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. satan

    Science vs. Religion... The Jesus freaks will never understand that there is no such thing as a God, A Heaven, A hell. When the universe was created in what we call the big bang theory, Science has proven That everything was made or as the freaks called it "created" in that moment, from all the energy, stardust, particles and matter that was forced together by gravity, This is all fact, that has been proven, scientifically. However the Jesus freaks still continute to read and believe a book or bible or koran or whatever you worship, that was written by a Human, for the sake of profit and followers. They were writers from 2000 B.C years ago, mearly writers of their age writing books. much like Dr. Suess and You chose to follow their words, and believe in their cults (Which is what they wanted you to do) But nothing in the bible has been proven scientifically, Because it does not exists and is not real. That which is no rationale is not rationale.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      Awww there you are satan, turn to Goodness Now!!! Or I come quickly, Roar!!!!!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      hey satan I challenge you to a dull!!!! In SIRIUS!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  2. Concon

    Why do people believe all this stuff! Bronze age mythology, they believe all! They need to believe it? They have to believe it? There is a distinction to be made, between people who claim to have reveled truth on the basis of a text. And why do they believe them? This world will never know. Anyone who tells me what happens to me after I die is either a liar or a fool. Im all for people helping out their brothers and sisters in the name of God. But its when we start altering our lives to follow these rules, is where we do draw the line.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  3. seriously8

    Y2K Anyone?

    March 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  4. Sybaris

    People still believe in this stuff?

    All the people that subscribe to this religious mumbo jumbo only prove that as a race we are doomed by ignorance.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Necco

    Dennis who posted; "These people are truly misinformed. The Bible tells us in Mark 13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”." is 100 % correct.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. DD

    What?? I thought Charlie Sheen gets the last word.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  7. SunDog


    March 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Servant of G*d


      March 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  8. Servant of G*d

    warhammer God is verrrrry Real and us humans can defend ourselves against sorcery, What is a puny man going to do to me you unbelievers I have Sirius on my Side........I am beyond Orion.............

    March 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  9. Steve

    Most major astrophysicists agree that the world will end due to the death of our Sun, in a mere 4.96 billion years. Better not invest in bonds that take 5 billion years to mature.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • oussu

      Dude, we'll make the planet sterile (at least for humans) in the next 100 years under the guise of progress. Maybe the 5 billion years the earth has left after that will let some new species evolve that we won't be around to kill off.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  10. Servant of G*d

    You Pathetic draco and greys think you are above us Humans think again I am Thunder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! your Lord is Lunch I am Licking my chops

    March 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  11. Servant of G*d

    Humans will never bow to the Enemy ANNUNAKI 'S IM TALKING TO YOU! All Humans are sons of a Living GODKING. IN AMENSandChrist,NAME AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Warhammer

      Add one more to the NUT list. Crazy...

      March 7, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
      • masamune

        No shortage on CNN when these articles pop up 🙂

        March 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Oh man!

      He didn't use captialization did he?

      He must really have the power of the blood!

      March 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  12. Lee Oates

    The world may end in the near future (10-50) years, but it will not be because of any spiritual reason. It will either be because of globel war with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, or the simple collapse of the planet's ecology. We have polluted the air, the seas, the land, stripped the planet of its resources on every front with things like deforestation, over fishing, and species extinction. We have build a civilization on non-renewable resources and allowed our globel population to expand to the point we are no longer able to meet our needs. Our social sytems based on an unequal distribution of wealth, and in the control of huge corporations based on profit, block solutions to either saving the human species or resolving the environmental crisis. We are a species hurtling towards our own extinction. Now thats a dooms-day scenario you can believe in with some scientific validity.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  13. akahn

    The only predictions that will come true is that all these make believe predictions of doomsday will come and go like all the others have. There will not be some catastrophic event to end all. 1984 passed, 2000 passed, and a tons of other ones inbetween, before and after have come and gone. 2012 is a money making idea based off a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar which actually isn't even ending, just part of it is. Hollywood though loves making movies on people's panic and fears.

    I will be lucky this May 21st being in Poland drinking beer and laughing at this latest failed prediction. In 2012 I will be celebrating 2013 somewhere else in the world and again, laughing at those who got so worked up for nothing.

    As with the bible, it's a good story, but that's all it is. It is a story written by man for man. It is no different then L. Ron Hubbards ramblings and sci-fi story telling. So people can rest easy that the doomsday predictions that have failed since the evolution of mankind, will continue to be replaced by another date and another date and so on. None of which will ever come true...

    March 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  14. Servant of G*d

    To all children of Amen seek JESUS CHRIST as if you are seeking gold. He is and always inside us We are returning to Adam you shall talk to animals and birds My Lord is Allmighty OmniPotent. Oh my Lord my heart makes much noice as I kneel before You for you are here on this site I feel you my Lord my Shepperd

    March 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Stupidity

      I hope all you morons do die. Just less stupid and ignorant people in this world to annoy other people trying to enjoy their lives...

      March 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  15. Marisa

    So what you're telling me is that I will have survived a grand total of four doomsdays before I'm even 22. Four in less than a quarter of a century. So take a hint, if you are even capable, from the number of FAILED doomsday prophecies in the past, and realize that this completely outlandish "May/October 21st" b.s. is going to be just the same, it just is not going to happen. And all those followers of Family Radio can sit there and call me a nonbeliever and tell me I'll have to endure the 5 months of horrible suffering until they're blue in the face. But come October 22nd, when we're all still here, THEY'LL be the ones having to eat their words and make up some lame "misinterpretation" excuse. Again.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      Excuse me Marisa are you in control of your own mind and soul?? sheeple either you become a mini god or remain ignorant

      March 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  16. Dennis

    These people are truly misinformed. The Bible tells us in Mark 13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father”.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Sean

      Amen. I'm saddened that CNN's coverage lately has called these people Christians, they are in fact grossly misinformed in their so called Biblical calculations. Sure, Daniel states that the words of the prophecy they seem to hold in question are sealed until the end of the time, but the chapter also goes on to describe that from the removal of the daily sacrifices and the establishment of the abomination of desolation, there's (i think, but don't remember because i don't have a Bible near me) something like 1250 days, which roughly equals 3.5 years. If you want to assume they're correct and Christ does return to take His church on that date, they're not accounting for many other prophecies states in revelation, such as the length of days that the two witnesses speak in Jerusalem (1260 days), nor does it take into account the trampling of the holy city for 42 months, nor the subsequent woes following. False prophets with a false outlook. Same thing occurred with #8 on this list. Two guesses and nothing happened. Same thing happened many many times since the founding of the Watchtower Society.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Sean

      The fact that they try to explain off that quote out of Mark as Jesus placating his disciples from speculation shows that they consider Him a liar.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  17. Carl

    The end of days will not be known, So just live your life. All current news is fullfilling the prophecies, but for the exact time and day no one will know. We are not to fear death, if you do fear death then you know something is wrong in your own life, The fear of death means the fear of the unknown. Which means you fear because you know your life is in the wrong direction.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  18. cynix

    You would think if the end of the world is so near, people would straighten up and not treat each other so badly. Selfish humans.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Havildar

      Just look at our Congress. Waste and Greed. How many have lead by example? None.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      God bless your Heart cynix

      March 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  19. Nepali

    I will post a reply again on Jan 1, 2013 and laugh at this article.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Revan

      Ok Nepali, I just set a calendar reminder for myself, I will make sure you do 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Nepali

      LOL...sounds good! 🙂

      March 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  20. Jeffrey35

    It's funny that some of you actually think your mind can grasp everything this world, universe and beyond has in store for us. I have no idea what is going to happen. My belief in the Lord tells me I won't have a clue, but I should live my life to the highest of standards everyday. What we see today are merley translations of our findings here and they are followed by some very broad opinions. Many people are questioning many things right now, but as long as your path to Jesus Christ hasn't changed, nothing will. You can guarantee yourself that as the world and society changes, you won't. And when this ride is over, you'll be on a totally new one.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Havildar

      In order to get to Heaven Give up your wealth. Distribute it among the poor. You came into this world Naked and you will leave Naked. All the worldly good that you have wasted your time and wealth to collect will be left behind. No one knows when the world will end. Just enjoy Life while you are still alive. Stop your natural Greed and start doing good for those who do not have what you have and the good lord will take care of you.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:34 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.