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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. Della

    Plain and simple truth , look to God for the answers. It's all in the Bible. God's word say's that no one will know the hour that the son of Man shall come. So it's not going to happen on May 21, or Oct 21 or Dec 21, 2012 , that's man predictions not our Heavenly Father. It will however happen when we least expect, he comes as a thief in the night. Are you ready ?

    May 22, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Tonyr62

      Of course not everything in the bible is true. Take the story of Noah as one big example.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  2. BC

    Umm... if these people had bothered to read the book instead of taking that whackjobs word on it, they would have seen that the Bible states very clearly that "But of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Matthew 24 Verse 36. Also, ‎"and they knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall be the coming of the Son of man." Matthew 24 Verse 39

    May 22, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • asrael

      Actually, God just whispered the real date in my ear, and I promised Her I wouldn't tell a soul...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  3. Matthew

    "For us to say it was absolute, I think that’s where we went wrong." Um, that's an understatement, Evans. Believing in any of the quackery of religion is where you went wrong.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  4. Msejb

    Doesn't the bible say that Jesus is coming back like a "thief in the night"? What thief makes an announcement of when they are coming? Perhaps the thief is Camping who solicited donations for up to $76 million dollars for a scam. Perhaps his last day should end in jail, but then again, the folk who followed him did so on their own free will. Perhaps the lesson here is any form of dogmatism and fear mongering is absolutely useless and makes a pure fool out it's followers.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  5. eric

    howbout instead of "the calculations were off, back to the drawing board" you say "maybe there's nothing to be calculated, we're just going to live like normal people not hunting out the end of the world."

    May 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  6. Nancy M. B.

    It was a crock from the very beginning, and Harold Camping knew it. It was nothing but a stunt to get publicity for his radio station. He has been "the boy who cried wolf" twice now; let's not believe him the third time.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • eric

      you believed him the first and second time?

      May 22, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • steve

      I never believed him the first two times.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  7. someonesomewhere

    Only you Americans can believe such a stupid story. That just proof that you people can believe anything. Now the world can see how good you are to judge other Religions, when you don't even know your own. Just to educate you a little let me tell you that God never wrote anywhere in any holly book when he is ending this world, not even the prophets knew the date. Shame on you.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • V01D

      Plenty of american atheists like myself, and plenty of american faithful with more common sense than the Family Radio lunatics all shared a hearty laugh today. The slim minority of Americans that bought into this stupidity were a small percentage among the throngs of gullible believers all over the world. Assuming that all americans were duped, and were also the only ones duped, reveals what a narrow minded, poor sheltered cretin you are.

      May 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • asrael

      Always good to hear another's thoughts about a "holly" book...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  8. Lev

    the human species needs to evolve and get rid of the concept of a god. the bible is just a book.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Matthew

      Amen!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  9. jesuswasjewish

    Rapture: The state of being carried away with love, joy, etc. According to Webster's dictionary, I was indeed raptured last night..... after I finished my bowl of kush..

    May 22, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • supah_smoka_4000

      WORD BROTHA! SPARK IT UP AND GET BLAZED!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • jesuswasjewish

      Yezzur!!! There is no herb in heaven, so I will gladly be "left behind."

      May 22, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  10. Thisisme

    Yes, this was wrong.The people really will need someone to comfort them right now. The coming of Jesus, The Messiah is not to be predicted. A person doesn't have to live by the canon of scripture for this to be true. Jesus came that we may have life more abundantly. No amount of insult nor intellect will change His being Lord. Jesus is insuring that His Word is preached all over the earth before His return also. We're not entranced. We're not believing something so much that it's a reality. It is what it is.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  11. Fast Fred

    Now on to the SuperBowl..The Saints seasons tickets just sold out 73000. Who dat say they gonna beat dem saints.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  12. coolkid4747

    The worlds not going to end in october or 2012. They just want your money. on may 21st this was the only radio station on the air taking peoples life savings all this world is ending is fake!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  13. Terry Brookman

    The world as we know it is coming to a end and it is us doing it. We are poisoning the planet and we now have a bunch of sociopaths who hear God telling them to kill people ready to use nukes to affirm their position. This place is a nut factory and in need of cleaning. The Mayans are the only people who had a real time doomsday and it is based on a very real twenty six thousand year alignment but that could be off by fifty years due to calender changes. I personally believe Iran could try to set off a nuke in Israel and that could lead to a full scale war with no holds bared. Large scale extinction events happen every now and then and there have been more species going extinct than are alive today. Right now we have a very large asteroid in the system that when it comes around the sun will pass us closer than the moon this fall, Who is to say it could not change course and hit us and it is big enough to wipe most life off the planet. The only thing that is for sure is we all die and we don't know when.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  14. systemyou

    "Of course there’s disappointment"....what a statement. These people are never happy, always suffering, and wanting the end to come. What a life that is.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Rajiv

      unbelievable.... disappointed that we are all alive... what was that man...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  15. AZ$ucks

    can't fix god stupid

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

    Whatever, our "God" is just the more advanced elements of human civilization that's spread across the Universe. This is the 4th epoch of human civilization on this planet.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  17. As the late comedian Lenny Bruce once said . . .

    "Never trust a preacher with more than one $300 suit".

    May 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  18. Franz

    As an atheist, I don't know who I find more ridiculous: The people who say that they believe in the Christ but only listen to men (they are invariably men), or the atheists/non-believers in this prophecy who think they are clever by humiliating people in public who followed camping. Your responsibility for your life is YOUR responsibility, and it's YOUR fault when you don't search out the truth for yourself. Non-believers in this or any other religion, maybe if you, like the Christians, were less interested in drawing blood and being right, we could improve the human condition without the "law" hanging over our heads. The Rapture, Doomsday didn't happen......get over it. If it does happen, it will be because of human negligence, energy from human negativity and ecological destruction and warfare. Maybe what the scriptures mean by "being ready" is that you should always be doing what's good and always be a good Custodian. It's a call to action......as it stands now....we are still doomed.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  19. Logic

    Christians judging athiest. Athiest judging Christians..people's mental status, morals and education are all being judged in here. EVERY day is judgement day as far as i'm concrned.

    May 22, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • asrael

      And let's not forget contributors misspelling "atheist"...

      May 22, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Louis B

      Damn, you're right!

      May 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  20. jesus rocks

    ;

    May 22, 2011 at 8:31 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.