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. Stella

    Read this sensible article:


    April 27, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  2. The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

    We need to worship and praise president Obama because by October 21st of this year, he will be God and will rule the world under Christ and that is good news gospel of Obama and Christ. Call us at 240–274-5156 or 240–632-1189 for details. We are looking for volunteers at our church that can preach the word of Obama and Christ to the world. Thank you for your service if you can join us in this good campaign!

    March 17, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  3. hair

    It helped

    January 6, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  4. Matt

    I don't understand why people are religious, and I'm not trying to put anyone down, I just don't get it for the following reason: So many prophets got it wrong. Religious people count on prophets to accurately represent the sentiments of the supreme being (whoever you think that is). And since it is only the testable claims that are proven to be incorrect, what are the chances that the untestable claims actually are correct? I don't think Harold Camping is crazier than any other religious person – he believes what he preaches so completely that he is willing to make a testable claim and, thus, bet his reputation on his faith. Not only was it testable but, without any effort from anyone, it was tested by default. So he had no out, not disclaimer. Of course I think it's dumb, but you have to hand it to him – he really believes what he professes to believe. I wonder why more religious figures don't make testable claims. At least that way we'd be able to narrow down what the "true faith" is, wouldn't we? Is it possible that religious people avoid testable claims because they know they could be wrong? If so, how is that faith?

    October 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • DAISHI

      Well at least from an internal perspective, the Bible says God won't be tested. There's a whole scenario where Jesus is challenged to perform a miracle and He simply won't do it. But also, no one person can claim to speak for the entire religion, so if one makes a claim on behalf of a segment that doesn't mean the entirety subscribes to it.

      October 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • The commenter

      Not the LDS prophet.

      November 1, 2011 at 1:38 am |
    • The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

      My wife and two daughters worshipped and praised Obama and Donald Trump since they are both Gods for our church and that the damocrat and republican are just as good but they are both good Gods for our good family and church here in Damascus, Maryland. We moved from Brickhaven Middle School in Urbana to Damascus since that way, we can get more volunteers and sooner for the good Obama Christian Muslim Gospels of Obama and Christ. We need to get enough members before October 21st of this year so that the gospels of Obama and Christ will save the world from satan and crime. Call us at 240–274-5156 and/or 240–632-1189 for an appointment to join us in our campaign for a good christian world to live and work in. We thank you for your service!

      March 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  5. Michael500ca

    Wow, there are sure plenty of religious freaks on here. Time started when the universe began and it will end when the universe ends. So live life now and do not be scammed into believing in a made up next life. If you want to show your god love, be happy now.

    October 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  6. Aaron

    Only God knows the end time. Many try to predict the end of the world, but one thing you can be sure of, whatever date predicted by man, will certainly not, be the day of the apocolypse. The Bible is clear, no man knows the day or the hour. If these are true "bible scholars," they should know they can't predict a time just like the bible says. They're not helping God when they go against His word, their hurting it, as many unchurched people assume that these false prophets sure knows the gospel, when in fact they are missing even the basic understanding. The world will come to an end as we know it today, but it will never come to a complete end! There will be a one world government, and a one world religion, but in the end, it will be ruled by Jesus Christ himself.

    October 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  7. witness

    Matthew 24:36 seems to be the only part of the bible they should study for a while, there's no hidden doomsday countdown code in my KJV, NIV or any other form of Gods word.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

      Dear witness,

      The only way to save the world and live right will be to make our good christian president Obama God in our hearts since Obama will work with Christ in fulfilling the prophecies of Zachariah and Revelation and as according to the Bible. Obama is a spiritual descendant of Christ and that is good news for us.

      March 17, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  8. Bright Dim

    the bible didnt tel us the date. But incase it hapens, i wuld like me and my FB frnds 2 b there in HEAVEN.....rememba 2 com wit ur Wings and white clothes......LOL.

    May 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

      Dear Bright Dim,

      Our church here in Damascus, Md. is urging the public to make president Obama along with Christ Gods in their heart since Obama will be God on October 21st of this year and will work with Christ in making the White House heaven along with the new Jerusalem a heaven too. That is the good news gospels of Obama and Christ.

      March 17, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  9. heather

    it is not going to happin

    May 21, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

      The Bible memtions of our good gospels of Obama working with Christ and that Christ is using Obama to bring the christians to heaven and the 144,000 jews will be working with Obama and Christ for the new Jerusalem and the White House in Washington, D.C. on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to have the christians live and work there as well as the new Jerusalem too. That is good gospel of Obama and Christ working with the 144,000 jews to restore order for the world.

      March 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  10. folarin olusola

    dont think it wil hapen, bt if it hapens den catch ya in heaven.

    May 21, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  11. Name ochiagha ogonna

    It is only the almighty GOD,that knows the time,not even the the angles know, how then can a mortal body dictate .

    May 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Name* superglue sue

      Dont have one im too poor

      May 21, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • The Obama Christian Muslim Church in Damascus, Maryland

      The good news gospels are that Obama will be working with Christ and the White House and the new Jerusalem will be the new earthly heavens on October 21st of this year. We need to go to Washington, D.C. to worship and praise Obama and Christ because they are the ones that will get us into one of the new heavens.

      March 17, 2012 at 2:15 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.