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. Ron

    Religion is very similar to drug use. There are cases where a drug is benign and in fact helpful as in the case of medicine. Then there are the horror stories of hard core heroin use, the times when people take their religion way too seriously.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  2. poop

    I believe the world will end when a giant cosmic muffin comes down from the sky and says that he is our father. We will then all eat him and become our own father, resulting in incest, resulting the the devolution of humans. The End!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      That makes as much sense as the bibble... and kills fewer trees.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  3. Jazzman

    For all we know, God could be delaying Doomsday just to spite all the people who claim to know when it's going to happen. The world may never end lol.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  4. Gonzoaster11

    So when the day the world ends comes, what time will it end? I mean, will it be when the first timezone reaches the day of? When America reaches the day of? When the last timezone reaches the day of? Because that sort of detail can really screw up some mathematics. And personally, I'd like to know if my world is going to end relative to my 20th or 21st, because I don't want to plan my end of the world party to be too late.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  5. Denizen Kate

    There's a new apocolypse scare every decade, it seems. Those who believe, when asked what they'll do it they are wrong, won't answer. When asked afterwords, they claim a miscalculation, that it's going to happen at another time. Bah, humbug.

    I have a cousin who married 15 or so yerars ago and when I asked her if she was planning to have children, her reply was "No, we won't bring children into a world that will end with the Y2K apocolypse." Every family gene pool has a shallow end. It's probably a good thing that some people choose not to reproduce.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  6. db

    So....if he arises from the dead...does that make him a zombie? Or are zombies the messiah? Hmmmmm. Look guys.....life on earth WILL end. Has nothing to do with a real or an imagined "savior" I mean, was there a savior for the dinasours? I guessed the saved ones are birds. Structually, they are most like dinasours. I'm not trying to be rude....but let's get real, shall we? The bible was written by MAN. Otherwise, how could there be more than one "version" (with the exception of the old testament, which is the closest to "God" then all the rest of the nonesense out there.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      Bibble is entirely comprised of plagiarized concepts lifted from philosophers, kings, and criminals of yesteryear.... with either ethical, humane, or self-serving nefarious motivations. And in some cases a ribald sense of humor never imagining how many millions/billions would not just fall for it but pay money and waste their lives adoring it.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  7. hmm


    March 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  8. jim

    they forgot to include iching & hopi rock!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  9. James the Just

    No man knows the time nor hour, SO SAYS YESHUA THE CHRIST! But that doesn’t stop man from trying. 100% of the people that have predicted the date throughout history have done that so people will look at them, not to mention they are ALL FALSE PROPHETS. Christ warned us to watch out for these people. These people think they’re on the right side when in reality they are enemies of CHRIST and are clearly on the wrong side. You only get one chance to be a False Prophet. http://www.yahwehyeshua.com

    March 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  10. LH

    Trust God for your Salvation and keep your eyes on him, not on man, and his predictions.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Bob

      If religon and everyones foolish beliefs where to go away, Think of what a calm, quiet and peaceful world we would live in. It's amazing how threw the years of these SO called loving gods people follow we have managed to kill one another and destroy humanity all on fairytales and thousand year old beliefs. The end of the world will come, But I highly doubt it will come from a mystical being.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  11. Ok...

    Although this article did kill some time while I'm bored at work. So that's cool.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  12. Ok...

    All of these are based off of different beliefs. Nobody can say ones right over another. But these "calculations" have been nothing but wrong. I will not believe what a book says or someone tells me about the world ending. I'll find out if it's in my life time, otherwise not worried about it.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  13. Jewish

    i hate this blog.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  14. Guruji

    This is what will happen:
    If we think about this question – is there a purpose behind all this existance of life or it is just there for the sake of it. There is no way to conclusively say either way. However, there is strong evidence all around that the life on earth tends to create and promote certain type of creatures. When this evolution chain starts to move in a direction that doesn't align with the creaters motives a major correction is applied, example dianasaurs were wiped out. So at some point a best final set of DNAs that can be formed on earth will be reached. It may take wiping human race if humans come short of the expectation(I think they do) and evolving a completely new smarter creature. So however it happens when the final DNAs are achieved, it will be taken to the destination which could be another planet where next stage of even better creatures can be created. The transportation can happen in many ways. The creatures may get so smart that they transport themselves through the space to another planet. Or after earth dies and turns into a piece of stray rock in space, it eventually hits into another planet to start the life with final best DNAs still having potential to grow back to where they were. Its amazing how long creator can wait for all this.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  15. Ok...

    Bs, thats all that is. The world will end when it ends, when the sun blows up (super nova). Which will deffinitly consume the earth. But why spend time worrying and thinking about the worlds end... If you are living a good life and doing the right thing then why does it matter if it ends tomorrow or a billion years from now.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Mike

      You have the right idea although the Sun isn't massive enought to supernova. Most likely it will expand into a Red Giant and either cook the earth or consume it if it gets big enough. Life on Earth may end because of some other cosmic event, although the Earth may endure just fine.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  16. Peepole_R_Ideeots_Dot_Kaum

    Listen, Matthew 24:36 clearly states that no one knows when Christ's return is coming, not even "CHRIST HIMSELF"...not the Angels and certainly no man, only God. My Pastor said they did get one thing right though-Christ IS coming back to claim what is his, he will return.
    Bottomline stop worrying about the last days and start worrying about preaching God's word and spreading the good news of Christ's death on the cross and resurrection from the grave to save ALL sinners. Praise God for his son Jesus Christ, without him even in our best efforts would deserve death.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      My, aren't YOU a naddering nabob of negativism? Bought that religious marketing BS hook, line, and sinker eh? Except the "render unto Caesar" part about paying your gdmn property taxes on your crystal cathedrals I notice.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Believer


      March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  17. Brian

    The rapture is "calculated" to e My 21, 2011 eh? Hope they took into consideration the fact that the Christian calendar is actually wrong!

    March 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  18. CBPorche

    Don Dillinger! Right On!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  19. me

    the bible was written by man... Doesn't that make anyone feel a little foolish?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • tinb

      Educate yourself moron. The bible may have been written by a man, but through revelation, which is believed to come from God. If you're going to call people foolish, at least do so with a bit of respect.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • iceweb

      i highly agree

      March 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • BibleBelt

      .. an atheist trolling the Belief Blog.. loooooool!

      March 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      Hey "tinb" – who you callin' "moron" Willis? Every word in that marketing manual you call a bibble was plagiarized – drawn from the works of roman and greek philosophers, babylonian sociologists, and egyptian high priests (the ten commandments were lifted whole from the Test of the Thirteen Fables used to determine worthiness for admission to the egyptian afterlife). Time for your crystal cathedrals to start paying property tax and your shamans and witch doctors to stop destroying lives, families, and our Nation's progress with their self-serving anti-science lies and hateful rhetoric.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Peter

      Respect is something that needs to be earned. Declaring a belief in some bearded guy who lives in the clouds won't get you my respect, I can tell you that much.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      the bible was written by the Force of the Earth, Behold God and the Bible are real Woe to those who reject him they shall fall...God is Love pure Love zero hate, behold there some people who love to murder children foolisly believing they are not seen by Amen he is the EyeSeeingEye. I hate evil....I shall shine my Earth light upon all darkness let evil leave for it is onlya void like a fart in the wind......................

      March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  20. MightyMoo

    The world will end for me when I close my eyes, never to open them again along with my last exhale.

    March 7, 2011 at 2:50 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.