Why the world might end next Saturday

A group of Christian activists believe the apocalypse is May 21. We look at the evidence, and the man behind it

Topics: Religion, Big Question,

Why the world might end next SaturdayHarold Camping (inset) is the progenitor of the most recent doomsday theory.

Spring is finally here — but apparently, the apocalypse will be fast on its trail. That’s the word from a slight but outspoken group of spiritual devotees who believe that the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Maybe you’ve already encountered the literature: pamphlets, subway ads, billboards on the side of the highway. “Judgment Day is coming” reads one billboard, which features a man praying in silhouette against a sunset backdrop. These are the works of a peculiar breed of Christian activists who’ve taken to the road to preach their belief in the fast-approaching End of Days. The self-appointed harbingers are not tied to any particular church — they claim organized religion has been corrupted by the devil — but rather to Internet- and radio-based ministries. And their lone mission is to tell anyone and everyone that the end of days is May 21. That’s when, they insist, God’s true believers will be lifted into heaven and saved, during a biblical event widely referred to as the Rapture.

The finer points of Christian eschatology have long been the subject of dispute (not to mention the inspiration for movies and books, like the blockbuster “Left Behind” series). Though mainstream churches reject the the notion that doomsday can be predicted by any man, fringe scholars continue to work feverishly pinpointing the moment of the final, divine revelation. And one such man — 89-year-old radio host Harold Camping — has been at the game for decades.



In the early ’90s, Camping published a book titled “1994?,” which claimed judgment day would arrive in September of that year. When confronted with such a staggering anticlimax — the world, after all, kept on spinning — Camping chose not to be discouraged, but to learn from his mistakes. (He hadn’t considered the Book of Jeremiah, he says.) A civil engineer by trade, Camping went back to the drawing board and continued to crunch the numbers, before arriving at the adamant determination that Rapture would come on May 21, 2011. He began to spread the word through his broadcasting network, Family Radio, in 2009, and quickly built up a fervid following.

But what, exactly, is his argument? We’ve compiled an explainer below with all the information you’ll need to prepare for May 21.

What happens during and after the Rapture?

In a nutshell: The worthy dead will first rise up to heaven, followed shortly thereafter by about 200 million faithful followers saved by God. Those left behind will endure several months of ghastly torment. And what remains of our fair Earth will swiftly careen toward its ultimate destruction — which will occur in October.

According to one advocate, Brian Haubert, who was interviewed for a recent article published by NPR

On May 21, “starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” he says. The true Christian believers — he hopes he’s one of them — will be “raptured”: They’ll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?

“It’s just the horror of horror stories,” he says, “and on top of all that, there’s no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever.”

Why does Camping believe the end is nigh?

Camping and his affiliates present at least three explanations — what he refers to as “infallible, absolute proofs” — for May 21 being the day.

  • It’s the anniversary of Noah’s Flood: A great deal of effort has been made by biblical literalists over the years to identify the exact chronology of the events dictated in the Old Testament. Some scholars, including Camping, adhere to the theory that the Biblical Flood took place on May 21 in the year 4,990 B.C. Then, in Genesis, God told Noah seven days before the Flood to warn people of the impending cataclysm. And Camping posits that this figure, seven days, holds greater significance than meets the eye. According to the biblical passage 2 Peter 3:8, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Therefore, argues Camping, Rapture should occur 7,000 years after the Flood. And the 7,000th anniversary of the biblical deluge, by his math, falls on May 21, 2011.
  • It’s the anniversary of Creation … sort of: Another piece of evidence — explained by Family Radio affiliate eBibleFellowship — suggests that the world began in 11,013 B.C., and its 13,000th anniversary came and went in 1988. During that year, apparently on May 21, the end of the “church age” came to pass. Then, a 23-year time of “tribulation” began, during which Satan claimed dominion over all the world’s churches. (Camping also supports this notion. He claims that the number “23″ — far from just being a poorly received Jim Carrey film — also represents “destruction” in biblical symbology.) The end of this particular period of cosmological strife is said to fall on May 21, 2011.
  • Divine Numerology: This elaborate line of reasoning first argues that Jesus Christ was killed on April 1 in the year 33 A.D. Using that date, the crucifixion would have occurred exactly 1,978 years and 51 days — or 722,500 days — before May 21, 2011. It turns out that 722,500 is also the product of an equation — (5 x 10 x 17)^2 — that includes three different numbers of significance, according to Camping. Five means “atonement.” Ten indicates “completeness.”And 17 signifies “heaven.” Thus: Armageddon.

Don’t past failures at predicting the end of the world give May 21sters some pause?

Apparently not.

According to MSNBC:

“It would be like telling the Wright Brothers that every other attempt to fly has failed, so you shouldn’t even try,” said Chris McCann, who works with eBibleFellowship, one of the groups spreading the message.

What happens if the world doesn’t end?

That’s a question proponents claim they won’t even ponder. (To do so would be to doubt biblical truth and threaten their chances at Rapture, according to at least one telling.) In fact, many who were interviewed by NPR — one woman who dropped out of medical school; a couple who stand to run out of savings on May 21 — claim they have no backup plan. While most would say these people are in for a rude awakening, that’s not discouraging them in their faith. Only May 21 will tell. 

Peter Finocchiaro is a senior editor at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @PLFino.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>