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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. Randall12

    Want a really mind-bending perspective into Christianity, try reading Perceptional Threshold. Yeah, there's a few grammar errors... Still, strangest book I've read on the subject. Makes the Exorcists and Rites look like kiddy fairytales.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  2. Lenny Pincus

    The company behind this fraud is worth somewhere around 70 million. They soak maroons who are willing to finance the fraud in the belief that they will be ushered into heaven. Weirdly, there are many of these maroons in the Republican Party who base policy in this very belief. Vote for them at your peril.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • a mom

      Translation: there are no Christian Democrats.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • asrael

      Editor's note: Teach Lenny, gently, the difference between "maroon" and "moron" ...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Oi

      @asrael: Editor's note: Actually it IS maroons. Check Bugs Bunny.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • asrael

      @Oi – Let's wait for Lenny to confirm his source...

      May 23, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  3. Paul

    The bible says that no man knoweth when the Son Of God will return, but uses the example of the fig tree to represent the signs of the times. when the leaves appear you know summer is nigh, much like the prophesied signs of the times will indicate how near Christ's second coming will be. So if any man tells you he knows when Christ will return, he is probably wrong.
    But it really isn't about knowing the exact date or time. The parable of the ten virgins is all about being prepared no matter when He comes. For many unprepared, His return will be 'as a thief in the night' for the people that are too busy eating, drinking, and being merry.
    So live every day as if tomorrow is the last day of the world and be ready to meet God, but also be ready if it is just another day. I think doing a last day repentance, like planning a deathbed confession, is risky, because what if you guess wrong?

    May 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Mindy

      If you still believe the rapture will happen eventually, you're equally as crazy as these May 21st people. There is no god and there will be no rapture! Use your brain!

      May 23, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  4. Js007

    News media should be ashamed for giving this crackpot millions worth of free publicity for his cult.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Kenney

      I agree!!!!

      May 22, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • GEZUS

      I think they all should off themselves since they were not planning on being here anyway......at least it would be one way to thin the herd.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  5. Jim

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

    May 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  6. markodavid

    All faith based belief in the after life is Santa Claus foe adults.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  7. link

    I am a firm believer 0f G0D comming back bible acts 1-6-7 its not for us to know the time or the season why do people keep over looking the word

    May 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • kls817

      yeah, this seems to keep happening again and again. There are other places in the Bible that says no one knows when the end of the world is coming, yet some insist they know; it's ridiculous.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  8. Nodack

    Of course there’s disappointment. There’s no getting around that,” said Tom Evans

    He was really bummed that 98% of the planets occupants didn't burn in hell. I feel so bad for him in his disappointment.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Ryan

      Yeah, I don't get that...it's pure crazy. I don't really appreciate his passive wish for my death.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  9. joe

    Yea look at all the idiots being proven wrong. el oh el. Thing is, lots of people believe things like this – just that their beliefs are more un-testable such as "there's an all-powerful being in the sky who cares if you have impure thoughts about another person"
    equally ridiculous, but it persists longer because there's just no way to prove or disprove it.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Ryan

      Dogmatic and nasty Atheists are just as bad as bible thumpers. We Atheists shouldn't get nasty, it's a bad example.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • joe

      Well, rest assured I'm not atheist. They claim to know something about the supernatural too. somehow.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Ryan

      You can't "know" about something that cannot be proven or even tested. It's in the same league as fairies. As certain (as my intellectual honesty goes) as I am about the lack of any gods, Christians are more certain that other gods (Zeus, Wotan etc) do not exist. It's a glaring double standard and playing by a different set of rules.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • joe

      actually I think christians accept that there may be other gods, just that they won't worship them. For instance, satan is a god by all definitions.

      "you shall have no other gods before me"

      May 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Ryan

      No, Christianity is a monotheistic religion. That is the belief that there is only ONE god and no others, Satan is not a god. It could reasonably be argued that Catholicism is actually polytheistic with it's legion of saints, blessed virgins etc, but it is a monotheistic religion at it's core.

      As an Atheist I feel it's my duty to read the bible Qur'an and other religious works...it's often appalling the lack of knowledge by supposed adherents to those faiths.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • joe

      The worship one god, that doesnt mean they believe there is only one god.

      in what way is satan not a god? he is an omnipotent supernatural being, for starters... thats pretty much the definition of a god isnt it? what, just because he's evil, he can't be a god?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Ryan

      You could at least bother to google what monotheistic means, if you cannot be bothered to read books.

      No, Satan (of the Bible) is not omnipotent, as clearly evidenced by his failure to tempt Jesus during his 40 days in the desert. That's like saying Michael the Archangel is a god.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • joe

      ok and god is not a god, as evidenced by his failure to save us from satan for the last 6000 years. Oh, im sorry, he wasnt trying. he was ALLOWING satan to persist. right.

      When we can know so little about the supernatural world, i find it silly that you insist there's a significant difference between gods and angels.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • joe

      and your argument that satan cannot be omnipotent because he was unable to tempt another omnipotent being... well sure.... i suppose technically you cannot have more than one omnipotent being in the same way you cannot even have one because he cannot make a rock so large he cannot lift it. or can he?

      May 23, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Ryan

      Satan is not God, only God is God; in a monotheistic religion there is no god but God. I usually hate to be mean, but you are pathetically ignorant on religious matters. I'm an Atheist and I at least I own, study and respect religious texts, even if I don't appreciate them beyond their value as literature, or their historical importance. Your dancing a silly step and a completely unarguable one, attempting to validate your arguments from ignorance with vary tenuous and basically absurd abstractions. I was raised Catholic and I've often had hard (but good natured) arguments with relatives about the polytheism in Catholicism...but you're doing a dance number that would put them to shame.

      If you are a Christian, Muslim or Jew, there is no god BUT God...so you're either another ignorant member of "Club Jesus", or you're a Christian that actually knows about what they claim to adhere to...which you evidently are not. If you are a learned and faithful Christian, you know that there is no Jupiter, no Pallas Athena, no Wotan, no Odin and Valhalla, no Ganesha with an elephant head, no fairies, no leprechauns, no were-beasts, no vampires and no chupacabra. So what are you saying, outside of your flawed argument that Satan is a god, do you believe in all other silly things like Ganesha or Aphrodite and Zeus and the Greek pantheon? If you think any of that is absurd (which you should), you are in the same boat as myself, only you believe that your fairy is real and all the others are not.

      I'm an Atheist and know and respect (because I actually bothered to study religious texts and philosophy) religious learning more than yourself. Ordinarily I abstain from this kind of thing, because I generally let others believe what they want without me bothering them about how I disagree fundamentally with them and think they are horribly wrong about everything....but when people like you (and others) put their ignorance on display with assertions like you have made, which are so fundamentally ignorant about what you claim to believe in, i can't help but respond emphatically.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Ryan

      Also, I only put my Atheism at 99% or so, not 100, as nothing can be 100% true if you are intellectually honest. Maybe there is the outside shot that there is some kind of weird consciousness outside of our tangible existence, I don't believe there is and certainly believe (in my opinion) there are no "gods" or anything connected with religious literature, but have to leave that ~1%, like in all things...though I sincerely doubt it.

      but even then that has nothing to do with your argument, go to ANY Christian church, even the most ignorant leader would (hopefully) tell you that Satan, Mary or whatever is not a god. God is God; Jesus isn't A god, Jesus IS God. There is no wiggle room.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • joe

      my comment was not shown: awaiting moderation. Basically I acknowledge they only name one being "god"

      im not saying there are multiple beings with the name god, I'm saying christians believe in many omniscient supernatural beings, which, for our purposes here on earth, are basically gods. It's like arguing that zeus is zeus, but athena is not. I'm saying athena might not have the same name as zeus, she might even be allegedly a little less powerful, but she is pretty much the same type of being for our purposes.

      you still haven't listed any significant differences between god and satan, other than to say one's name is god and satan is not god.

      May 23, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  10. neeeeext ..........

    Books , when we believe all the books , the world will be in trouble , oh , oh yeah we're in trouble , WAKE UP PEOPLE

    May 22, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Ryan

      I believe in Nietzsche and Montaigne.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  11. Kenney

    Yes, he was wrong but many people pointed out in advance he was going to be so the fact he was wrong… well it's no big surprise. I have spent 20+ years studying and researching the Bible, I would love to debate this with anyone, heck maybe you'll convince me! I will answer all respectful, clean (no cursing), honest questions at http://www.centerpointesc.com/ask_kenney. You will get an email when it's answered but it might be slow at times due to schedule.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Ryan

      20 years on Shakespeare would have probably been more constructive.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Kenney

      Actually Ryan bringing up Shakespeare is an interesting point, do you know that no one knows which plays are really those attributes to Shakespeare and even those that are differ greatly. Comparing that to the Bible is a great example of how we know it is accurate. Test what I have to offer, sarcastic comments does no one any good what so ever. After all what do you have to lose except you’re ignorance about Shakespeare?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Ryan

      Oh please, The Baconian theory...

      If your grammar is any testament to your scholarship, I'll pass.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • asrael

      "You're" ignorance? I'm smiling...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  12. Lucythensaid

    I live up in Boston, and the week preceeding May 21 we had six days straight of cold rain. For May 21 the meteorologists predicted a thunderstorm. The morning of, the clouds opened up and suddenly it was bright and sunny, seventy degrees with a light breeze. The day continued on like this until the evening, where it became a cool and starry night.

    If the weathermen got it wrong, with satellites tracking the hourly progression of storms in real time, how could anyone believe a deranged old man using so-called "clues" from the bible, who's had the date wrong before?

    May 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • asrael

      Obviously, Lucy, the weather folks failed Biblical Mathematics, too...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  13. Ryan

    If you want to go cuddle with Jesus just go walk around Compton at 2 in the morning or something, you don't need the world to end or frigging wish it would end. There is a certain point where these people should be committed to the asylum.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  14. SJ

    How could a REAL Christian be fooled by these predictions of the day for the second coming of Jesus!! This won't be an anounced coming as Jesus mentioned in the NT.
    A word to the followers of Mr. Camping: Follow Jesus and His Word. Don't you know that Mr. Camping teaches that there is no hell CONTRARY to the teaching of Jesus. He has many FALSE teachings like this.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  15. Kenney

    Yes, he was wrong but many people pointed out in advance he was going to be so it's no big surprise. I have spent 20+ years studying and researching the Bible, I would love to debate this with anyone, heck maybe you'll convince me! I will answer all respectful, clean (no cursing), honest questions at http://www.centerpointesc.com/ask_kenney. You will get an email when it's answered but it might be slow at times due to schedule.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  16. Inderjit Dehal

    There is but one God. True is His Name, creative His personality and immortal His form. He is without fear sans enmity, unborn and self-illumined. By the Guru's grace He is obtained.

    Guru Nanak Dev

    May 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • asrael

      He, He, He, He, always He. How utterly unimaginative...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  17. Paul

    I am writing from heaven. I was the only one taken. Camping was correct. I just feel sorry for all of you down there.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • asrael

      And how is it up(?) there, with nobody else to feel superior to...?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  18. Christa

    I am a christian and yet I did NOT believe we were to be ruptured upon that day! Some people will read something and then try to interpenetrate it but there was NOTHING to interpret the Bible says that "No man shall know the date, nor the hour" of Christs returning. Please do not be stereotypical about these things. God bless ever one of you.

    P.S I do not take offense from your harsh words. It just makes me want to know more so that I will know how better to respond. And I ill pray for every one who seeks truth and redemption and, all who don't
    sincerely ,
    from one 15 year old Christian girl. ( I know I am young but, I am not stupid)

    May 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • gfc

      You may not be stupid, but you are certainly ignorant. But be of good cheer, ignorance can be cured by knowledge. As someone said earlier, nothing will cure you of Christianity like reading all of the Bible.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • gfc

      Reading the Bible cured me of Christianity, as did knowledge.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Don

      hehe... interpenetrate

      May 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Name*

      Did you mean to spell "ruptured?"

      May 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • gfc

      Hopefully, you'll gain some knowledge before you're interpenetrated. lol

      May 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Justin

      You should proof read your comment if you do not want to look stupid. Stop reading the Bible. You will wisen up with age....hopefully.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • asrael

      You may not be stupid, but "ruptured" for "raptured" was pretty funny...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  19. Anna

    Um hello people...the guy KNEW Nothing was going to happen on may 21! It's all about money. He made 80,000.00!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  20. CNN viewer

    I think we need to have a worldwide party every May 21 from now on an call it "Unending Day". People could celebrate by doing just about anything that's fun from doing their laundry or puting in their garden to visiting family and friends to dancing naked in the streets to ??? Maybe it could be kind of a prelude for the pagan festival of June 21 or Summer Solstice. By the way, I had a perfectly wonderful weekend, and forgot to remember about the world coming to an end. Oh well.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:03 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.