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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. Chris

    I find it sort of unchristian of these people to be depressed now about the world not being destroyed, and the non-believers continueing to live happily instead being subjected to unspeakable suffering.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  2. joe leija

    Stoopid

    May 23, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  3. OH YEAH!!

    Let me be the first to say

    Thank you Macho Man for stopping the rapture!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:24 am |
    • LoneZero

      Thank you Macho Man Randy Sav-age!

      May 23, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  4. Danny

    So the world didn't end, and most people knew it wouldn't..... big deal. The number of people who talked to God for the first time in years "just in case" makes all the craziness worth it.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:24 am |
  5. ukno

    Follow the money. Camping is reported to have grossed between $75 and $100 million in contributions as a result of this prediction. I'd say he succeeded.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Ole

      Well, Bernie Madoff went to prison when he didn't deliver.
      What happens to Camping? Going camping?

      May 23, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  6. matthew cohen

    Its just so absurd to predict the end of the world. "I'm just trying to process it all..." Maybe if you just focused on the limited time you do have on earth, and accept that when you die, thats it, all you can do is enjoy it now as much as you can – well, perhaps then you could gain some comfort from that. But this should just go to show that God does no exist, Jesus is a literary character, and the whole Christian concept of God is ridiculous, if you take it as actual truth. As a metaphor, or a trope that lends insight into a rather confusing earthly existence – fine. But as hard fact, ridiculous. Grow up and face the music – you die, thats it!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Lila

      Ruby Posted on Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your uadetps. The measurement thing does keep one accountable. There is a 12 week program here in Coldwater that I've joined.

      October 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  7. Zara

    There's a difference between having faith and being brainwashed.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  8. Brent

    They were so looking forward to death, destruction and suffering on a massive scale. What a disgusting and sick religion!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  9. sassy

    These ppl are idiots!!!

    May 23, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  10. featherknife

    I feel that it would be best to have a national holiday to celebrate the apocalypse. We can call it "Doomsday Day". Maybe big parades where everyone dresses up like lemmings. The perfect day to take the family........camping?

    May 23, 2011 at 2:08 am |
  11. Canaya123

    Have you guys seen C. Sheen? Hum, looks like he made the rapture cut... he will rain the Torpedo of Truth down on Camping's radio station...

    May 23, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  12. Hobyo

    Some other blokes have gotten the Mayan Calendar wrong by 50-100 years of technically the movie 2012 should be renamed 2112...

    and I pity folks who have quitted their jobs believing this (as they would likely have problems convincing their ex-bosses in hiring them back)

    May 23, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  13. Portal

    GLADOS says: "Still alive."

    May 23, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  14. featherknife

    This is going to come as a shock to a lot of you, but I have it on the highest authority that god is actually Jim Henson, and Harold Camping is, in truth, a muppet. As a muppet he is totally innocent and cannot be held accountable for any of the ridiculous things he might say. It's his job, and he is doing the best he can.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:03 am |
  15. Bunnie

    What I want to know is if this jerk is going use the millions in donations he received to help some of these misguided people he stole that money from? Or if he is going to help anyone at all? That would be the Christian thing to do.

    May 23, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  16. Canaya123

    That's ridiculous, Jesus has a very big spaceship and will definitively have capacity to take 2-3% of the planet's population provided he feels comfortable picking up someone, of course Obama will be the first passenger due to his world peace decoration and for killing Osama bin laden.... he still here, perhaps Jesus didn't like the fact that he had to name his spaceship Air Force One in such a situation...

    May 23, 2011 at 2:02 am |
  17. Joe Rioux

    It's awesome. All the stupidest people in our country now look even stupider, and–even better–many of them have been fleeced out of large sums of money and property. LOVE IT! I hope we have a doomsday prediction every year.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  18. ameriCAN

    LOL I feel so embarrassed for those fools. Too funny though. Better off selling p*nus pumps!

    May 23, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  19. Guester

    They study the Bible enough to calculate the exact date but skip over the part that say not even the angles in Heaven know the date. Common sense tells you no and if you're a Christian the Bible tells you no so that leaves you pretty much being an idiot.

    May 23, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  20. Brady

    Lol idiots who actually thought the world was going to end. I laugh at you now and I'll laugh again on December 22, 2012. Doomsdayers never cease to entertain....

    May 23, 2011 at 1:58 am |
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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.