Doomsdays throughout time
May 22nd, 2011
03:07 PM ET

Life goes on: Doomsday believers on the morning after

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) – Theirs had been an unwavering belief, the sort that inspired some to quit jobs, leave their homes and walk away from family and friends to issue a doomsday warning.

Without question, they believed May 21 would be the day that Jesus Christ would return and rapture them - and a select 2 to 3 percent of the world’s population - up to heaven.  Everyone left behind would be on a crash course to final destruction, scheduled for October 21.

But now it’s May 22.

The sun rose, birds are singing and life as we know it continues. Those anticipated earthquakes that the May 21 doomsdayers said would ravage the earth on Saturday at 6 p.m. in each of the world's time zones never came.

And the faithful believers - who said the Bible guaranteed this day - are still here, trying to make sense of it all.

“Of course there’s disappointment. There’s no getting around that,” said Tom Evans, who’d left his northern California home to spend the weekend with family and friends. “When you as a person believe that God is coming back, and you believe the evidence is very clear that he’s coming back, that is something every child of God longs for. In a moment, we’d be changed and spend eternity with God. I’m not ashamed of that at all. I’m not ashamed of wanting and hoping for it.”

But Evans did reveal some regret.

“For us to say it was absolute, I think that’s where we went wrong. That’s where we strayed, and that I would gladly apologize for,” he said. “Whether I personally have done something dishonorable, I’m still mulling it over. I was trying to be faithful.”

Evans spoke to CNN as an individual, not as a spokesperson for Family Radio, the Oakland, California, Christian broadcasting network behind the May 21 movement. 

But Evans has been a paid spokesman for the network, a job he said he expects to resume - at least in the short term - after he and Family Radio's board of directors meet with Harold Camping, the network's 89-year-old founder.

“I have not spoken to Mr. Camping about the issue of what to do next,” Evans said. “But he and his wife are fine, and our response will come in the early part of next week.”

Camping, a degreed engineer (not a pastor) who claims to have made the Bible his “university” for more than 50 years, has experience with failed prophecies. He once claimed the world would end in September 1994, later chalking that snafu up to biblical miscalculations and the need for further study. This time around, he said earlier this year, he had no doubts.

Calls to Camping's Alameda, California, home, went unanswered.

CNN reached out Sunday morning to about a dozen doomsday believers, to see how they felt after waking up. Only Evans and one other responded.

"I'm fine Jessica, really!" Darryl Keitt, of Elizabeth, New Jersey, who spent about seven months touring the country in a caravan of RVs, sharing the doomsday warning, wrote in a text message. "Just need 2 process this."

Those who’ve studied end-of-the-world movements are analyzing what happened, or didn’t happen, and forecasting what will come next.

“In the end, it was a whimper, not a bang,” said Lorenzo DiTommaso, author of the forthcoming book “The Architecture of Apocalypticism” and an associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada. “The 21st of May came and went, and with it Harold Camping’s prediction of the coming of the Rapture and the day of doom.”

Based on past doomed doomsdays, much can be learned, said DiTommaso, who has studied apocalyptic worldviews for 12 years.

He shared what he meant in a written statement to CNN:

Historically, failed prophecies tend to result in disillusionment, with members deserting the group, or, more typically, a faith-saving (and face-saving) statement to the effect that while divine revelation remains infallible, human calculation is not. In short: The math was off, and it’s back to the drawing board. If the logic seems a bit self-serving, recall that in the apocalyptic mindset, faith precedes theory, and theory informs the evidence.

Not that any of this will preclude the appearance of future doomsday predictions. “Apocalypse,” Frank Kermode once observed, “can be disconfirmed without being discredited.” The massive 2012 phenomenon [based on the Mayan “Long Count” calendar] lurks just over the horizon. Even if the media and the public are over-saturated right now, the 2012 event promises to be as big as Y2K. After that, when the predicted events of the 21st of December 2012 fail to occur, a new generation of end-time prophecies will spring up. And that’s about the only sure prediction that one can make.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Culture wars • End times

soundoff (2,964 Responses)
  1. Xavi

    Well...uh...no one has actually SEEN Mr. Camping yet...so ...maybe he was the only one who got to go. 🙂 Sorry to the rest of the folks who were going along with it, guess you just didn't make the cult...I mean the cut.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  2. gmo

    They made the same mistake as the y2k idiots! They set a date for the end of the world. Better to be like the climate change zealots, and leave it open ended. they will be able to sell that bull for 100 years.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • AJD

      yeah man, I still have loaded clips and freeze dried food from that nonsense...i wonder what will happen round xmas 2012 now...will these same jacks all be up in arms?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  3. Gabriel

    Jesus said "like a thief in the night" and " you know not the hour" I'd expect so called believers to expect the unexpected. It is, after all, the Almighty alone who knows the true moment. Seek him yourself, do not follow the blind into eternity, for surely you will be led down the wrong path.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • AJD

      yeah yeah...as Chief Wiggum said, "the bible says a lot of things...now push her off the cliff"

      May 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  4. Matt Volkel

    Family Radio and most "christian leaders" are a bunch of crooks. Their followers are idiots.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Chaz

      Agreed! Too bad evolution hasn't eradicated these fundamentalist...yet!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  5. Deanna

    I just wish those buses had enough radioactive material in them to sterilize their riders. These people are too stupid to be in the gene pool.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • wiflash

      Unfortunately, these fruitcakes will reproduce and their offspring will continue their bs.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  6. virgoptrex

    i wonder how much money they collected for this propaganda.............why not send that money for good use – environment, animals and improving standard of living of children.......

    May 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Greg Carter

    “For us to say it was absolute, I think that’s where we went wrong. That’s where we strayed"

    Wrong again buddy. You went off course the day you gave away reason and common sense. You allowed yourself to be conditioned to accept wishful thinking in lieu of reality. You gave someone else the keys to your mind, to tell you what was right to think, and what was wrong to think.

    Such is the nature of religion.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • archmuse

      Well said.

      The best bumper sticker I ever saw said, "Jesus came to take away your sins, not your minds"

      May 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  8. trixen

    Jesus has been dead for 2000 years and isn't coming back. Get over it, Christians.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • AJD

      it is so nice to see that there are people who think the same way as me out there...I say that all the time...Elvis, Tupac, Jesus, Jerry Garcia they are all dead and ain't coming back ...grow up

      May 22, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Steele

      Although I disagree with your position, I rejoice that you spoke His name. As a result, you have advance the Gospels and Christ is preached. I love you friend.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • AJD

      Thanks for lovin me Steele man...but youu are gonna end up as dead as me and everyone else one day

      May 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Steele

      That's true, I will physically die like everyone else but that doesn't disturb me because I believe my spirit will live forever. People may think my faith is stupid but that's okay. Trying to live a selfless life with love for my brothers and sisters, no matter what condition, is a good path for me – no one gets hurt which is cool. Take care.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  9. AJD

    wow, this a tough room for a believer

    May 22, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • annoyed

      I hate it when people critisize us believers for something these idiots believed in. I never bought into this for a second.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • archmuse

      @ Annoyed
      The problem, is that you think your beliefs are less idiot than someone than theirs. To an atheist ALL religions are idiotic.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Duke13

      At least you are not in a Country where Christians are being killed for their belief.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  10. wiflash

    Just goes to prove that there are "sheep" everywhere. Will this 89 year old charlatan reimburse the people who sold everything to go to "heaven?" No way, after all, a dork is a dork and he fits the bill all the way through. I have no sympathy for the "sheep" who followed this fruitcake.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  11. Duke13

    The people who followed Harold Camping's prediction should have learned now that they don't need to follow a leader who uses "fuzzy" math for his prediction. Harold Camping's prediction was not supported by Bible scripture, he simply twisted scripture around as necessary to fit his prediction.

    Although the Bible doesn't provide a specific date for anything to occur, it does clearly give the prophecy signs for the end of time.

    If they read the Bible they will find that certain prophecy has been fulfilled, however there is still other prophecy that must be fulfilled before the end of time.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  12. believer

    it's funny, because matthew 24:36 is quite clear. If you're using the bible as a reference, study it well, not just the part that suits what you believe.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      Might as well use your favorite poetry book as use a bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • AJD

      I can predict the end using 3 Shakespeare plays and an episode of The Odd Couple from 1978...I'm making the announcement next week

      May 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • archmuse

      ALL Christian groups do that. If they didn't there would only be on version of Christianity rather than hundreds.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  13. Mavent

    Uh, the Bible says that Noah took seven of every clean animal, and five of every unclean. But I guess the writer of the article couldn't be bothered look it up.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • AJD

      Hey man...what did the tigers eat on the way back to Asia?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • Mike A

      Nice try, Mavent. Maybe you should go back and read it again. It was 7 of every clean animal and 2 of every unclean. I guess you couldn't be bothered to read it either, lol.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  14. The Watcher

    At least now we will be able to watch Vancouver win the Stanley Cup !!!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  15. brian


    May 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Dorian

      "EVER SEE A POOR PASTOR ???" – Umm... Yes. I have.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • James

      Actually, most pastors I've known have been poor.

      Christian organizations make up a huge piece of the pie when it comes to charitable work. The Catholic Church alone is the world's largest charitable organization.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  16. beth

    I suppose it's difficult for you to see the arrogance in your own statement.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  17. Chuck

    I wonder if the members of this cult can now sue Mr. Harold Camping for fraud and mental abuse? These are obviously mentally weak people who have been taken advantage of. I think an example needs to be set.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  18. lola

    Noone knows when is the end of the world and the judgement day except God himself and he didn't reveal the time. Please come to Islam and make sense to yourselves.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • AJD

      I heard that god himself made it so secret even he doesn't know it

      May 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • AJD

      i can only hope this marks the beginning of the end for god belief...let's close this silly chapter of human existence and move on...good night god

      May 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  19. Alex The Great

    I will admit, a part of me, although quite cynical, thought that something might actually happen. I am relieved that nothing did for I may be missing quite a few people by now. I am not the most religious person in the world, but perhaps there is a positive to this mess. To fear something you believe that will likely not happen means you likely have some sort of faith. Being someone who has had a spritual crisis, I am happy to see this as a positive.

    On the other hand, my crusade is not against religion or anyone who has a faith. I do believe that this jerk is another one of those religious nuts who thinks they can be a prophet and interpret the word of a supernatural, omnipotent being. My personal belief regarding the way we worship and believe is that we simply can not believe ALL of what the bible, torra, Koran might dictate. WE are too feeble minded to interpret such words of wisdom, let alone make these flawed interprutations concrete evidence of an event or a way to live your life.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  20. clarke

    Anyone who sees the face of God does not live to tell about it. This is true.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Rin Ponneth


      May 22, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      For some odd definition of true.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Rin Ponneth

      My prolapsed anus hurts.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Existentialist

      ok.... You know this.... how?

      "“What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”

      May 22, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • asrael

      But I just spoke with God, face to face; She was smiling when I left her...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • AJD

      Wow man, where'd you get that?...that's profound...wait wait, I know, it was that Jeff Goldblum Cyndi Lauper movie from the 80's...Vibes...yeah deep...or was it Indiana Jones

      May 22, 2011 at 8:43 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.