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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. lokii

    Being a Christian as well as these people, I can honestly say they need to review their beliefs a bit. If they read their Bible a bit more carefully maybe they will find the parts in it like 1 Thessalonians that dictate no one will know when the end times will come. After their "appointed" day comes and goes I hope they read up on the parts in the bible concerning false prophets. My word of advice would be Honor God and his laws and spread the good news.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Shaking my head

    Well, if they keep guessing long enough, their guaranteed to eventually be right. At least in a few billion more years.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  3. kritterkat

    "From Biblical times to the present..." don't ya love how ethnocentric these religion articles are? There were religions with doomsday predictions that predated the Bible, and yet this is the article opening line?

    March 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  4. mike mcglynn

    america----the land of the disalutioned----what a bunch of ignorant no nothings

    March 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  5. Alex

    At least if the world ends then everyone would just shut up about it.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  6. Mikhael

    THE WORLD ENDS EVERYDAY FOR SOMEBODY!

    March 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  7. Jack

    Winning!!!!!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  8. Fred

    "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Matthew 24:36)
    "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42)

    March 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  9. DuchessFeathers

    It's silliness. Who decided the "bible" was law and this is what all of man should follow? I've not read it – I tried on occasion when I was younger, but it's extremely difficult to read with all its strange language. It's just a book written by a bunch of men who spoke in strange tongues. Believe what you want to believe. It's an individual thing.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  10. Smay3560

    The "predictions" are bogus!! I am a believer and a follower of Christ, unashamed!! ANYONE that predicts a "DATE" for the end times is exactly the type of person that Jesus Christ, the Son of God warned us about. I wish CNN would address this from the Living Word of God as to what Jesus said. Matthew 24 tells us what Jesus said would happen when He would return to take those that have accepted Him as their personal Savior. Whether one believes this or not, it is a choice. I never push "religion" down anyone's throat, but I would love for people to know the Christ that is our Hope for His return.

    Matthew 24 (New International Version, ©2011)

    Matthew 24

    The Destruction of the Temple and Signs of the End Times

    1 Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
    3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

    4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

    9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

    15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’[a] spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.

    22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

    26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.

    29 “Immediately after the distress of those days

    “‘the sun will be darkened,
    and the moon will not give its light;
    the stars will fall from the sky,
    and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’[b]

    30 “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth[c] will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.[d] 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

    32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it[e] is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

    The Day and Hour Unknown

    36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,[f] 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.

    45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • uncle bob

      now, who is going to read this wall-o-text?

      March 7, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • stumbler

      I did, it is the living, breathing Word of God, my Creator. Thank you for posting the Scripture, Smay3560. 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • No One Is Safe

      > 34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.

      is peter still around? thomas?

      anyone?

      anyone?

      bueller?

      blam. hoist on his own petard.

      March 9, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  11. Chas Law

    Actually, the bible is no more than contrived, memorized patterns of molecules of ink deposited on something we call paper-we make up all the rest – as well as these "written" words – all memorized concepts generated by memorized symbols. Sorry, true believers. Waking up into the rigorous honesty of SEEing what's really going on is the what "it's" all about; or so.

    March 7, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  12. Name* philip hendricks

    Why do people always try to predict something that only got the lord our god knows. Stop trying to predict today what you don't know about tomorrow. Stop trying to look for a code in the bible and just read the bible, believe the bible, and trust the bible. Leave the end of the world to god ann concentrate on what god has told us to do. Acts 1:8

    March 7, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  13. joeNYC

    How the world will end. Not anytime soon.

    Nobody who has the power to nuke us to oblivion will actually ever do so – even our militaries (US, Russia, etc) sort of have a value for life. Call it mutually ensured destruction if you like.. but mass death isn't happening to us.

    March 7, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  14. 65kids

    I'm pretty sure that the bible says that absolutely NO ONE knows when the world will end even Jesus himself doesnt know. Geez people calm down cause you dont know whats going to happen

    March 7, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  15. Amadea

    Jesus said not even the Son (Himself) knew the exact day and date. One thing that these people seem to have out of whack is that the Rapture occurs first, then seven years later the Second Coming occurs. The Rapture is the church meeting Jesus 'in the air'. At the Second Coming, Jesus comes to earth, stepping on the Mount of Olives and splitting it in two. At any rate, the person is in error who thinks he or she knows the exact day and date of either the Rapture or the Second Coming (neither of which, btw, mean the end of the world!). With all that's happening in the world today I'm inclined to agree that it's all going to happen very soon, but people, don't put a date on it ... that takes glory from the LORD.

    March 7, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • Phylli

      I also think it makes those who don't know the Lord less likely to seek Him. When others continually cry wolf and then justify their errors, why would people want to believe in that kind of religion.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  16. Reality

    Our world as we know it will end but the Universe will go on forever.-------------

    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 11:34 pm |
    • Justina

      @Reality: Not a chance. Present universe will be replaced(the extent is unknown) and God's new heavens and new earth will continue forever. You may need to learn new, more stunning physics all over again – if you only trust in Jesus. Don't deify creation; worship the Creator God alone, you creature.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • uncle bob

      Justina, hurry....I think you are late for your daily church meetings....

      March 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  17. David Waters

    All this Biblical Prophesy stuff comes from one line of thinking that has shifted many times through the centuries but usually posits that the One True God who created all things favors and works through one tribe or "chosen" group on the earth, and that's insane.

    And those that hold such beliefs have mostly just made trouble.

    I like the breadth and depth of Hindu though over narrow Judeo/Christian/Muslim egoism.

    March 6, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  18. JWH

    Just read Revelations and you can see how it will end.

    March 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      I did read Revelations, and it ended in total boredom.

      March 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Reality

      "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30]

      Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

      Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

      March 6, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Justina

      The Book of Daniel, too, on the endtime. The wonderful thing about the Bible is, unless one has comprehensive knowledge and memory of all the parts, he cannot understand the depth of a single statement fully although the texts are plain. The teachings of Bible are crystal-clear, but there are exciting, bottomless adventures in studying the Bible.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:53 am |
    • Justina

      Reality, pity on you who waste lifetime talking of things out of context all the time thus in errors. People read the Bible not because of some famous persons' opinions on it but because the text itself is incomparably true, wonderful, valuable and benefitial.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:01 am |
    • Phylli

      The Bible does say this world will end, and with the condition of it today that shouldn't surprise anyone. However, it also says in Matthew 24:36 NIV "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
      I sincerely doubt that if the angels in heaven nor the Son of God is privy to the exact day or hour, it has not been revealed to someone here on earth. The bottom line? It will happen. When? Who knows, just be ready when it does.
      Oh and I believe the report said that after the Rapture there would be five months of troubles, the Bible teaches about 7 years of Tribulation. Not sure what Bible this guy has been studying for 50 years but he may want to take it all in context and not just pick and choose what he thinks fits with his philosophy. Unfortunately when things like this come out it makes all Christians look ridiculous. I believe what the Bible says cover to cover. I believe that Christ is returning to take His people home. I believe that God will then give everyone else another chance to turn to Him, but I believe eventually all will end, and those who choose Him will go to be with Him for all eternity in heaven. Those who do not, won't. But no one knows when that will be, any more than we know how much time we have to live. We should always be ready.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Jessy

      Here's a thought, what if God changes his mind and chose not to go ahead with the apocalypse? After all, why did God ever waste his time creating man if he knew he was going to wipe them out anyways?

      March 7, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • richunix

      I did, but if memory serves me correctly...didn't John reveal his believers that this was given to him in a dream. WOW really WOW, I wonder what dreams I could have...maybe I could dream that the world will continue fior at lest another 1-3 billion years, after that...your guess or a dream....

      March 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • wes

      If you believe the bible cover to cover, you should have your kids taken away from you.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  19. David

    I will not follow CNN boards any more. I put up many posts today and found that none of them are here. None containted anything that violated the terms of service. If you want to practice censorship – have fun. Less readers of CNN boards then.

    March 6, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Reality

      Added notes:

      The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

      • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

      And said moderators still have not solved the chronological placement of comments once the number of comments gets above about 100. They recently have taken to dividing the comments in batches of 50 or so, for some strange reason. Maybe they did this to solve the chronology problem only to make comment reviews beyond the tedious.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  20. Skipper

    I was cleaning our my garage today and happened upon a brand new baseball labeled "For Recreational Use Only.... Thats got to be a sign that we, as a species, are too stupid to go on and that the end is near.

    March 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • evolvedDNA

      The great Douglas Adams, who wrote the" Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy" had the same thoughts about society in one of his books when one character finds instructions on "how to use" on a tube of tooth paste...

      March 7, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • raw70

      The idea that a baseball can predict the future is pure folly. I choose to believe in cold, hard facts. My calender ends on December 31, 2011. THAT my, friend, is a true sign.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Rabbi Greene

      Nope that just means it doesnt meet MLB standards... All it shows is lack of critical thinking skills...

      March 7, 2011 at 1:46 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.