child with a heart after God ... it truely is the only way ... Jesus promises us a time for all who believe in him to hunger and suffer no more not just the select few but all who believe in Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit ... so lets join as one and show these poor and helpless that there is a God and he will not let this end of the world thing that man made up ever happen instead he will come and stop the hate the hunger and the suffering ... but be warned the first to do this is a fake and from my personal point of view it will come from the muslim world their tactics have changed and they are moving in for a fake peace treaty with the world the beast that says he has the answer is not our God ... but dont worry in revelations he only gets away with that deciet for 42 months 🙂 see only a couple of years if we can handle over a decade of war so far i think we can handle a couple more years of it then the Lord will come down and say enough and the healing can begin – no rapture – no end of the world – just a simple enough from our father ... see so be blessed and smile everyone and help eachother in Gods name ... dont kill in his name sheesh ... did he tell the isrealites to kill in his name? no. he told them to flee.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  12. Gabe

    Many modern xian scholars believe the "apocalypse," prophesied by Jesus and the apostle John, points to the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE. There is a belief known as "realized eschatology." The return of Christ begins with the Spirit of Christ given on the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Church – which has not always been a good representation of our Lord. We often fail to see the face of Christ, clearly shown in the faces of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and other outcasts of society. As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel." Such are those who quibble over things that don't matter, and the outcasts of the world continue to go hungry, both physically and spiritually, because the church wallows in its own misguided sense of self-importance.

    March 8, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Carla

      Xi'an is the capital of Shaanxi province in China. The populace thereof provides scholarly opinion on the apocalypse?

      March 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Griz

    I agree mindy to what you are saying to a point until you say the world will end ... it actually never says that in the bible ever in fact when noah saw the rainbow God said it was a promise that he would never destroy earth again ... the end times actually means that God will show us his face again and try his darndest to show his love to even those in thd fiery lake it says in revelations that he gives even the people in hell a second chance so um im sorry that isnt the end of the world at all ... and the earth is going to die? who said that? life is very simple and Gods word is very simple ... revelations only speaks of a terrible time on earth caused by satan and the anti-christ and the end of it all is God saying enough is enough and saving us all from satans hold ... it never and will never say that he destroys the world! I humbley admit when I was younger I believed the world would end and the Rapture would come because 90 percent of christians have been decieved into thinking the because some man told them that and they twist Gods word to believe that , BUT GOD NEVER SAID IT! no where in the bible does it say either of those things ... do i think mindy is right about going forth in the universe and being fruitful .. your darn right i agree lets spend less money on wars that are dumb and exactly what the muslims want us to do i think we payed them back for 9-11 but we r now allowing them to be impowered but thats a totally different subject, and spend more money on trying to boost the worlds space program that space station was supposed to be finished last year and 2012 was supposed to start building the prototype up there for long range space travel now we have back tracked because of war and rumors of wars which if yall remember from church is also warned about in the bible to pay that no mind ... wake up everyone our nation is in seriouse trouble because of our lack of humility Im not saying be canada but at least focus on something else

    March 8, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  14. MyThoughts

    Hey Rev "the world will end on Sept 6, 1994...oops I mean May 21, 2011" Camping, I have a wager for you. If the world is still here on May 22, I think you should be forced to play "Satanic" rock music on your Family Radio for a week. That should give you time to come up with your next recalculation of when it will happen and how to fleece your listeners out of more cash. Happy Apocalypse

    March 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  15. Lady D

    I don't lilke the fact that in the video, when the host ask the producer where did they got this date, the producer says, that the bible teaches that. I'm sorry but that's not true. The bible clearly says in Matthew 24: 36

    "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my FATHER ONLY." So the bible does not teaches that.

    It teaches that Jesus will come for a second time and every eye will see him, but as stated above. No ONE knows when only GOD!

    March 7, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • MyThoughts

      That is because you are JUST reading the bible, you do not have his advanced knowledge, divinity...and secret decoder ring.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  16. mike kerns

    and what will the theocrats do when the world is still turning after there proclaimed day of destruction? Wake up and smell the roses, we can only hope.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  17. Griz

    Well I'm very disapointed in the things being said on both sides ... here is the simple truth and its very plainly stated in the bible .... there is a judgement period and after which all who are written in the book of life will be spared and live without war or hunger even the ones he sends to hell for 1,000 years will get a chance to say they want no more war or hunger .... in other words there is no end of the world and no rapture only the end of times (the end of hate, the end of our punishments because adam and eve disobeyed, the end of war, the end of hunger) we as christians need to start thinking in terms of love in our hearts for all man kind even the wrong doers and stop living with some twisted doctrine controling the masses to hate us ... the rapture and dates and all other twisted words are deciet and they have decieved even the most faithful of christians .... I pray for you night and day fellow brothers and sisters to stop adding or subtracting Gods words on both sides .... God bless you all, May God go with you thru these troubled times, Amen

    March 7, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Carla

      The bible (my use of lower case is to reflect its status as a human generated history book or newspaper) is a compilation of oral history about ancient peoples (Semites) Moses e.g., and more proximately, the Jews, and later other Jews ultimately called Christian. The former in the form of a written Tanakh later the first three books Torah around 200 BCE, and the latter first written down by hand in the early modern (CE) centuries, and, later, considered cannon ("law") by the Catholic Church in the 3rd and 4th centuries (see Synod of Hippo and Jerome of Stridon). Many "books" of the then current newspapers (bible) were discarded, and others were kept as, you guessed it – canonical. These were copied by hand over the ensuing ages, resulting in a myriad of transcription errors, perpetuated by more hand copiers. Then the printing press came along allowing easy reproduction of the bible ( again perpetuating copying errors). Reading any part of the bible results in a mind numbing experience in contradiction and spurious support for the oddest of human activities; such things as the prohibition of adding and subtracting, and allowing slavery, incest, murder, theft, child labor, etc. The contradictions in the gospels are appalling: Jesus had siblings; Mary, a virgin, had an "aural" conception; the passion stories are conflicted; only one account of Jesus birth, one account of end times (all allegorical, by the way). The bible was written by men (mostly male, since female intellectuals of the early centuries were eventually ignored and discredited) as parables and tropes to expose readers to certain occurrences and beliefs, not as the "unerring word of God," but at best as personal revelation, and at worst, propaganda. Given a contradictory, man made library of myths, stories and poems, can any serious, analytical, EDUCATED, person believe that the bible can be of any use other to to reflect the folly of humanity over the ages, much less as a SERIOUS cosmic calender of doom.

      March 8, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  18. PAUL

    The BIBLE is both symbolic and literal, it used parables, illistrations to illistrate to humans topics of bibical teachings, farming was one of the main industry's in bibical days, so illistrations of grain, animals ect, particularly sheep were used to teach early humans the importance about faith, belief and thier passing from this life, JESUS the shepard of the sheep, keeper of the sheep gate teaches them respect for individuals, community's, country's and nations that if they follow his teachings they will be rewarded, nothing has brought more peace, decencey and respect to country's, nations , and the world as a whole, The priesthood ended at the destruction of the temple, we now have a apostleship, after christ and the apostles, thanks and best wishes

    March 7, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Mindy

      Thank you Paul! I hear so many say that the Bible is the literal word of God through his chosen, that I find it amazing that these people are considered intelligent. To have faith is one thing; and I am not taking sides one way or another. I think everyone needs something to believe in and it is up to the person themselves to determine it. My, let's call it pet peeve, arises when people refute tested, retested AND verified scientific findings because, the good book or God through the Pope and their Priest say that it isn't right!

      Then to add insult to injury, you get crackpots whose blind devotion to A HUMAN BEING, not even to their God so much as the person who supposedly was told that this or that date is when the final apocalypse is going to happen, start trying to spread their own insanity. People, it makes every Atheist fall on the ground and laugh until their sides hurt or at the very least increase their disdain of people who have faith.

      I am not an atheist but when my husband came home with a flier touting the end of the world service being given at a local church, even as open minded as I try to be, I rolled off the bed LMAO. He said he was serious. I was laughing so hard I cried. A friend of his told him it was at least free childcare. Drop off the kids and come back later....Umm no, like I need anything else poisoning my kids' minds, no thank you!

      Science states the earth WILL change and die. We all know it. If people are looking toward the end with so much joy: then they aren't much help to those trying to create something better than we have now, for our kids. So what if the world will end on some unspecified date?

      I'd rather leave my descendants with an exit strategy. When the natural order says it's time for Earth to die, I sincerely hope that we have the technology needed to survive & leave this planet. For those who would rather stay and pray that they've lived a good enough life to get into their idea of heaven, more power to you. Guess which side I and my kids would be hanging with? Anyone else want to hitch a ride?

      March 7, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Defcon42

      Ha Ha Ha Ha !!!!

      March 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Carla

      "illUstrations," Paul, not Illistrations.

      March 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  19. Patience Prence Author

    Another GREAT DISAPOINTMENT

    The Bible clearly says, Matthew 24: 36

    "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only."

    Patience Prence Author SCARS: An Amazing End-TImes Prophecy Novel
    http://www.thespringharvest.com

    March 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • houjeeb

      ok here it is ...a. new theory .... that possibly explains all the differences .... introduces a new dimension .... brings forth a new idea .... we have been orbiting the sun for millions of years ....over and over orbiting the sun ..... at whatever pace or speed .... and here is the kicker which is totally possible and yet up till now totally undetectable and finally now maybe provable at the same time .... that the sun is about to complete its first orbit around us .... it happens o so slowly ..... imperceptible ..... since the beginning of time the sun has been making its way around the earth and is about to complete the first full revolution around our earth ..... all astronomers and physicists should plug this into their computers and charts .... i am sure this is what is happening and if it is true could possibly explain alot of what else is happening on earth today .... so to conclude ... it is by intuition that i know this to be true ..... the sun is about to complete its first orbit around our earth .... this orbit started at the beginning of our solar system .... has been happening very slowly all along ....the possibility of this happening could be proven today with our new computers ..... intuition is the only way you could know about this as a human at this time .....thank you again for letting me try to help the world understand what is happening to it at this time .... hou

      March 8, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • wimsy

      No wonder the rest of the world is leaving the US in the dust on education, science, advanced mathematics, ecology and many other fields. Profound ignorance with a dollop of absolute certainty is a dangerous mixture.

      March 8, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Chad

    Where are these May 21st people? I will gladly take all their cash, so they can focus on the end without added monetary stress. Let me do that for you...

    March 7, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
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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.