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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. NYC BillboardWatcher

    somebody made a lot of money out of this nonsense. will the public ever know.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  2. Antonio Velasquez Jr.

    Let GOD be true and everyman a liar.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  3. alanjay1

    Can we stop talking about these wingnuts? They are a fringe element of Christianity.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  4. Epic box

    Harold Camping reminds me of the boy who cried wolf......Help! Help! May 21 is going to eat me.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  5. Jason

    Can we quit having to deal with religion now? Can people admit that there is no god? How many crazy idiots does it take before people wise up? Studies show that the stupider you are the more likely you are to believe in god. Educate yourself people!!! You can do it!!!

    May 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Yep, but you're just giving ammunition to some cult leader who will say something like...gaaaaaaaawwwwd must love the simple folks since half of the population has an IQ below 100. Shrewdness can beat intelligence any day of the week. That is why we are governed by politicians, lawyers and religious leaders instead of learned people.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • teepee

      I will be glad to admit there is no God when you prove it...not with your ignorance or prejudice...but with facts...

      May 22, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • Oi

      @teepee: Alternatively, you could prove that there IS a God. Good luck with that, mate.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • A'rthose

      W e l l l l l l l . . . . . Jason,

      I certainly agree with you if you limit you comments to religion, but I think you are generalizing a bit too much to apply them to God and everything else. Religion in todays world ...... I wouldn't belong to a one of them.

      May 23, 2011 at 1:32 am |
  6. Jericho Stevens

    Religion is a mental illness. It's taught to children before they grow up and have a rational view on the world. Teaching religion to children while they are so young and vulnerable is just child abuse.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  7. theleader

    Harold Camping is one of the greatest business men of all time...just like Jesus.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  8. donna

    It wasn't a complete fail. There was that tornado.

    Family Radio said that God spun some wind over a spot in the earth just to say that he had heard their prayers. That's comforting.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      or maybe our invisible friend broke wind

      May 22, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • bubbiesmom2010

      Donna – Is this true? Where can I find it??

      May 22, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  9. Dam

    I got herpes now

    May 22, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  10. Jim

    I am now ready to make a prediction when the end will come – in 4 billion years as our sun swells into a giant red fire ball our earth and everything that may be left on it will explode, I guarantee it. Now get on with your lives and enough of this nonsense.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  11. behonest

    Blah...

    May 22, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  12. Epic box

    I think it's God's way to send us a passport.

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

      Wait...what??

      May 22, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • asrael

      Where's a cryptographer when you need one...?

      May 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
  13. joe

    Lesson one for creating a lasting religion:
    Avoid testable hypothesis – like the big boys do.

    although I suppose lesson two would be:
    Hope the rapture doesnt happen anytime soon – because you know... if it does... then your religion is over even if it was right.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  14. DarkStarAz

    Hey Evans, feel free to use some of these if they will help:

    "...Did I say 2011?

    I meant 2012. DOH!"

    "....Turned out Noah's Long Form Birth Certificate was a fake! And that totally threw off ALL my calculations about when the flood started. Sorry for the confusion, especially to that guy in NYC who bought all those billboards!....Be sure to tune in next week, when we will have an all NEW set of predictions! and, thank you, for calling and sharing...."

    May 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  15. Entertained

    The percentage of nontheist reponses to this article is impressive. Where are all the theists?

    May 22, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  16. Me

    No one knows the hour ... When the real end of the world occurs, it will be a complete surprise.

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

      so all we have to do is get a new person to believe that the rapture will happen every hour, and it can never happen.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  17. John

    Family Radio should be independently audited by news organizations to find out where the over $100 million was spent. Was it spent on luxury items, expensive cosmetic medical care, are private businesses being run out of Family Radio properties by employees using donor money? Are Family Radio employees making money from Family Radio on the side? Are any of Harold Camping's family members or friends being paid by Family Radio? How much? Do they really work, or are they just being carried on the payroll? Do they have full time jobs with other companies? Do they have private insurance coverage, and are they still being paid from Family Radio's insurance? Independent news media audits for the past 5 to 10 years will reveal any theft of donor money. Who got the money? Who enjoyed the proceeds from Harold Camping's fairy tale? Family Radio is a non-profit, tax free organization. They are required to provide all financial information including where the money was spent to anyone who asks.

    May 22, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  18. Grimaldas

    You doomsday people are morons. Every "prediction" has/is/will fail. Give us (human race) another 30 some million years, and I can assure you the sun WILL go super-nova. That is not a prediction, that is a fact. But hey, it's people like you lot that entertain me. So, whats next. ah yes, 2012! /me breaks out the popcorn for a year of cheap entertainment!
    -Grimaldas

    May 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Sodajerk

      @Grimaldas – you're off by two orders of magnitude, and it is actually a nova, not a supernova. Misstating facts makes baby Jesus cry.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  19. Randall12

    Want a really mind-bending perspective into Christianity, try reading Casper Parks' new book. 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 11:18 pm |
  20. Reality

    One more time for some rational thinking on the subject:

    As with Camping, Jesus was also a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about rapture and bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices..............................

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

      If people heard voices two thousand years ago, the public BELIEVED they had special spiritual connections. Now we KNOW they're schizophrenic. Simple, really.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:52 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.