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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. T-party

    Hopefully May 21 2011 will be the end of all reilgions?

    March 6, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  2. Dr Robert John Davis

    The propheteers of Doomsday always have the same answer when the Apocalyptic event does not happen at the appointed hour and the appointed time as they strenuously told the world it would: " We made an error in our calculation and thus the May 21 2011 day was a mathematical error and we are studying the Bible again to make sure this error does not happen with the next prediction of the end of the world." May 22, 2011 when this does not happen this will be the standard line all of the previous predictiors of Doomsday have put forth when their folly is found out to be just what it is:FOLLY. Dr. Robert John Davis

    March 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Skipper

      Yes, bet the crazies are so entertaining! They truly fit the definition of insanity as they keep repeating this doomstay fallacy, always expecting a different outcome.....

      March 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  3. Wait for me...don't leave me here with these nuts

    It ends for me when Taco Bell raises it's prices higher than 99 cents for a taco.
    It ends for me when Lady Gaga is revealed to really be Richard Simmons, Jr.
    It ends for me with another audit by the IRD for my deducations of "educational strip club visits".
    It ends for me when Preperation H doubles in price.

    March 6, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  4. eponymous

    We have an amazing tolerance for the mentally ill in our society.

    I would love to run into these nitwits on May 22nd just to tell them to get a life.

    March 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  5. tallulah13

    There is a prediction that the world will be destroyed in 2029 by the Egyptian god Apophis. Okay, it's actually a meteor named for the Egyptian god Apophis, and the odds that this will actually happen are pretty long, but I think this very real rock is a much greater threat than any imaginary god.

    March 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  6. davemorias

    It's the end of the world as I know it and I feel Fine !!! (btw, Fine is my neighbour's wife 🙂

    March 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  7. the last Mohican

    Folks should read William Sears' Thief in the Night...

    March 6, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  8. Me belief...

    sorry about the duplicate post, I have a slow connection and clicked the Post button twice...

    March 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  9. Helene

    If we can understand that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, then we can live with appreciation for everyone and everything around us and hopefully live to the fullest so that when death comes, we will have no regrets. To live with an apocalyptic worldview is to depend on someone or something outside yourself and to live in fear, rather than confront your own humanity. In other words, a doomsday expectation is an easy and cowardly way out. It seems many of these prophecies are simply one person's deluded visions playing on people's fears.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  10. Julie

    NICE, boomslang (if that is your real name, probably is).... You are simply nuts.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  11. Me belief...

    Perhaps Number 8, the Great Disappointment, wasn't seen as it should have been seen. Nothing physical or material happened in October 1844, however something spiritual occurred.

    I refer those who have an interest to Persia, October 20, 1844. There, I believe, you will find someone claiming something that still thrives today.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  12. Jay

    Perhaps Number 8, the Great Disappointment, wasn't seen as it should have been seen. Nothing physical or material happened in October 1844, however something spiritual occurred.

    I refer those who have an interest to Persia, October 20, 1844. There you will find someone claiming something that still thrives today.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  13. b00mslang

    Science>Religion? What about when "science" devolves into a form of religion? As in Global Warming or what do they call it since the CRU debacle? Climate Change? heh heh, what a load and it was all about the money that was going to change hands at the so called Carbon Exchange. Bunch of poop that was intended to make some peeps extremely rich while redistributing the funds of the middle-class to the poor in other countries. Get this atheists, you bleeding hearts are big on taking away my work product, in violation of Darwinian maxims, and redistributing it to unsuccessful organisms. It's Survival of the Fittest baby! If they can't cut it, let them starve.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  14. SadieSadie

    'However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.' Matthew 24:36

    I have faith that the end will come exactly when God decides that it is time. Until then it is my job to ensure that I pass the word on to as many people as possible. Plant the seed and God will water it.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Buck5150

      Sadie...my point is not that atheists are the only people who think for themselves. But people who walks around preaching the word, talking about the Bible etc. just seem to base everything in their life on 'Well, the Bible says this...' so that is what I believe...end of story. A book that was written thousands of years ago by primative people who would panic at everything
      they could not understand and just blame it on angry gods or supernatural silliness. Its 2011 and praying won't solve the worlds problems....people will...when they stop asking Jesus for advice and...we are back at the beginning...think for themselves.

      March 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  15. Oy Vey Az

    Anybody know what time it's all going to end? I only ask because I have a Tee time at eight.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • Anglican

      Will be around 2:30 pm. Time enough for 18 holes, with some food and beer at the turn.

      March 6, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Missouri Mama

      Yeah, we'll I'm having a scheduled (repeat) c-section on that day...maybe I should go for the morning rather than the afternoon, hmmm...!?!

      March 6, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  16. Buck5150

    Maybe if people stopped letting religion and religious leaders think for them and they started thinking for themselves,
    the world might be a better place. But until we grow up as a species, we'll have nuts like these people running around
    making headlines...them and Sarah Palin.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • SadieSadie

      Amazingly, I am a Christian and I think for myself. It is the very fact that I think for myself that allows me to not blindly follow atheists around. I love that thinking for yourself automatically has to equal being an atheist in many people's minds.

      March 6, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • IMH

      You are right when you say we would be better off, if we read for ourselves. Any person could benefit from reading the book of Proverbs, whether they are non-religious, or religious. See what the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verses 18-31 has to say about the base things of this earth – the foolishness of man, etc.

      March 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Brian

    Sadly, the earth could be destroyed today and the universe wouldn't even notice.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • BILBO BOOMERBOTTOM

      That is correct,and is why Dr.Stephen Hawking counsels that we need to establish colonies on other worlds to avoid a complete extinction of humanity if the earth should suffer a huge calamity (i.e. giant asteroid impact,or nuclear war).So let us support NASA however we can!

      March 6, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  18. IMH

    NO ONE CAN KNOW THE DAY!!!! – the Bible says so, and if you would think logically about it; when it is one day on one side of the world, it is the next day on the other side. At no time can the entire earth be within the same day. When God gets ready and has had enough of the way civilization has become so depraved, He will tell His Son to come to rapture away the ones who are ready and have believed that He is the Son of God. The way things are coming to a climax, it could be any time, the main thing is to ask Him for forgiveness of your sins and be ready to meet Him, by having your sins under the blood of Christ. At no time does God destroy people without giving them a chance to repent. It is only through man's rebellion that he himself rejects God's love and chooses to be separated from His presence forever.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Kay

      Not to mention that every calendar currently in existence is incorrect...

      March 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Earthling

      If you would think logically about it, you wouldn't believe that nonsense in the first place.

      March 6, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  19. Cliff Vegas

    Something that "revelationists" (people who have surrendered to Revelations endtimes theology) is that they are – in the eyes of most Christians – at best, fringe believers dancing on the razor's edge of heretical belief. There is nothing in the scriptures that tells believers when the endtimes are truly near; but plenty of places that warns against this practice.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • IMH

      The theological book that you refer to is – Revelation, not Revelations.

      March 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  20. 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 3:51 pm |
    • Evan

      Infinity does not exist. The Big Bang does not recycle itself, because, even if it did, eventually, the universe would lose energy. The universe has not existed forever, because there is a "now". If trains tracks were infinity miles long and we were at a train station, the train would never get to us. Similarly, if time has infinity years long, time would never get to us.

      March 6, 2011 at 4:04 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.