The End, again? If it is, we thank you for your time
This time around, there are no RVs or signs carrying the "awesome news" of the end of the world.
October 21st, 2011
06:00 AM ET

The End, again? If it is, we thank you for your time

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - In case you are reading this, might we suggest you read really fast?

The world may end any minute now, if the latest doomsday prediction is on target.

We realize October 21 didn’t get the shout-out that May 21 did, so our apologies if this comes as a surprise. But if you had heard the complete message the first time, you would have known.

“The warning is out,” Dennis Morrell, 44, of Jacksonville, Florida, reminded us a couple of days ago. “There’s nothing else you can do.”

Earlier this year, and with the backing of the Christian broadcasting network Family Radio, billboards touting May 21 as Judgment Day dotted the landscape. RVs plastered with the fateful date crisscrossed the country as believers wearing T-shirt announcements and waving fliers sounded the alarm.

That was to be the day when a select 2% to 3% of the world’s population, predetermined by God, would be raptured up to heaven. Everyone else, the story went, would endure months-long judgment amid chaos, destruction and unspeakable suffering. A massive earthquake would ravage the land, bodies would be tossed about and terror would reign for the duration.

Five months or exactly 153 days later, it was said, the world would disappear – which brings us to today.

This was the schedule laid out by God’s word in the Bible, the faithful said. It was the plan deciphered and shared by Harold Camping, now 90, the founder of Family Radio, based in Oakland, California.

Camping, who has an engineering degree, had spent more than 50 years combing through his Bible and crunching numbers embedded in scripture. Sure, he’d made a similar end-of-the-world prediction for September 6, 1994, but who hasn’t been tripped up by biblical verses? With additional studying, calculations and new signs that would be revealed later, he said earlier this year that he had no doubts this time around.

“I know it’s absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true,” he told CNN before May 21. “If I were not faithful that would mean that I’m a hypocrite.”

Problem is, May 21 came and went, and the world remained the same. Soon the billboards disappeared. The T-shirts and hats worn by believers got tossed. The RVs were quietly parked, tucked away in storage yards, possibly sold.

Camping came forth, two days later, with an explanation - and his last news conference. October 21 would still be the end, he said, but a “loving and merciful” God had opted to spare humanity the five months of turmoil.

A couple of weeks later, Camping had a stroke. He is said to be recuperating at home after a hospital and rehab stay and has only made a handful of radio addresses in the months since. Family Radio declined our requests to interview him.

Fred Store, a 66-year-old retired electrician and longtime Family Radio listener, dedicated seven months of his life to sharing the “awesome news” that was the May 21 message. He led a caravan of believers, five RVs strong, on a tour of the United States for Family Radio. He was in Boston in May when he expected to be raptured up to heaven.

When nothing happened, “We were caught by surprise. ... But we realize now that it’s very possible that we misunderstood some of the things we thought were true,” Store said this week from his home in Sacramento, California, where he has put up a number of caravan friends.

“I believe that October 21 is the end, and I trust in God. Whatever way he chooses to end things will be perfect.”

On the Family Radio website, the May 21 events, or nonevents, have been clarified.

“What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what he wanted to happen. That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished. ... For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment,” the statement reads.

As for that massive, body-flinging earthquake anticipated by believers, well, it turned out to be less literal.

“We always look at the word ‘earthquake’ to mean the earth, or ground, is quaking or shaking violently. However, in the Bible the word ‘earth’ can include people as well as ground. ... Therefore we have learned from our experience of last May 21 what actually happened. All of mankind was shaken with fear. Indeed the Earth (or mankind) did quake in a way it had never before been shaken.”

No one was raptured on May 21, but that’s just because “universal judgment” will come on the last day. “The elect” or “true believers” are still guaranteed their day of rapture, and everyone else will be “annihilated together with the whole physical world.”

For Paul Anatiychuk, 36, of Charlotte, North Carolina, the way this played out has been a relief, a blessing. A husband and father of two children, ages 8 and 9, he wasn’t sure if his own family members would be saved. The thought of leaving them behind on May 21, to suffer what would come over the next five months, troubled him.

“God tortures them while we’re hanging in the clouds?” he said this week. “It didn’t completely fit.”

Now, Anatiychuk said, he can take solace knowing that when he’s saved, sinners will simply die.

“Of course (the world) has to be destroyed and burned up by fire,” he said. “But it’s going to be very quiet.”

Finding a way to save faith, and face, is part of the process when a prophecy fails, said Lorenzo DiTommaso, an associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Montreal, who has been studying apocalyptic worldviews for a dozen years.

He said those who become disillusioned aren’t quick to talk, and the rest find a new way to spin what has transpired.

When nothing happened on May 21, Camping was left with a choice, said DiTommaso, whose book, “The Architecture of Apocalypticism,” is scheduled for publication next spring.

Camping could have admitted he was wrong. He could have said the calculations were off and needed further analysis. Or he could have spiritualized the apocalypse, which is exactly what he did, DiTommaso said.

That tack, that way of looking at the apocalypse, has a long history, he said, and dates back to early Christian theologians. Tyconius, in the late fourth century, took this approach, as - more notably - did Augustine in the early fifth century.

Augustine “preferred to understand the millennium predicted in the Revelation of John in spiritual and metaphoric rather than literal terms,” DiTommaso said. He “sought to diminish the emphasis on hard calculations.”

The obvious advantage of this sort of interpretation for a man like Camping, who has prided himself on his numbers, is that he can “divorce himself a little bit from the fact that he was so darn wrong.”

What Camping will say - if anything - come Saturday, assuming there is a Saturday, is anyone’s guess.

But DiTommaso said a new explanation, perhaps a new doomsday date, may be on the horizon. It would be just another in a long line of end-time predictions across the ages.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another attempt” by Camping, he said. “If he were an artist, this is his masterpiece, his life work.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • End times

soundoff (2,353 Responses)
  1. Sherri

    The man, AND his followers, are mentally disturbed. Why would anyone believe anything they say? They just keep changing the date to fit their needs (and delusions). Why does the media keep covering him? He's nuts. Mad as a hatter.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  2. JMK

    “I believe that October 21 is the end, and I trust in God. Whatever way he chooses to end things will be perfect.”

    That's the problem, you're not trusting God. You're trusting a 90 year-old's interpretation of God. That is a HUGE difference. If you really trusted what you claim to be the true word of God (the Bible) you would know that the date of judgement is not known.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  3. Lizzy

    Why can't people just live and let live? why all the obsession with the end? We were born to live our lives to the fullest and to give life to others, and you should never ever forget that. Wishing for the end of the world or looking forward to it means you've given up on life. On YOUR life. On OTHERS lives. It doesn't matter if you don't buy into any faith, you don't have to believe in anything if you don't want to and I don't think that makes you a sinner. When this planet does end ( the sun should implode 5-7 billion years from now, taking our entire solar system with it..and you and I will be very dead by then), and if humans are still around, we're all going to go together because we are all one.. If you think sinners are going to be cast away...then you really won't ever know heaven because in order to know true peace you will have to forgive them and so they can to forgive themselves. I don't care what you call it..God...or All that Is, that thing we can't put a name to but it's there...I think we're all a part of it. ALL OF US.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  4. Jim

    I bet if CNN stopped reporting every time these idiots predicted the end of the world.....they'd stop predicting it.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Logic Fail

      People have been predicting the end of the world from the beginning of recorded history.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  5. Hawkeye1012

    Religious people are morons. Superman would kick Jesus' butt from Earth to Saturn and back,

    October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Canuck

      amen hahaha totally agree

      October 21, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  6. 11:11

    It these looneys were smart, they would model it after Al Gore and not put an expiration date on the package. Just keep saying "It's going to happen... in fact, it's happening now because we have all been bad". Now that's how you keep people in fear and keep the money coming in. These rapture people are just amateurs.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  7. hippypoet

    every end is another begining...right? i hope lizards take over again... they totally need a second chance. I mean they never really lost the planet like we are currently doing. They just got hit by an astriod... it sucks, by hey lets give um a second shot at it huh?

    October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  8. Canuck

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA....i still cant believe people listen to this fraud...when are people going to stop listening and worshiping a thousand year old book written by a bunch of old men who couldn't explain the universe so they made this crap up...its the 21st century people...we know better now of how the universe works... I don't need a "Jesus" in my life and i never will... This Camping Idiot should be tossed in a insane asylum...as should anyone who would take the bible word for word.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Hemyola

      Here here!!!

      October 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • nofoldems

      The bible was not written a thousand years ago...it was written about 300 years ago.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Canuck

      thats even worse..they are writing a book about stories that happened 700 years before their time...just idotic

      October 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  9. Karen

    If the world is ending today, why does the Family Radio website show programming schedules for the weekend?!

    October 21, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • vince

      hello... don't u get it??? there's satilite tv in heaven...

      October 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Adam

      Good point LOL. That made my day.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Pastafarian

      This comment made my day!

      October 21, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Kari D.

      Just in case today is another May 21st. Besides, anyone with a brain knows the end of the world is 12/21/12, duh!

      October 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  10. jeez

    Instead of giving a group like this so much attention, who by the way represents a very small portion of Christians. Why not do a story on all the good the Christian communities do for neighborhoods and/or other countries?

    October 21, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Logic Fail

      This isn’t the only group out there… perhaps you should step back and look at the bigger picture instead of claiming victim.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  11. JRuth8413

    Matthew 24:36-51.... We do not know when the end is.... Drop it already!

    October 21, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Get Real

      You are part way there... drop Matthew (and the rest of 'em) altogether.

      October 21, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  12. Steve in Denver

    How does someone who predicted the end of the world in the 1990s, then again in May, still have a following. Oh, wait, people still believe that Iraq was working with al quaeda, and there were weapons of mass destruction, and that tax cuts create jobs. Got it.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  13. NotAGAIN!!!!

    Harold Camping – YOu made me really mad this time. I am going to send vampires to your house on Halloween.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Cecile

      LOL...send him Vampires...that's just funny Stuff...made my day!

      October 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  14. As if

    As if this is the end of the world, I might not even have time to finish this........

    October 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  15. Josh

    the world has ended, we live in the matrix being manipulated by machines

    October 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • LC B

      Aye – ain't that the truth!

      October 21, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  16. Bobby

    Awww...come on – not on a Friday! Can't this wait til Monday?? Mondays suck anyways...

    October 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Chad

      This is the funniest thing i've read today.

      October 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    A number of years ago, one of these fundies asked me if I was ready for "the Rapture". I asked him how he knew that it hadn't happened yet. He replied simply that it couldn't because he was still here. I then asked him what if he wasn't righteous enough to be called. He stuttered, stammered and started crying (and I can still remember his words) "That couldn't happen, could it?" His hubris was such that he could not accept a Rapture occurring and he not being among the Elect.

    That was similar to Camping's reaction on May 22 after his last "revelation" failed to come to pass. Now we have others waiting for this day to be over so they can be "called home" while the rest of us are either destroyed in the end of the universe, or must survive in a "Left Behind" world. Since his stroke, the number of people coming to his Church have dwindled to fewer than the Westboro Baptist Church enjoys, and his radio program has been replaced with something less controversial.

    October 21, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Thinker's Dam

      Sure, the rapture (I don't really believe in the rapture, but just making a point) could have happened way back shortly after Jesus dies, as he predicted, and who would have noticed? A few righteous people disappeared, but nobody well known, for obvious reasons. Actually it could have happened this past May, and all of the righteous people really did disappear, all two of them.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  18. RES

    Ooh Rah has the best response!

    October 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  19. Concerned America

    camping is an extortionist, and should be stripped of his right to accept donations under the name of his church. October 29, 2012

    October 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • Sean

      They all are.

      October 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  20. teepee

    anyone out here defending poor Harold?

    October 21, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • A1Retouching

      you're totally right!!! Poor Harry, >god< only! knows what happened to him in his childhood... we all feel for you

      October 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • DiscipleofElijah

      Harold Camping is just a delusional old man who actually believed his "prophecy" was correct.

      October 21, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
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About this blog

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.