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. tookie

    the bible says when GOD comes back-NO MAN knows the time day or hour only GOD knows when he's comn back. I believe he is. But I'm goin by his watch not that wanna be god that predicted that crap. Read ur BIBLE ppl it will save ur life & soul. May GOD Bless Us All!!!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      You think a god needs a watch to tell the time? Get a smarter god.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • asrael

      Those caps are so ... cute ...

      May 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  2. Andrew

    Anyone who actually knows the bible knows that we will not know the day God comes back...Make all the predictions you want, i will bet my entire wages that the lord will not come then, "he will come like a thief in the night," it also says that the angels won't even know

    May 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Mark Yelka

      I know "Alice on Wonderland". It's a good book.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • MarkInPDX

      And I'd bet that he never comes at all, because he doesn't exist. He's a fairy tale.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • guest

      Like the S.E.A.L.S

      May 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • James

      Anyone who actually knows the bible ends up walking away from religion.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  3. david


    May 22, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  4. Mark Yelka

    The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. It is fiction mixed with cultural truth for the time. But, when it is read in schools, some students think is is real.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  5. ruemorgue

    These guys are hilarious! Who needs the Comedy Channel when you have these clowns! Bible Humpers are the best. Wel. amost the best. The pedophiliac, mosgynistic, The Profit makes fo a better laugh, but his followers actually will *help* you get to Paradise!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  6. DanteX


    All IDIOTS – And if they gave this FRAUD their money then deserve to have lost it.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  7. wstevens

    You religious sheeple will never learn. The universe is beyond your comprehending and you should stop pretending it is otherwise.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • JED

      I don't think one needs to be able to comprehend the universe to avoid hucksters. I certainly don't comprehend the universe, but I nevertheless didn't think for a moment that Mr. Camping was telling the truth. What people really need to be able to do is comprehend the nature of human beings, including themselves. That should be enough.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  8. Gary

    Oh well, at least I got to celebrate my birthday on the 22nd!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • JED

      Happy Birthday, Gary!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  9. Abihso

    Harold Camping should be arrested and charged with stealing money of innocent people by infulencing them wrongfully !!! this guy should be put in jail, in times when economic hardship is amongst people, he is stealing millions for his false beliefs.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Allen

      Harold did not make people give hom the money. We will see in the future if Camping is a true christian and offeres to repay and work of at least some of those funds to the people who did give up everything, but again, no one held a gun to thier head.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  10. beth

    Camping should be in jail or a mental hospital. Unfortunately his followers should have gotten better educations. It's embarrassing that American adults could be so easily fooled to be fleeced for money. Very sad for them. Should people with higher IQs and reasoning skills be allowed to rip off those who aren't as high in these areas?

    May 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • justme

      oh, they're high alright.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • JED


      May 22, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Ezekiel

      Sounds like a good biz plan. Declare yourself a church, apply for non-profit status, and use radio and internet to attract followers. That way, the gov't can't go after you for being a fraud if what you're selling is based on belief and not actual fact. No such thing as false advertisement when it comes to religion.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  11. Bill

    This is why people need to stop letting religion run their lives and think for themselves

    May 22, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  12. Vash

    Hey even if he's a fraud I'm happy he gave us all joking material to last a few days at work! Hey maybe macho man elbow dropped Jesus before he got to earth and he is taking time to recover!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  13. beth

    I think it is beyond belief that someone like camping could get so many millions of dollars from people. Why would they be convinced by him? I think in part this is because most Americans don't know a 2nd language and therefore can more easily be fooled into thinking there is only one interpretation of the bible. Camping doesn't read Hebrew or Aramaic or ancient Greek. There are various ways to translate the same phrase. There are things you can say or think in one language that can't be translated into another. With the passage of time meanings of words change. There is not only one way to interpret any historical text, the bible included and *the modern English versions of the bible are different than the historical bibles*!!! The Jewish bible is different from the Catholic one which is different from other versions due to differences in translation and other reasons. So any fool who thinks you are going to read it and find the end of the world's date is deluded or not educated well enough to realize how lacking they are in even the ability to know what the original text really said or meant. Learn some other language, learn about another culture, try living overseas a while and you will see there are multiple ways to think and live. The idea that a modern American can understand the full intentions of those who lived so long ago from another culture, speaking and writing another language from a text that has been passed down via centuries like the telephone game is unrealistic.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      beth wrote: "I think it is beyond belief that someone like camping could get so many millions of dollars from people. Why would they be convinced by him?"

      Anyone remember Jim Bakker? Jimmy Swaggart? There have been snake-oil salesmen for ages... There's no reason to doubt that the disciples, Jesus, or even Moses (if he did, indeed exist) were much different...

      May 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • MarkInPDX

      I think it's beyond belief that anyone thinks that the Bible is anything other than a bunch of fairy tales about a deity that doesn't exist and never did. Face it people, no matter how you want to interpret it, there is no god. Never was.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • humanity01

      Really?????? It’s because Americans only speak one language???? How about that mono/multi-lingual people actually believe the ambiguous text of the bible is the written word of their creator.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Frank

      Let's not forget that really fun guy, Jim Jones, who convinced 1000 people to drink cyanide laced koolaid with him.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • JED

      Beyond belief? Are you joking? You need to get out (or read) more.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  14. IHSJCN

    It fails to amaze me, how we, the all-knowing, self-important human race reacts when things like this happen. First off, people like Camping are 'cult leaders', we've seen them come & go; and it is sad to see the amount of damage they inflict and the people they lead astray. They genuinely give Christianity a bad name, and that's sad. And then we have the agnostics & atheists jumping on the band wagon saying... 'See, we told ya so, God doesn't exist'... (yea, right, I'm convinced). The reality of the whole situation is... we, as a species, are all clueless; so... we either take this all on faith or we don't!

    What really saddens me about this whole situation is that no one in the media has gone to or even quoted the one true source of all this, the Bible. Whether you believe in God or not, the Bible CLEARLY states, that NO ONE, I repeat, NO ONE knows the day or hour. All you have to do is read Matthew 24:36... that's the first book in the New Testament for all of the non-bible types out there (you can also Google it). So, the only question to ask is: What don't we understand about 'NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR HOUR'... To me, it's simple – If you believe in God, you have your answer; if you don't believe in God, I guess you really wouldn't care... would you?!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • pm81

      As an atheist myself, I am definitely not responding to the failed doomsday prophecy by saying, "See, I told ya so. God doesn't exist." There are plenty of other reasons for people who believe to re-think their opinions, but this is definitely not one of them, and I doubt you will find very many atheists saying, "I know god doesn't exist because Harold Camping's prediction didn't come true."

      May 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Joshua

      Religion is what enables otherwise intelligent people to act like total idiots. It amazes me every time people invoke the Bible as a source of ultimate truth! The bible was written by morons who thought the earth is flat – is that true? Grow up and engage your mind before you run your tongue. Historically, religion was nothing but a clever and oppressive mean of crowd control. With the freedom we enjoy in a democratic country, and, presumably living in an enlightend century – it is beyond me why anyone will let charlatans rule their lives and fortunes.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  15. Mrs Mommy N Wife

    In my opinion Harold Camping is a horrible man. All of those people who spent their savings and left their houses and families because he said that the end was coming, sure I feel bad for them but they're adults and can make their own decesions but what about their children? Camping used a whole butt load of bible verses and twisted them to fit his theory but the one he forgot, conviently, was the one about no one knowing. I'm not a overly religious person but I do believe in God, something Camping obviously completely overexaggerates. Camping is a horrible con man and he should be punished and held accountable.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • JED

      Oh pleeeeeeeease! What about the children of people who bought homes on the collective advice of banks, mortgage brokers, real estate agents, appraisers, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? Harold Camping is a piker in comparison to those folks? And what about the children of patriotic Americans who actually believed it was necessary to fight in Iraq to protect the United States? Jeez Louise, what have you been smokin'?

      May 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • steve

      jed. are you really slamming patriotic americans? the soldiers who actually fought and sometimes died in iraq. disapprove of the war if you want but if you disapprove of the soldiers you dont deserve the freedoms they fight for.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  16. Rolph

    Hey people. It's alright. The end will come. It's just that they forgot to figure in leap year!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  17. Ziggy

    Harold Camping needs to support his followers now.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  18. JED

    I'm astonished at the utter lack of creativity reflected by these posts. In this economy, it seems to me that anyone with half a brain should be carefully analyzing this phenominon and trying to figure out how to make an easy living from people's gullibility just as Mr. Camping, politicians and political dogmatists, Madison Avenue ad-men, Wall Street hucksters, health foods gurus, and thousands of other have done. P.T. Barnum let the cat out of the bag decades ago, though he merely stated what has been obvious to many for millennia. Come on, people, lighten up! This is never going to change.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • OMFG

      People did cash in on it.

      A group of atheists started a company to watch the pets of those that were raptured.

      For every end of the world prediction there will be a way to make money.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • JED


      I love it!

      May 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  19. Mark Yelka

    Chronicles of Narnia – it's a real book. As real as any old bible. And far less likely to inspire intolerance. Unless, people start interpreting it, and thinking it really IS real!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Vash

      I'd rather find religion in Terry pratchetts discworld series. I love narnia series but find it sullied by the fact the author was deeply religious and used Christianity as a base for his books.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • steve

      do you know that the Chronicles of Narnia is an alegory off of the bible? just thought it ironic you chose that book in your example.

      May 22, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  20. Ziggy

    Harold Camping is really Satan!

    May 22, 2011 at 9:04 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.