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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. James

    I don't doubt that one day the world will come to an end, that is inevitable. Will it be by the hand of man, God, the sun going out in the distant future, or another natural disaster, or even in my time or later, I cannot and will not say. For that, we will just have to wait and see.

    March 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Geri

      Gene

      "Truly I say to you; this generation shall not pa-ss until all these things are fulfilled."

      But, to put it mildly, the generation did pass, and eighty subsequent generations. Now what?

      Geri>>>> Gene, respectively, thats not what that pa-ssage was making reference at.

      Gills Exposition of the Bible says;

      Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass,.... Not the generation of men in general; as if the sense was, that mankind should not cease, until the accomplishment of these things; nor the generation, or people of the Jews, who should continue to be a people, until all were fulfilled; nor the generation of Christians; as if the meaning was, that there should be always a set of Christians, or believers in Christ in the world, until all these events came to pa-ss; but it respects that present age, or generation of men then living in it; and the sense is, that all the men of that age should not die, but some should live

      till all these things were fulfilled; see Matthew 16:28 as many did, and as there is reason to believe they might, and must, since all these things had their accomplishment, in and about forty years after this: and certain it is, that John, one of the disciples of Christ, outlived the time by many years; and, as Dr. Lightfoot observes, many of the Jewish doctors now living, when Christ spoke these words, lived until the city was destroyed; as Rabban Simeon, who perished with it, R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who outlived it, R. Zadoch, R. Ishmael, and others: this is a full and clear proof, that not anything that is said before, relates to the second coming of Christ, the day of judgment, and end of the world; but that all belong to the coming of the son of man, in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to the end of the Jewish state.

      March 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  2. seriouslypeople

    These people belong in an insane asylum. whack jobs

    March 6, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  3. Erica

    Matthew 24:36

    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[a] but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
    42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

    March 6, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  4. JDinHouston

    If it helps out, I just talked to God, he said he's actually planning to play canasta with a few friends on May 21, really hadn't been planning to end any worlds or anything. So everyone cal relax, nothing to worry about.

    March 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  5. Alverant

    Camping, I'll make you a deal. I'll pay you $1000 now and you and your wife sign over your cars, houses, bank accounts, and all your positions to me to take effective on May 22nd 2011. If you really believe you're right, you get an extra grand to spread the news and I get nothing. Come on Camping, put your money where your mouth is!

    March 6, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  6. Erick

    Let me ask you a simple question: May 21 2011? Come on! What about dinosaurs in the bible book? huh? figure it out. End of discussion.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  7. Anna

    Look busy...Jesus is coming

    March 6, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • No One Is Safe

      i hope he's wearing protection!

      March 9, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  8. Tim

    Jesus said concerning when the "great tribulation" would occur (Matt 24:15-22), what some call the "end of the world", that "concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father."(Matt 24:36) God alone holds within himself the exact date as to when this "system of things" will end. Jesus said that a world-wide Bible educational work must be accomplished first before this happens, saying: "And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come."(Matt 24:14) When this witness work about God's kingdom is done to God's satisfaction, "then the end will come."

    March 6, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • ann

      thank for all the right word, I am in agree with the WORD OF GOD...MATTHEW 28vs 19 and 20 tell us to,Go ye therefore and teach all nations,baptizing them in the name of the FATHER and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST:vs 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever i have commanded you: and, lo, i am with you alway, ever unto the end of the world. amen.And HE also tell us to us to watch and pray.2timothy ch2 vs15, tell us to study to shew our self approved unto GOD, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. we need to be more concern about people salvation then the end of the world. that why JESUS said that no man no the time are the hour,And HE also tell us about the false prophets and shall deceive many in Matthew 24 vs11. this is real.....

      March 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • kgecik

      Thanks Tim..I tried to make that point too in my post, but couldn't remember exactly where in the Bible that verse was. And that verse is all we need to know regarding stuff like this.

      March 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Burned

      You think that all nations have not had their quota of christian preachers yet? Are you completely daft?
      EVERY nation has been visited by christian missionaries. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
      And not just recently, either. This is OLD NEWS, yet the world has not ended, no god has shown up, Jesus is dead yet you will keep hoping against hope that there is some loophole, some tiny paragraph or sentence that will change the fact that there is nothing working in the religious world.
      Defunct. All of it. And debunked as well. We have proof. Faith requires NO proof and does not allow any proof to exist (ha).

      March 6, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Anglican

      Burned. You are correct. Faith does not require proof, just faith. Seek and find. No seek, no find.

      March 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • SadieSadie

      @Burned:
      There are tribes that still have not even been contacted by humans at all. Parts of the amazon that have yet to be reached, so nope, everyone person in the world has not heard the word of the gospel.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • tallulah13

      And Sadie, rational people think that these people are lucky.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  9. Eric

    This guy harold camping is a nut ball and anyone who believes in this garbage is also a nut ball. My father use to listen to this idiot and even got me into believing this crap. I was young and boy did it screw up my life for a few years after his 1994 failed prediction. Anyone who believes in church or god or anything else religious is a fool. There is no god, no end of the world, no rapture not even a sliver of truth to what we were brought up to believe. The only truth is that we all end one day. Money is not the root of all evil, religion is.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • asrael

      Actually, the world ended yesterday, and we all missed it somehow...

      March 6, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Damn! I always miss the good parties!

      March 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  10. Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

    Religion is nothing but a vehicle for people to prove the depths of their gullibility, ignorance, and intolerance.

    Faith is the fervent belief in the obviously untrue.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Bill

      AMEN to that.The best comment on this thread...Thanks....

      March 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Guest 123

      Believers Believe
      Non Beleivers don't
      Nothing you say on this post is going to change the others mind
      But to all of the non beleivers can I ask you a question ....
      Is it that you don't beleive in a God.........or are you angry with God ??

      March 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Al Bluengreenenbrownenburger

      To give you a straight answer, I not only do not believe in and form of deity, I am completely amazed that anyone can. It just makes no sense.

      The whole "angry at God" thing is a myth religious people tell each other to try to convice themselves that atheists really believe in their god, that they are just confused. The reality is that I have yet to meet any form of secular, agnostic or atheist who shows any indication of that. Are you angry at Thor or Amun or Dionysus? Of course you aren't. We aren't either, even when your god is included in the long list of gods we don't believe in. Silly concept.

      March 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Maybe

      "...are you angry with God ??"

      How can one be angry with something that has not been proved to exist?

      Are you angry at invisible, pink, flying unicorns?

      March 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Religion is an IQ test

      Angry with God...?

      Personally, I'm only angry with those who claim God's authority.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That whole "angry at".... "Jealous of"... "Been hurt by"... attack that religious people (or oddly, Justin Bieber fans) use is silly. Why is it so difficult to understand when someone says they simply don't believe.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  11. kgecik

    The Bible says that no one will know the day nor the hour that the Messiah will return. So frankly, anyone–even Christians (especially Christians!!) should know better than to believe this.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • asrael

      But they claim the "rules" have changed; who knew...?

      March 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • kgecik

      Yeah, when people start changing what they are supposed to believe are God's rules, then there's a problem. Again, shame on them as Christians.

      March 6, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  12. Knight Who Says The End Is Nee

    It's important to realize that the end of the world has already happened, there's been a great apocalyptic war, the machines are in control, and we're all living in the Matrix. You don't believe me? You think that's air you're breathing now?

    March 6, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Todd

      Did the machines attach us to a very expensive machine that goes "beep"?

      March 6, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Dammit Todd, it's the machine that goes "ping," not the machine that goes "beep." Learn to Pythonize correctly!

      March 6, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  13. Lynn

    I think it was yesterday, today is just a dream. Not only do they believe this junk they vote too. That's the most scary of all.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • asrael

      I doubt they're planning to vote at this point...

      March 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  14. cyndi59

    Global warming..??For all the global warming nuts..the last ice age,I'm still searching to see if they found any cars,power plants or other man-made items back when we had our last ice-age which if science holds true and gave us the ice bridge gave access to todays idiots ranting..I think it is just another scare tactic and money maker..the only global warming is from people who either watch too much sci-fi tv or too much time on their hands.I do believe in God and the only way man will distroy himself in the end of days is another two idiots ready to push a button and start a nuclear and get all the fire and brimstone you can handle..

    March 6, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Alverant

      So what you're saying is that if something happens naturally then it can't happen artificially and vice versa. So by your logic, if people die of natural causes, then they can't be murdered. Maybe you should get your information about global warming from actual scientists instead of the deniers.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • john

      We should call you here in Alaska to see the effects of melting glaciers and rising coastal levels. Seeing will make you believe.

      March 6, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  15. jeff

    Let's see... just need to mark my calendar... the apocalypse begins on May 21... HEY! That's my sister's in law birthday! Happy Birthday Sharon!

    March 6, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Todd

      God gives out the strangest birthday presents.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Gemini

      It's my birthday too. I'll invite all my friends and party like there's no tomorrow...

      March 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  16. Reality

    Our world as we know it will end but the Universe will go on forever. (as per the latest from the field of astrophysics)

    Think infinity and recycling with the Big Bang expansion followed by the shrinking reversal called the Gib Gnab and recycling back to the Big Bang repeating the process on and on forever. Human life and Earth are simply a minute part of this cha-otic, sto-cha-stic, expanding, shrinking process disappearing in one to five billion years with the burn out of the Sun and maybe returning in another five billion years with different life forms but still subject to the va-ga-ries of its local star.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Geri

      Geri

      Aria said...
      if people are willing to drop everything, pick up a bible, and throw themselves on the ground to beg for mercy all because they think their eternal souls are in danger, then 'apocalypse calls' are effective for getting people to join in on this religion. people don't think for themselves. but eventually, as history shows, these people will cry 'wolf' enough times that people are going to stop buying it. though

      Good point Aria!
      Thats why people need to think for themselves. If they were saved by Jesus Christ, and understood his word, as revealed in all truth by the Holy Spirit, they would have the answer to this. Thus, they would not be making errant conclusions about the end of the world.

      Jesus said, No one knows the hour or the day, except the Father.

      DavidMichael said:

      That verse clearly shows that Jesus is less than the Father and not divine.

      David, not
      The Bible also teaches that Jesus is the incarnation of "The Son" who sits on the Father's Throne and who IS God in every PRACTICAL, FUNCTIONAL, and MEANINGFUL SENSE; that He is eternal, wields all the power and authority of God, has all the glory, majesty, and holiness of God, has the character, righteousness, and compa-ssion of God, that His will is the Will of God, and that if you want to know what God is like, you look at the Son.

      Jesus ,while He was God in the fle-sh, operated as a man not as God to show us how to act.

      Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, came to this earth and took upon himself a body of fle-sh like you and I have. He cried, laughed, got hungry, tired, felt anger, anguish, sadness, joy, all of the emotions that we feel. yet through all of that, Jesus was the only human to walk this earth that didn't sin.

      Because He took upon himself a body of flesh (no longer omniscient), and before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus didn't know when He would return. It wasn't until after His resurrection and He took on the a-ttribute of omniscience, did He know when He was to return to earth the second time.

      Read your bible, and you will see the rest of what Jesus had to say about the end of time.

      The "clock" actually started up, when the Jews returned to thier homeland, for the first time since they were scattered.

      The Budding of the Fig Tree ~~~

      When God begins to fulfill the end time prophecy, He will quickly make an end to it. Those who witness the beginning would likewise see the end; "Now learn a parable of the fig tree. When its branch is still tender and puts out leaves, you know that summer is near. So you, likewise, when you see all these things, shall know that it is near, at the doors. Truly I say to you; this generation shall not pa-ss until all these things are fulfilled. The heaven and the earth shall pa-ss away, but My Words shall not pa-ss away. But of that day and hour no one knows, no, not the angels of Heaven, but only My Father." Matthew 24: 32 – 36 (also see Mark 13:28 and Luke 21:29 – 31)

      Israel is symbolized by the "Fig Tree" and the "Fig Tree" is a fit emblem of Israel

      http://www.pray4zion.org/TheBuddingoftheFigTree.html

      May 14th 1948 Israel became a nation once more with a homeland ~~~ the fig tree blossomed! The fig tree that appeared to be dead, dry, withered and hopeless suddenly springs back to life, putting forth branches, sprouting leaves, blossoming, producing fruit, and putting down deep roots.

      The Vine: symbolizes Israel’s Spiritual privileges (Psalm 80:7; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jer. 2:21; Isaiah 10:1 – 2)

      The Fig Tree: symbolizes Israel’s National privileges (Hosea 9:10; Jer. 24:5; Matt. 24:32, 33).

      The Olive Tree: symbolizes Israel’s Religious privileges (Hosea 14:5 – 6; Isaiah 17:4-6; Isaiah 24:5-15; Psalm 52:8; Psalm 128; Romans 11:7 – 24).

      Read the link for much more on this.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • dg

      The big crunch theory has been fairly well disproven. The experimental evidence seems to indicate that gravity isn't slowing down the expansion of the universe enough to cause it to contract. It should eventually spread out and cool so much as to reach entropy.

      March 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Gene

      "Truly I say to you; this generation shall not pa-ss until all these things are fulfilled."

      But, to put it mildly, the generation did pass, and eighty subsequent generations. Now what?

      March 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  17. wow

    Religion is nothing but trouble in any flavor......

    March 6, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  18. chris

    Well, since every other crazy is throwing dates around, when I was a teen I had a dream that the world ended June 14 2011 and it came from the west. I figured it was worth remembering since even to this day I've never had another dream involving an exact date. So mark it people, June 14! Hahaha.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  19. Boruch N. Hoffinger BS"D

    According to The Torah prophecies the world will NOT
    be completely destroyed. There might be a contained war
    which will be followed by the coming of 'The Messiah.'
    There does NOT have to be a war...there could be repentance ('Teshuva' return).

    March 6, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  20. Rick Whitehurst

    I cant believe Herbert W Armstrongs worldwide church of God in Pasadena Ca.was not mentioned. End was 1975 as well.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:03 am |
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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.