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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. Julius

    Matt.24:36-42.No man knows the actual day of rapture.We should all live ready!

    May 19, 2011 at 5:27 am |
  2. FatherTom

    What about Nostradamus' predictions for the end of the world? Nostradamus himself wrote that his prophecies only went as far forward as the year 3797. Does that mean the world will end then? Perhaps later? Is it really the end of the world or the end of human existance? Some may say that the end results are the same – are they? And as for the Mayan calendar, December 21, 2012, would be written as 13.0.0.0.0, so whay wouldn't December 22nd be written as 13.0.0.0.1? And have the calendar keep going?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  3. The Biblical Prophet

    Nikola Tesla made earthquakes in Alaska in 1899. Fathom man made earthquakes for over a century. It is fact. Take it to the bank. Bet the farm. I am not wrong. -Biblical Prophet

    May 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  4. Jon

    I wish they lived around me, I'd ask them to give me all their money before the 21st.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  5. God

    Carol, Mic4life are you ready?

    May 18, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  6. bob

    what a bunch of idiots. your religion is a crutch to help you explain what you do not understand because you are undereducated, and closed minded. Extreme religious belief is an excuse for being ignorant.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  7. ThoughtProcess

    I very desperately wish it would just end for them. If there was anything I could do to help them get "raptured" off to some other kingdom, I'd do my part.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • marie

      This date setting by Camping should never be done because the Bible says no man knows the day or hour. Most Christians find this very sad that he is doing this. However, the Bible does say that there will be that day, we just don't know when. You are saying you wish they'd be "raptured off", (Im guessing that you mean Christians?) however if it does happen during your lifetime, you'll take back your wish, for it will be the most horrible time here on earth. The Antichrist will set up his earthly reign for a short time and it will be the worst time ever in history.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • cassandra lynnae

      I KNOW JESUS CHRIST THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD IS COMING BACK!!!!!! BUT NOT ON MAY 21 2011. JESUS DOESN'T EVEN KNOW HIMSELF WHEN HE IS COMING BACK. NOBODY BUT THE FATHER ONLY, THE DEVIL HAS DECEIVED THESE PEOPLE AND NOW THEY BELIEVE IN STRANGE DOCTRINES THAT SATAN HIS SELF TEACHES. THAT'S WHY I READ MY BIBLE EVERYDAY AND PRAY EVERY DAY. BECAUSE I KNOW SATAN IS OUT TO STEAL, KILL, AND DESTROY. I REALLY HATE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING TO MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST. JUST PRAY FOR THEM!!!!!

      May 19, 2011 at 3:04 am |
  8. Stephen

    The article left out the Y2K and that the world was suppose to end in 1999.Also we all know by watching the terminator Judgement day can be push back but will ultimatly happen. Were is John Connor when you need him!

    May 18, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  9. Ken

    Face it, these doomsday groups have been around since day 1.
    More recently, the JWs have failed to meet there goal twice, but are still going for another one.

    My thoughts, it's a great way to increase memberships, which increases donations, which increases someone's pay check, and leaves most of the followers with nothing and no place else to go!

    The sad part is, so many good people keep falling for this very old scam!

    May 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Imrational

      Which "Day 1" ?
      Generally accepted scientific view of the creation of the universe? (Big Bang) No humans yet though.
      Creation of the Earth? still no humans.
      Creation of Adam? Just one human – but he could have been contemplating potential futures although he'd have had a rather negative outlook for someone with so little life experience.
      Biblical creation theory using James Usshers timeline 4004BC? – Within a week we had humans, dinosaurs, slugs and monkeys! And everything that was and is has occurred in just the last 6,000 years!
      Or any other of the countless recorded and unrecorded origin beliefs throughout human history.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  10. Payden

    All well and good but I have lived through the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's,90's and the rest. All had some type of end coming. I just don't have time for the rapture this weekend. Besides, these people will just say they made a mathematical miscalculation and put it off until a later date like they always do when it doesn't come to pass.

    See you all Sunday for church...

    May 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • huh

      silly payden.. christians don't do math

      May 19, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • God

      I'll be there. Don't be late!

      May 19, 2011 at 4:15 am |
  11. Michael

    Sounds like a good-ol' fashioned zombie apocalypse. Good thing we have historical zombie records (Zombieland, World War Z, etc.) and zombie-fighting techniques.

    I'm hitting the gym to practice my cardio.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • JPicard

      Double Tap!

      May 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Anon

      by the way I forgot I was suppose to cancel the reply button. That last comment wasn't towards you in directly.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. gkors12

    soooooooooooo many babies will be born on February 21, 2012....

    May 18, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • d3javu

      Well, I guess those sinners will be doing down the dube too.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • d3javu

      the TUBE too!

      May 18, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  13. OH Pulllleeeze

    Let's humour these crazies for a minute and pretend the world is going to end on Saturday, is there anything I can do about it? Of course not. Worrying about it isn't going to change it at this point so I think I'll eat lots of fatty delicious foods and get hammered this week and ejoy our last hours of life lol.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Paperwork

      I'm just mad that I've got to work Friday's night shift. If the rapture comes, I'll sleep right thru it...*grin*

      May 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Anon

      And get wasted and party on! haha!.

      May 19, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  14. Carol

    Matthew 24:36 – "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." If anything people need to read the Bible for themselves, especially Revelations. Guess we'll see who's right come May 21 – the Bible or these people. I think my vote goes to God's word.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  15. Mic4life

    Matthew 24:36 “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be. 38 For as they were in those days before the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; 39 and they took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the presence of the Son of man will be. 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned; 41 two women will be grinding at the hand mill: one will be taken along and the other be abandoned. 42 Keep on the watch, therefore, because YOU do not know on what day YOUR Lord is coming.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • FatherTom

      To put it in plain English – The only true Judgement Day is your personal day of reckoning, i.e., when we die – the moment we pass from this world to the next.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  16. paul

    Something's up. I don't know what. Some say all kinds of things that are weird. Any change will be most likely unnoticed but meaningful. Maybe it will be a bunch of BS.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  17. manyopinions

    I'm surprised that this article suggests that the book of Daniel was written over a lengthy period of time and that they suggest the last segment was written around 165 BC. Archaeological evidence from Babylon have demonstrated that the author of Daniel had intimate knowledge of the inner workings of Babylons government that was lost to history until more recent discoveries. This, along with the literary structure of the book puts it much more accurately as being written at the time of Babylon. The reason this is rejected is simply because many refuse to believe the author could have predicted the rise and fall of so many empires accurately. The other aspect is that Daniel pinpoints the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus to the very years they occured... even a late date for the book of Daniel doesn't explain this.

    Otherwise, I think this message that is being given does harm to Christianity. I respect their devotion, but, I feel they are really putting more into the texts than is really there.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Maria Van

    Someone sent me a link to another billboard that went up near the Bay Bridge. It seems to be from a different group… they list their website as http://www.merkaba.org. They are saying that Judgment Day will happen on December 21, 2012 and that some atheists will be more prepared than conservative Christians. Does anyone know anything about this group?

    May 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  19. pat

    If he is wrong then the bible requires his death, a false prophet shall be stoned and not with medical marijuana.

    April 30, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Quackula

      Good one!

      May 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  20. Muneef

    John Miller.

    Well done, I couldn't have done it better....
    As we may notice is that most of signs already passed by and man has not tried to avoid the occurrence of such signs but has urgent it to occur challenging what ever God has clearly forbidden through his messengers and their written holy scriptures....! Kindly check links for clarifications to as how should be delayed or avoided...;

    Al-Istighfaar (Seeking Forgiveness)  
    'O my 'ilãh You are my Lord, there is no 'ilãh but You. You created me, and I am your bondservant, and I will stick to my covenant and promise [of faith and sincere obedience] to You, as to my ability. I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done, I acknowledge, to You, your bounties upon me, and I acknowledge, to You, my sin. Thus forgive me, for none forgives sins except You. 
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/88

    The Earthquakes & Natural Disasters  (part-1)   
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/89

    The Earthquakes & Natural Disasters (part-2 )    
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Seekers-Of-Islam/message/90

    April 1, 2011 at 2:35 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.