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. Maine Liberal

    The bible has a punishment for false prophets ... death

    Deuteronomy 18 v 20

    . 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.”

    21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

    Jeremiah 14:14
    Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.

    Jeremiah 23:16
    This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Lil pp

      Wow that sounds like a huge copout from the bible. If a prophet from God predicts something and it doesn't come true then it must just have been a lie by the prophet. Just like prayer, if it comes true then god granted it. If not then god didn't want to give it to me.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  2. booboo

    Let me say that the only thing that went wrong with their prediction is that they didn't read or understand the bible.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Madtown

      "Let me say that the only thing that went wrong with their prediction is that they didn't read or understand the bible."

      Understand the bible?! That's all that went wrong, is that they didn't understand properly? That's really part of the problem, isn't it? Take 1 verse of scripture, ask 10 people to read it and interpret it, and you'll always get 10 different versions of what it means.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  3. Karen

    What is so sad to me is that if you subscribe to the Christian doctrine it states in the Bible:
    "1 Thessalonians 5:2-4 (NIV) for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief."
    If you are a Christian that should be what you go by not the word of a man.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  4. rufus

    if people were dumb enough to quit their jobs over this, I see no reason for anyone to help them.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  5. lolita

    may 21 2011??? let's try now December 21 2012. Let's make out bets now

    May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  6. mort

    he hides in the corner, but his website is still asking for donations...WTH?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  7. John

    I was born into Catholicism until I found a fascination in the sciences where God had no place. I began to study Buddhist philosophies in the late 1990's, and I must say that Buddhism is a pure philosophy that I found was like taking a dip in crystal clear waters. The Buddhist philosophy is simple and it makes sense of the word "eternity & suffering". The Universe appears to be cyclical in its evolution, the same may be true of the human spirit I call consciousness. Who's right? I doubt any of us have it right, I do know consciousness is a very strange fact or phenomena.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  8. Maine Liberal

    Even if the media and the public are over-saturated right now, the 2012 event promises to be as big as Y2K

    Y2K was a non-event for those of us in the computer feild.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • MEDINA

      As was May 21st to many Christians. What upsets me is the fact that these people will now reperesent the whole group. People will and have used this to attack people of faith when it really is ignorance on their part. I am Christian. I have my beliefs and did not share in this aspect of a hand full of missled people. Yet i will have to answer for it because it will be looked on as "those crazy Christians" Its really too bad.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  9. Bruce

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

    Ya think? That was the one thing that stood out in this particular prediction. The unwavering confidence right up to the last minute that they had to be right, that there was no chance that they could be wrong.

    Their confidence was but an exaggerated sense of confidence that I see in many so-called "believers" today. In fact, they have conflated confidence for faith: "I was trying to be faithful," he said, as if a lack of confidence is a sign of a lack of faith. The fact is that the only thing confidence in your beliefs can rest in is this: pride. This is not faith at all. Faith is humble, and it is uncomfortable in its embrace of our limitations as human beings. Confidence and convictions in our beliefs can come only from pride. The religious person should always be on guard against pride.

    In fact, the secular person should be on guard against pride and pride-induced confidence. Good scientists are always open to new evidence that completely obliterates their most-prized theories, and in the face of that evidence they do not simply say, "well, the theory is obviously true, I just need to recalculate," they instead look at the theory itself and assume there must be something fundamentally wrong with the theory.

    It's fine and perhaps even laudable to harbor hopes of one day meeting God face-to-face and getting answers to all of our heartfelt (and mindfelt) questions, to hope for a day that proves there is a Point to it all, that Someone is in charge, that it's not all blind and mindless mechanisms operating with utmost caprice and indifference to human existence. Even if such a final proof in the future will not happen, or even if it is not true and the truth lies in the absurdity of an arbitrary existence, it is fine and very human to hope for such a thing. No amount of doubt, doubt that comes from the humility of knowing your own limitations, takes away from that hope, that trust, that faith in such a future.

    I would hope that people could take away that lesson from all of this. Doubt is not the enemy of faith. In fact, doubt tells you that you still have some humility left and that you haven't given yourself wholeheartedly to pride.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  10. truth2power

    Why would anyone believe such nonsense, let alone be disappointed that the world wasn't destroyed?!
    These people haver to be seriously emotionally damaged.
    And they vote in a solid block with intent to push their dysfunctional and self loathing beliefs on the majority of us.
    No wonder America is falling behind the rest of the modern world.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Steve

      This False dated prophecy didnt come from the Bible. It came from the pits of hell, intended to breed complacency.
      You will never understand spiritual things because you dont have the facultys, the instrument, the spiritual mind.
      The Bible is as scientific as any other science book. Truth cant always be seen in front of you.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  11. mort

    Dont donate a cent to this guy. He dosent have the b...lls to answer his phone or admit he was wrong. He is in hidding and still expecting people to make cash donations. I say boycott this cook.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • JoePub

      I didn't know he was a chef too. Dang!

      May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • rufus

      I am not eating whatever it is he's cooking!

      May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  12. mort

    Camping, what are you going to do for all the people that quit their jobs to follow your false prophesy? Are you going to offer them jobs in your multi million dollar company? Or just let them rot?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • weecharles

      before all of his predictions, his news company was worth 15milliion dollars less then what its worth now. why would somebody care about making money when he is not going to have any use for it?

      May 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  13. Joann

    All you so called believers out there, that left their jobs, families, etc.... you really need mental help. Go check yourself in and do the community a favor!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  14. This IS AMURIKA!!!!

    Maybe if these doomsday sayers drank some cool-aid before going to bed early at 5:00pm they wouldnt have had to wake up and be ashamed by their foolishness.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  15. MIK

    Why not joining a group that helps saving the planet in a realistically way? Maybe helping for better recycling, how to save more energy, how to waste less, how to help each other in the community in the neighborhood etc etc etc

    May 23, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  16. RT

    Camping is 89. Leave him alone. He is just senile.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  17. SpaceDave

    More fodder for the so called know it all athiests. BUT whatever. When 99.9999999999% of the church doesn't agree to what this nutball was saying, we still get lumped with them. Same as the muslims get all lumped in as 'terrorists', same as all jews get lumped together as 'greedy and lovers of money'. It's just the world brushing off spirituality so it can do whatever it pleases. OH, but don't forget WW1 and WW2 were because of religiou....oh NO WAIT no they weren't over religion...they were over a power hungry people. Vietnam, Korea, South African 'cleansings' – seems the normal none religious people are trying to one up the entire history of wars started by 'religion'. Wars, killing, it's all done for one reason or another...not just because of religion(faith) based people. So please...stop lumping everyone into the same category and if I have to put up with your evolutionary and 'scientific' proof, you can can put up with my spiritual and faith beliefs.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @SpaceDave: Lemme get this straight...you both believe the same wacky stuff, and the thing you have a problem with is he had the balls to set a date? Awesome.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Lil pp

      Must be tough having to put up with reality

      May 23, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Laughing

      Oh Davie,

      The reason why us "know-it-all atheists" as you put it lump you with these people is because you both share the same exact ideology except they put a date on it and you are still up in the air on when the world is going to actually end. I agree there are also some differences, however point of fact, they're christians just like you and believe in the end of the world, rapture, return of Jesus all that just like you.

      WWII – if you remember correctly Hitler went after JEWS, which I think, I THINK, is a religion. You are right though, war, atrocities have been done not only in the name of religion but for other reasons as well. Never mind that even in this day and age when we have former president bush who says that god told him directly to go into Iraq, it wasn't religious right? Sure all wars aren't the crusades and yet religion ALWAYS plays a role in war, no matter how you slice it.

      We don't need anymore fodder to deny the existence of god Davie, everyday we get more evidence by the mere fact that another 24 hours goes by without the slightest bit of proof that god exists.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Eric G

      I appologize for forcing you to "put up with our evolutionary and 'scientific' proof".

      Scientific proof based on verified evidence is rude. It does not care if the the truth it provides does not fit your world view. It does not care if the facts it proves do not fit with the religious teachings you practice. It only cares about the fact that it is correct.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Ben8

      So when non-religious events occur they belong to the atheists? I'm pretty sure Hitler was "guided" by God. America slughtered the Native Americans for land and money, but it was part of manifest destiny, religion is humanity's crutch so that we can keep doing the greedy, secular evil deeds, the conquistadors had God's blessing, Priests blessed WW1 troops before they went to battle because they had Jesus at their back. Damn religion to Hell!

      May 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • ben

      You should read what your own bible says about the end of days. It's even more ridiculous than this guys prediction. Seriously.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  18. helterskelter

    The slide show mentioned the "prophecy" of Jehovah's Witnesses in 1975. While they definitely suggested it might come, let the membership connect the dots, and fed the fire by having their traveling ministers reinforce it off the record, you will find much more concrete failed prophecies if you look further back in the Watchtower archives. Specifically, the Watchtower said that Armageddon would come in 1925 as well as 1914. They have also prophesied that the end would come "in our 20th century" but this prediction was removed in their yearly "bound volumes," a reference book full of WT publications from each year. But the 1925 and 1914 prophecies were much more concrete, presented to be as concrete as the May 21st prophesy. Those prophecies would have been better examples to use.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  19. Woody

    The Bible has a spiritual sense wherein lies the divinity. The natural sense of the letter (literal sense) is merely a foundation for the spiritual sense. Read Emanuel Swedenborg's works for more information.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  20. Michael

    A fool and their money are soon parted, but I still feel bad for the people that bought into this, especially those with kids. If Camping has a decent bone in his body, he'll refund all the donations he didn't squander.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:25 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.