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. Todd G

    The Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012. On December 22, 2012, it starts over again at the beginning. Dec 21, is the Mayan equivalent of new year's eve.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  2. Rick's Real

    Like God would take any of these nutjobs into His confidence.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  3. Rick's Real

    When are the people of this world going to grow up and stop believing in such fairy tales. It happens over and over and over... or more appropriately, it DOESN'T happen... over and over and over. I have no doubt that life is eternal in the universe, but it doesn't mean it has to be human life. Still there are always those so arrogant as to believe that because our lives end it's over for everyone and everything that ever was. Uh huh. See you all on May 22nd.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  4. someone

    I don't get it.......end of the world. Dude if you don't know what date you will die........ then how do you know the date of when the earth will end ......No one has the power to know besides God. No one has the power to move the sun nor the moon,besides God. And no one is ever equal toHim nor His greatness.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  5. jv

    The end will come when I die.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  6. Glenn

    I just need to find a way to profit from these people. They won't be needing money after all.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  7. someone

    I don't get.......end of the world. Dude if you don't know what date you will die........ then how do you know the date of when the earth will end ......No one has the power to know besides God. No one has the power to move the sun nor the moon,besides God. And no one is ever equal toHim or His greatness.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      God is Equal to the human race He is our Saviour, he is beyond the 3rd density Humans are sons ofa Living God....and a force to be reckoned with............

      March 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  8. saganhill

    According to my predictions, the world has already come to an end back when Buddy Holly died. 🙂

    March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  9. DarthJedi

    Religion will be the destruction of humankind if it is not eradicated.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      WHen thy light is shinned everything that is secret shall come forth for they are cowards and behold the Human race has the Power we are the Earth, I challenge anyone darkbeing to the courts of the Most High in Amens court, I shall ride on my enemies there.............

      March 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  10. sdinfoserv

    Typical... another believer alters reality to fit their needs. Hawing is an athiest.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Notoneofyou

    Finally you humans will be gone and we can have the planet. LONG LIVE THE NAMUH RACE!!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • saganhill

      Is that race a bunch of humans with deslexia?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Servant of G*d

      the Nahmu race is on my hitlist including satan lucifer and all of his traitors I am the light behold I can manifest the power of the cosmos, common Lord Amen let me kick thier ??? releaseme allmighty King !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OHHHHHHHH MMMMMMMy the POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRRR OF TH COSMOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSSSSS

      March 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  12. VinnyT

    Jehovah's Witnesses are experts at predicting the end of the world. And each time it never came true. Yet there are still 6 million of today. Just a hiccup alright. ... hahahhaahah

    March 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Peter

    The Human Being is the only animal on this planet that knows of its own demise. Knowing that one day you are going to die is scary to a lot of people. And there you have religion. A fairy tale we tell ourselves so that we can beleive that we don't really "end" when we die. My advice: grow up, face the facts, and tell the fairy tale to little children, who are the ones that may need it. The rest of us need to be adults and stop this childish idiodicy called religion that has been the source of far more evil than good.

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

      At last, a voice of reason! Hear, Hear, Peter. Well said!!

      March 7, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  14. oneSTARman

    The tremendous electrical field potential of the combined neurons from 7 Billion people collapsing when their bodies vaporize will produce a Tachyon Shower that will travel BACK IN TIME to resonate in the Brains of people throughout the past -our present and before.

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

      Damn it Jim, he's dead.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Brian

    Does anyone even read the part in Revelations where this cannot be predicted? The end of the world will come to all of us unaware? Why we should always be ready? These people believe very strongly but what will happen to them when this day passes and nothing happens?

    March 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  16. sdinfoserv

    There was a time when EVERYONE believed the earth was flat. Veracity is not factored by the percentage of believers.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  17. Name*joshua

    The last day cannot be foretold by humans only signs are given in order for us to see that God is near and everyone will see him Jesus as he descent to earth there is no such thing as rapture Satan will assimilated Jesus coming so be careful with that.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • esse

      You have GOT to be kidding. Where do you get this unadulterated nonsense? And you actually believe it to be true? Instead of following like a sheep, try thinking for yourself!

      March 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  18. hmanity01

    "According to my source, the end of the world will be on February 14, in the year 2016." -Elaine, World of the Psychic

    March 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  19. Do Tell

    The amazing part is that when May 21, 2011 comes and goes there will still be people stupid enough to believe in the philosophies of and support the Christian Broadcasting ministry. I wonder how many pages of excuses they've already thought up?

    March 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Chanselor Jenkins

    More people believe in god or some higher power than not. Stephen Hawking belives in a god.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • RdclCntrst

      Even if Dr. Hawking does believe in a god, I'm pretty sure that he isn't too concerned about the world surviving until next month, or next year, or the year after that. I'm also fairly certain that Dr. Hawking's belief in a god doesn't trump his belief in certain scientific truths– e.g. the age of the universe (greater than 6,000 Earth years) or the evolution of species. IF Stephen Hawking does believe in a god, one can use him as an example of a person for whom religious belief can CO-EXIST with scientific belief; but I think we can all agree that claiming Dr. Hawking believes in religion OVER science is ludicrous.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • saganhill

      WRONG! He is an atheist. Another christian changing reality to validate his invisible friend.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Jordan

      No, Stephen Hawking, much like Richard Dawkins, and Einstein believe the univerise and god to be one and the same. Pantheism is the definition by modern standards. They don't believe in a diety, they believe in the systems of the universe.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      Not true. Hawking IS an aetheist ad I suspect you know that and, like all religious frauds, you hope that saying it often enough will cause the gullible to beleive it. You are beneath contempt and religion is for frightened fools.

      March 7, 2011 at 10:45 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.