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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Judgment Day: May 21, 2011

Judgment Day has come and gone, and Harold Camping is alive and well and still living (and presumably very disappointed) in Alameda, California (I write these words prior to the predicted time -- really going out on a limb here). Camping, as many of you know, is the 89-year-old leader of Family Radio Worldwide, who has been predicting that Judgment Day or the Rapture would occur today with the end of the world following on October 21, 2011.  For the uninformed, the rapture refers to the time when true Christians will be gathered together in the air and meet Jesus Christ.

This isn't the first time Camping has predicted the end of the world. He first predicted that it would end on Sept. 6, 1994, but when that didn't work out, he went back to the drawing board (his words) and is now confident that his calculations are correct. So confident, in fact, he has advertised his predictions on 2,200 billboards around the country, and many of his followers have been traveling across America to spread the word, so to speak. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that many of Camping's followers have left their families, their jobs and drained their saving accounts in anticipation of the big event. I wonder what they plan on doing on Monday?

Camping, of course, isn't the first to make predictions concerning the end of times. Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, predicted that it wouldn't occur before 2060 (which suggests that he believed that it eventually would occur) and the Jehovah Witnesses identified 1914, 1918, 1925 and 1942 as possible dates (it  appears that they have abandoned making predictions since then). And then, of course, there are the Left Behind books, which have sold over 65 million copies worldwide.

Perhaps the most influential predictor of the end times, however, was the Baptist preacher, William Miller, who claimed that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844, but then revised his prediction to October 22, 1844. When the big day didn't occur, Miller admitted that he was wrong (although he continued to believe that Judgment Day was imminent) and returned to his Baptist church, but many of his followers refused to believe that he was wrong and ended up giving birth to the Adventist movement. It will be interesting to see how Camping's true believers react once they realize that the Rapture didn't occur (or they believe that it did and they're among the reprobate).


  1. I caught a brief interview of one of Camping's most ardent followers last night, after his big disappointment. He said he still has faith in Camping and believes the end is imminent. The credulity of humans simply reinforces my own epistemological view: If a factual claim can't be immediately verified by empirical means, then skepticism is in order.

  2. Well, Sean, the story still goes on. We all make stuff up to make ourselves feel better, but in some cases the fabrications are simply outrageous. Harold Camping says he doesn't know what went wrong, so it fell this morning to Craig Hultsevick (spelling ?), the Family Radio public relations spokesman, to explain why the rapture failed to occur. After reminding us that God's plans are not necessarily the same as ours and that we can always trust in his intentions, he concluded that, in a great act of mercy, God decided to delay the rapture so he would have more time to gather souls into the fold -- and thus another myth is born.

    I can only imagine what extravagant myths we will create to understand what took place in Joplin last night.