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. Pitdownman

    The world will end on, ah let's see, ah, on October 2, 2016. I think I'll have my book done before then. Those wishing to give me all of their worldly possessions are free to do so.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Luke

    Glad to see Dr. DiTommaso get some attention on CNN. Brilliant man.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  3. coder

    between jesus, mohammad & moses, i often wonder how proud they are of two thousand year murder spree they have inspired - their gods must be so very proud of the greed and indifference in their self-elected leaders. Truly awe inspiring acts of domination over a weaker set of humans – be it the vatican doing the pedophile schuffle, iman's preaching jihad, or jesus freaks condemning everyone else - the world doesnt end – the planetary virus that is the human race, will however

    March 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  4. joe

    problem is these stupid azzholes will want the government i/e/ taxpayers to take care of them now that they have given away everything they own.. i mean how can they be responsible for their stuipid actions in todays world..

    March 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Belarius Marek

      You mean "taken care of" in the Al Capone sort of way?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  5. Jazzman

    One way or another, there will be a lot of disappointed people when the world ends.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • ladiet

      Guess it won't matter...once their dead!

      March 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  6. raven26

    I believe Martin Luther said it best when asked about what he would do if told the world would end tomorrow. "Plant a tree," was his reply.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  7. filthburger

    I'm sure if i went out to the desert and ate some peyote and some grasshoppers for a while, I'd come back and write a bible book that would blow peoples minds. It's all fun fantasy, but the truth is, the creator does not care about us. If the creator did, i'm sure he/she/it would not allow us to kill so much in his/her/it's name. I really would like the aliens to come down and tell people that the universe is chaos and not made just for our viewing. sorry.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  8. James

    The Bible clearly states that "No one knows when that day or hour will come. Even the angels in heaven and the Son don't know. Only the Father knows" (Mark 13:32).

    March 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  9. Sockness Monster

    The Bible
    A bunch of fables to scare kids
    into going to bed early.
    Eat your vegatables or satan will get you.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Ricky

    The Bible says Jesus will come like a thief in the night – when does anybody know when a thief will break into their house? The answer is totally unknown, and not even the angels in heaven know it when. I am sorry for the doomsayers of May 21st will get discredited and worst, the true and living Jesus Christ gets the wrong credit that will lead many not to believe in him anymore. By then when he finally comes, many will be unprepared for his presence. Yes, Jesus will be a kind and merciful judge of those who did not know or understand him, but he will cast those doomsayers by saying he didn't know them and cast them off.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  11. Cleveland Jim

    Hahaha DonDillinger says "Jesus will come like a thieve in the night" He already did that during the plague when he robbed europe of it's culture.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Belarius Marek

      No.. That is called immigration.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Myself

    Jesus says in the Bible that ONLY GOD knows the exact time....so predicting is a waste of time. Jesus doesn't even know...so if he doesn't know, why would any of us know?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • randaxe

      Because he isn't real?

      March 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  13. John in NY

    I thought the world was supposed to end in 1984, of wait that's right when it didn't they changed it to 1988, then 1992 as I call, then 2000 now 2011 and/or 2012.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  14. RebornInFlame

    The Phoenix Rises.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Belarius Marek

      Oh how pretty.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  15. uncle bob

    Just blame it all on Bush or Obama. It makes life easier.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  16. DonDillinger

    I hear things like this all the time, but the Bible tells you not to be deceived. Nobody knows the day or the time of the coming of our Lord. It's said that Jesus will come like a thief in the night. Therefore the time and the manner in which God will rapture his people is not known. For people giving out dates, of when the end time will come.. I can't say they are wrong, but How do they know? If the Bible says not to be deceived when people say, "Come look see, Jesus is there, or Jesus is here, Jesus is coming on May 21, 2011.. Don't believe man.. I am in no way disrespecting them, but only stating what the Bible says.. If you are saved and believe, then you shall not perish.. So knowing a date doesn't matter if you are saved.. Knowing a date wouldn't matter regardless, because there is nothing that can be done.. For you all I say, except Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, and don't worry of the time.. Just hold on to your faith and be still..

    March 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Camille Chuks

      So true!

      March 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Samuel Adams

      The bible is just a book written by over-zealous, over-pompous, male-chauvinistic pigs of stories that may or may not have happened. As most religions are, it's just a money-maker, a way for, lets say, the Catholic Church to make money, by saying you haven't followed the bible, pay up and all sins will be forgiven...give me one good reason I should accept this ordinary, everyday person into my heart when he is supposedly the creator of all and overseer of all, yet creates massive floods, destroys property, allows children to be shot and killed, and so on and so on. If you so called god was so great, he would not allow these things to happen....remember, the so called bible says to love everyone, yet in the same breath brings destruction?? Hypocritical if you ask me.....

      March 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • mark

      settle down there bible wacko

      March 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • oscar

      I really do agree with your comment, if us have the blessing of the relationship with the lord by reading the bible and praying. Expend time with are saviour is more important than worry about from this kind of things.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Tom Hartman

      Wait, you say dont believe man...didnt he write the Bible? So, we shouldn't believe in the bible?

      March 7, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Me

      SOO TRUE!! No one knows! And God wouldn't tell one man the exact date when he sprecifically says "NO MAN KNOWS, NOT EVEN THE ANGELS.." He will come like a "Thief in the night"..God wants you to live like He's coming back everyday..If we knew exactly when He was coming back, we would all repent and go to Him right before and that would defeat the purpose of this world..You're supposed to live for God each and every day. He WILL come back one day..but no man knows the exact date.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Belarius Marek

      Like Don say's.. Hold on to your faith in your still.. Cuz we could all use a drink..

      March 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Spillner

      @Sam Adams, you are 100% correct. The bible has been a tool to control the weak will and under educated since its creation. Its the most hypocritical book ever written by both preaching love and hate.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  17. Enoch_knows_whos_names_are_written

    Science shows that at some point the sun will Nova and the earth will be no more. At some point, if current theory is correct, the universe will expand out of existence. Religion and science both predict this, just using different language in the telling. Civilizations rise and fall and the survivors build anew. The Phoenix will rise from the ashes.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Potsiebad#ss

      that could happen in two billion years though

      March 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  18. OurPlanet

    I asked for a time but it was not good for me so god called it off.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  19. ficheye

    The world will end when we overpopulate the place and there's a war over resources. All preventable, but don't let common sense get in the way. We are procreating ourselves into a corner.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • yeshua1

      It's ironic that a species could breed itself into extinction.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Kodiac

      Not so sure I believe overpopulation is the source of the problem. But one thing I do agree with you on is resources are running out. What will happen when oil is gone? Peak oil any one? So yes I agree the next world war we will probably see will be over resources. I think the bigger problem than "overpopulation" is a horrible mis-management of world resources. It did not have to get like this if we were not gluttons for throw away items. Hopefully it is not too late to turn things around.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Comicaze

      But the act, itself, is so much fun!

      March 7, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  20. uncle bob

    People need to get a real job and stop tricking people to buy their books, cds or whatever, we all now this is all about money. Its all about the all mighty dollars once again, like everything in this life.... I heard people use to make big bucks on writing apocalypse stuff and I think they still do now with 2012 prediction garbage. If you want to know about apocalypse or the end of the world, all you have to do just read about Year 2000 apocalypse a.k.a Y2K. Past apocalypse books or online materials are so funny to read. besides the humor factor, reading past apocalyptic material can give you insight into human basic inner fear to the core, which is very interesting.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:57 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.