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. Jen


    May 23, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  2. T

    hey...mickey mouse is make believe too...but at least i can see him. idiots

    May 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  3. purplehaze

    Rature? I got ya' Rapture right here.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  4. James Kimble

    It is amazing that the One who said He was the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world, who very accurately predicted the kind of death he would endure, and the fact that he would rise again from the grave, all of which happened just as He said, also said: "No man knows the hour or the day of my return" and "I will come as a thief in the night." Don't blame the message or the messenger for those who chose to ignore His words. He is coming again. When is not important.
    When is unknowable according to Jesus Christ. I am not ashamed of Him or my belief in what He has promised. Come soon Lord Jesus.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • LinCA

      James Kimble said: "who very accurately predicted the kind of death he would endure, and the fact that he would rise again from the grave, all of which happened just as He said"

      Considering that his "predictions" weren't recorded until long after he died, they should more accurately be called "postdictions". And since they were recorded after his death, they weren't necessarily "his". In any case, postdictions are much easier to get accurate than predictions (as Harold Camping can attest).

      This, of course, is all assuming that he actually existed, for which there is no independent evidence. It is far more likely that it is all a fairy tale.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  5. Zosen

    There is no god. I follow science. Where the heck did dinosaurs come from? Did god want to throw us off by leaving their remains here? The bible is ridiculous. But no one has a full understanding on why we are here. So i'll just live my life the way i want to. People take it the extreme when it comes to religion. The government knows what's going on. Why we are here. Of course they're keeping it secret though. Why would you tell the world that god is fake? It would take away hope. Everyone would go crazy if the government told us the truth. The world is going to end. Soon? I dont know. No one knows. Not even the bible.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  6. Lawrence

    There was probably some good that came out of this. As a christian I prayed a little extra that day. Just like kids around Christmas who are good because they may not get anything from Santa if they are bad, I was a little better and it felt good. I was at least forgiven of all my sins up to 8pm CST.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • alex

      not to offend anyone but the whole concept of religion is stupid. Not that everyone who is religious is stupid, but the idea of believing in some mythical creature being able to sap *zap* and create something is hard to believe. There are ways to find connection and meaning in life without believing in something that's existence is about as proven as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the tooth fairy.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  7. Ananymous

    I should'nt have read CNN. My blood sugar have risen and all my weeksday was waisted by reading the false preacher's predictions.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |

    PEOPLE WHO BELIEVED IN MAY 21 ARE DUMB!!!!!!!! Seriously.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  9. Roger

    If you did not receive a Dooms Day greeting card from me, here it is:
    I realize that it's a bit late, but that's a good thing (think about it)
    Besides, it's the thought that counts. Right?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  10. Tyler

    Ok, first of all, these guys are nut hobs. The bible says that jesus will come like a thief in the night. This guy is a talk show host, not the friggen pope. All the wars we've had are all because of us, not religion. Religion cannpt cause a war but opinion can. The world is not even close to ending. We dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and we were all good. Just everybody shut their mouths about all these end of the world prophecies and move on. Media attention is not that great people. Move on with your lives and do something actually good for the world.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Artist

      First of all, you are no different, you simply disagree on the date. Just noting the obvious.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  11. Dude

    What? No Koolaid?

    May 23, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  12. Martin

    I'm a very ignorant person when coming to religion, never liked them specially catholic religion, which was the one I was baptized when I was a baby. It seems to me that they are all base in fears for you to have in order to be controlled and for me thats a freaky way to achieve the love of God, or the love of anybody; insecurity is a virtue for an easy prey where you can subdue victims trough the power you want to impose. People become blind and stupid but at least they're loved in their empty and insecure hearts. To dominate minds is THE religion business and that's right on the money.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Cuss

    personally, i was looking forward to living the remainder of my life without these born-again zealots around. i feel cheated.
    you can't really blame camping for this. if he hadn't said it, someone else would have. too bad the media got sucked inn...

    May 23, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  14. Punchmaster

    I'm actually really thankful all this happened and hope it keeps happening, 'cause it shines a giant spotlight on the absurdity of the root belief that inspired it. Keep up the good work, Christians! By all means, more prophecies and predictions! Please continue being vocal about how sure you are of your claims....We love it!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  15. jbmar1312

    You know, there will be a day of the Lord's return. Unfortunately, we (humans) make the mistake of thinking we have God and everything around us all figured out. That is until we come face to face with the fact that we are weak, not all powerful and not all knowing. Those who followed the arrogance of Mr. Camping will hopefully learn not to follow man but read ALL of the bible for themselves and pay attention when God states he reserves some things to himself, like knowing exactly when Jesus will come again. When a death, a accident, a sickness, a crime or some other uncontollable emergency occurs in our lives we realize how much control we don't have. Not even the wealthiest most powerful people in the world can guarantee themselves against these things. For those of you who will continue to mock God even if mis-lead folks like these didn't exist, may God's love and mercy find it's way through to your hearts.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Artist

      You do realize you sound as crazy as camping. Do you believe in faries as well?

      May 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Shelly

      Well said and I agree with you totally.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Trekkiegt

      See Genesis 11:6-7.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • AEV

      Thank you for writing this comment – I totally agree with what you say. I cringe when I read of all the unbelievers out there and can only hope that the Holy Spirit may work its way into their hearts before it's too late.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  16. jed

    There is more than a little doubt that the 'faithful believers' as CNN calls them were actually believers at all in anything except some old man. If they were indeed faithful believers they could have read their bible which would have told them with no doubt that this old feller could not possibly know when the last day would come (Matt. 24: 36) and that May 21 could not possibly be the last day when so many on earth still have not heard the gospel of Jesus (Matt. 24: 10). Jesus warned of false prophets and warned the faithful to beware and not believe them (Matt. 24:24-26). I pray that the followers of this fellow will now instead turn and follow Jesus.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  17. GunneyG

    What a sad picture we paint as a world created by our Heavenly Father. Those who believe there is no God, believe because they do not seek Him and because they do not seek Him, they will never know the truth. We have let our pride and self-centeredness take the center stage and a world meant to serve our Creator. We shame ourselves with the wickedness and defiling of all that we touch. If it weren't for the love of God in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, we would all perish. Thank God for the atoning blood of our Savior who redeems us from our sin. May he show mercy on those who shout blasphamy from thier lips in stating that He does not exist nor HIs Son Jesus Chirst and may he strength those of us who know the truth. God is real and only through accepting his Son Jesus Christ as your personal Savior will you ever be able to know exactly who He is and be changed from your unbelief.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • no

      oh shut up

      May 23, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Artist

      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      May 23, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Bruce

      So, GunneyG, Jesus dying on the cross and rising from the dead was just not enough for salvation, eh? It's not enough that it is true that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, at the end of the day salvation is in our hands.

      If I personally cannot overcome my own personal sense of incredulity when it comes to believing a specific series of events happened about two thousand years ago, then all the blood, sweat, and tears of your so-called "Savior" is not enough to save me. If I cannot, by sheer force of will, change my personal opinions from "I don't believe that happened" to "that most-certainly, without a doubt, happened," then I don't get the prize.

      Because salvation is a prize won by the deserving, and the deserving earned their prize by the act of forcefully willing their opinions from incredulous to believing.

      Is that how it is, GunneyG?

      May 23, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Madtown

      "....and because they do not seek Him, they will never know the truth."

      But, of course, you know the truth? And, how is that?

      May 23, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Jdh

      Wait a minute, you say "If it weren't for the love of God in sending His only Son, Jesus Christ, we would all perish." Ummm... but we WILL all perish. It's life – every human being will perish eventually.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • HB

      What a load of nonsense!

      May 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  18. TIM

    Thank god he practices religion and predictions and not an engineering. Can you imagine this guy forming mathmetical calcs for a bridge or high rise? It would really be a doomseday.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  19. Brathead

    Yet another cult leader who was wrong about the world coming to an end. How many of these people must we watch take people's money for a "good cause"? When my time comes then so be it. I am not going to be donating any money to any of these people, why donate money if the world is ending? All these people who state they are prophets are just a cult leader. A large portion of the bible is all in how a person interprets it. But if these people truly read the bible and follow it the then they would know the bible states that when the end is here that no one will know it. There is no one here on earth that can communicate with God. I don't care how much a person thinks that they can, you cannot. There is nothing special about any one person here in thsi world where they speak with god and he actually talks back. The people who think that God does talk to them need to seek professional help. People are so gullible and want to believe all if this is true, but the fact of the matter is it simply is not!

    May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Artist

      Sheep serve their purpose, christians are no different

      May 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • No Modern Day Revelation?

      While I agree with you on your first point about not knowing when the end will come, it is gullible on your part to believe that God does not communicate with man today. Do you pray? Does God answer your prayers? If the answer to those questions is yes, then how can you possibly believe that God does not communicate with man today?

      May 23, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • LinCA

      As Artist would say:
      "Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)"

      May 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  20. Rebecca

    A lot of people take this opportunity to turn around and point at the religious group and say "Ha ha! You were wrong!" But the thing we need to understand is that these people truly believed in what they were preaching. (I don't know about the leaders of the sect, but the followers must.) This just goes to show how faithful people can be in what they believe in. Whether you're religious or not, people still hold on to their beliefs, violently or not. Instead on focusing on the end of the world, shouldn't we focus on here and now, and try to make our lives better? Let's just move on people.

    May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Bruce

      @Rebecca: That's the problem, though–the fact that they hold on to their beliefs and their convictions, as if the holding-onto (the confidence in their convictions) is the important part, rather than the important part being whether or not what they hope for is actually true, independent of their convictions.

      People really have to get over their belief in belief. Confidence is not faith. Doubt is not the enemy of faith. In fact, if you believe in the virtues of humility and that pride is a sin, then doubt is the friend and confidence is the enemy of faith.

      May 23, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Artist

      People in mental wards really believe what they see as well. Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)
      Move on? No no no this is kind of entertainment is money. lol

      May 23, 2011 at 11:53 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.