2007Rapture.com: A Case Study in Failed Prophecy

Since I’ve written recently about the rapidly approaching failure of Harold Camping’s 2011 doomsday prediction, I thought it’d be amusing to take a look back at another prophetic misfire. Our case study is the website 2007Rapture.com, which for obvious reasons is now defunct – but the Internet Archive has snapshots that show how the author, one Shelby Corbitt, reacted to her prediction’s failure.

The Internet Archive’s first capture of the site, back in August 2004, starts with a bold warning:

The rapture of the church (God’s children) willl happen JULY 2007. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind – this is not the end of the world – but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind. DON’T GET LEFT BEHIND!

For a while there’s no change, but by December 2005, the author had backtracked slightly to allow herself some wiggle room:

The rapture of the church (God’s children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007. This could be anytime from June 21-September 21. This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven, leaving all the sinners and unbelievers behind – this is not the end of the world – but it will be the beginning of a terrible tribulation for those left behind.

As this date drew nearer, the author also explains how she came by these beliefs: a vivid prophetic dream that she’d had years prior, which she’d written down but kept a secret until a strange coincidence.

In 2003, a woman from church said she had a word from God for me. It was for me to get the word out that God had given me. She said now was the time. She didn’t really know what that word was, but I knew. I immediately thought of the vision God had given me 17 years earlier. I found the vision that I had written down, opened it up, and reread it. Everything God had shown me that was going to happen in my life had happened, and I knew she was right, that now is finally the time to release the vision. God was using this woman to be the voice I had been waiting to hear to tell me when to release the vision.

By December 2006, the author was getting more and more excited, and was disclosing specific details of her dream:

God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. Therefore the prophetic message is that the rapture of the church (God’s children) will happen during the SUMMER OF 2007.

The next major update is on June 29, just after the start of the predicted interval, and the site has worked itself into a fever pitch of excitement, with this headline in large type:

THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH IS GOING TO HAPPEN DURING THE SUMMER, THIS YEAR (JUNE 21-SEPTEMBER 21) 2007!!

On August 20, that headline was still up, but it seems the author was feeling a tinge of uncertainty:

God specifically told me 2007 was the year. He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. I interpret this to mean summertime. I live in Florida, and although we are normally able to swim through October, I am still interpreting the vision to mean literal summertime.

September 21 came and went. For several weeks there was no update, but at the beginning of November, the site offered this lengthy excuse:

God revealed to me two things about the timing of the rapture. God specifically told me 2007 was the year, because I was only going to have from 3 to 3 1/2 years to spread the message after my book was published. It was published in June 2004. Then He showed me that me and my family were swimming in the swimming pool the day before the rapture. The fact that we were swimming immediately made me think summer. I was not sure if God was showing me summerlike weather or if He was trying to tell me literal summertime. Since literal summer ended on September 21st, God obviously meant it would be summerlike weather here where I live in Florida. It is summerlike weather here the majority of the year. This year 2007 we seem to be breaking all kinds of heatwave records…. Even if it stays warm enough to swim all year, 2007 is still the year of the rapture.

The weeks ticked by and the year slipped away. Even by the last week of December, the author’s faith remained unshaken:

We are down to the last few days until 2007 is over. This could be your first, last and/or ONLY warning you get from God to repent and prepare yourself for the return of Jesus Christ. God has made it possible for me to reach you and get this warning to you. You do not have time to think about this any longer. Today is your day and NOW is your time!!

The Wayback Machine’s final snapshot was on January 2, 2008. The author updated the site one last time with a long, all-caps message plainly conveying her bewilderment and despair:

I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHY THE RAPTURE DID NOT HAPPEN IN THE TIME FRAME I SAID. I KNEW I WAS NOT TO RELEASE THIS PROPHECY UNTIL GOD TOLD ME TO. THAT IS WHY I KEPT THE DREAM TO MYSELF FROM 1986 TO 2003. I STILL BELIEVE THE PROPHETIC DREAM I HAD WAS FROM GOD. I HAVE TOLD THE DREAM JUST AS GOD GAVE IT TO ME. THE ONLY THING I CAN THINK OF IS THAT I RELEASED THE DREAM AT THE WRONG TIME AND GOT THE BOOK PUBLISHED TOO EARLY. MAYBE THE DREAM HAD SOME KIND OF SYMBOLIC MEANING INSTEAD OF A LITERAL MEANING THAT I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE OUT YET. I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHAT I HAVE DONE WRONG AND WHY THE PROPHECY FAILED. I PROMISE ALL OF YOU THAT I DID NOT INTENTIONALLY MEAN TO HURT OR MISLEAD ANYBODY. I PROMISE I DID NOT MAKE UP THE DREAM. I KNOW MANY OF YOU ARE VERY DISAPPOINTED, BUT I ASSURE YOU NO ONE IS AS DISAPPOINTED AS I AM.

But in one last, defiant message before signing off, she declares that the utter failure of her prophetic vision hasn’t changed her beliefs at all:

THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH WILL BE IN MY LIFETIME AND IT WILL HAPPEN THE WAY GOD SHOWED ME IN THE DREAM… WE CAN’T LET THIS DELAY HARDEN OUR HEARTS SO THAT WHEN ANOTHER VOICE COMES CRYING OUT WE IGNORE IT. THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU ALL!!

(Side note: Ms. Corbitt’s magnum opus is still available on Amazon!)

As I’ve written before, possibly the only fatal error in religion is staking your beliefs on a definitive test. I suspect that many apocalyptic movements and other new religious ideas originate this way: a dream, hallucination or other misfire of the brain which the ignorant believe to be a divine communication. If the recipient’s understanding of the “message” is seemingly corroborated by an unusual coincidence, so much the better. For atheists, it shouldn’t be surprising that such things happen from time to time. Nor should it be surprising that most self-appointed prophets end up falling flat on their faces, since random brain firings, no matter how subjectively compelling, don’t give any insight into the true nature of the world.

But devotees of superstition have an incredible ability to take failure in stride, and Shelby Corbitt is no exception. She’s since launched a new site that’s basically identical to the last, except that she no longer tries to predict a date. Of course, she still insists, “I know the rapture will happen in my lifetime.” As James Randi has said, people like this are “unsinkable rubber ducks”: her belief isn’t driven by facts, but by a desire to believe, which makes the unbroken string of prophetic failures irrelevant.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    This story is both amusing AND pathetic.

  • http://www.borderofinsanity.com Pentagram

    Is this the same Shelby Corbitt behind the web site, now saying “We are not fortune tellers” on http://shelbycorbitt.com/ask/ ?

  • penn

    That was pretty sad. It seems clear that truly believed what she was saying. I can’t imagine what it must feel to spend years or decades dedicated to something and watch it utterly fail. She would have to be almost inhuman to not immediately start coming up with excuses. Could you honestly admit to yourself that level of wasted time, effort and life?

  • Wednesday

    An anime series called Kino’s Travels does an excellent job of exposing the absurdity of apocalypse prophecies. It has an episode featuring a town whose leader predicts the world will end that day, at sunset, based on an extremely vague line in a holy book. When the world fails to end, the townspeople are restless and angry until the leader says whoops, he misread the holy book, it’s in half a month at the _new_ moon, not full. And everyone is satisfied.

  • http://www.intragalacticcomic.com Steph

    You’ve gotta feel bad for the rest of the family, who were probably forced into the pool every day throughout December.

  • Andrew T.

    This certainly is an amusing chronology of quotations. It’s only too bad their maker didn’t reconsider their basis for justification after watching the predictions blow up in her face…but you can’t let a bit of pesky logic and critical deduction influence your thought, can you?

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    How do we distinguish the “true believers” in the Rapture from outright frauds milking wishful thinking for book sales?

    This nonsense about the imminent end of the world is another (rather overt) form of fear-mongering. I’m utterly convinced that one of the most dangerous and unsound acts you can ever do is give into your own fear and anxieties.

    “…the safest course is to do nothing against one’s conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death.”

    “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

    –Voltaire

  • Tacroy

    In 2003, a woman from church said she had a word from God for me. It was for me to get the word out that God had given me. She said now was the time. She didn’t really know what that word was, but I knew.

    I find this hilarious, because the woman from church was clearly just trying to get Mrs. Corbitt to go out and evangelize. Can you imagine the look on her face when Corbitt instead says something along the lines of “oh shit, I know exactly what God wants me to do! The world is going to end in 2007!”

  • John Nernoff

    You should read the “Transcendental Temptation” by Paul Kurtz, Prometheus, 1986: Page 261ff

    William Miller was a doomsday prophet. He predicted in 1818 that in 25 years the world would end, as per Daniel, Revelation and, let’s not forget Jesus, the first Christian end-of-the-worlder. (p. 263)

    By March 21, 1844 nothing happened. Mockery was heard. Then Samuel S. Snow predicted October 22, 1844. Zilch. Meanwhile Kurtz writes, “One man put on turkey wings, got up on a tree and prayed that the Lord would take him.” He fell and broke his arm. No end to the world.

    Kurtz mentions Hal Lindsey. Yawn.

    Next Ellen G. White (p 267). God’s real plan was misread. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church was founded. Along with White, there was a visionary, Ellen Harmon, age 17. The “shut-door” thesis explained previous failures; Jesus moved from one holy place to a holier place in 1844 so the rapture was ongoing. Plagiarism was involved. Vast “holy” writings were produced but no end of the world occurred. Erroneous predictions of the out come of the Civil War were made.

    Charles Tate Russell predicted the end of the world in 1914. He founded Jehovah’s Witnesses. (p 277.) Reverend Moon is mentioned.

    So these doomsday scenarios are as common as cornflakes. They merely reinforce the fact of human gullibility.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    This means Jesus Christ is going to appear in the eastern sky and call all His children up to Heaven,…

    The “eastern sky” as observed from where? Will He appear to be coming out of the East to everyone, no matter where on Earth’s surface they are? And where is this Heaven place? Are we back to thinking it is up in the sky somewhere?

  • NoAstronomer

    Reginald beat me to it.

    No matter where on Earth you are, if Jesus appears in the east then there’s someone for whom Jesus is in the west.

  • http://www.martiananthropologist.com Martian Anthropologist

    It really is amazing how many people continue to follow wackos like this, when their “prophecy from gawd” fails again and again.

    Nice work with this blog post. Really.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Here’s another way of looking at it. If you’re the only person in the world who god is telling when the world will end, then it’s not god who is talking to you. After all, if god exists, it can tell everyone simultaneously, and if everyone was told the same date, then that would be pretty good evidence that some extraterrestrial intelligence is communicating with us.

  • Karen

    I remember being in churches where we were told from the pulpit, “Don’t bother mowing your grass” because the Lord was coming back SO SOON! That was probably more than 20 years ago.

    What utter nonsense. And yet taking the next step and realizing your life’s beliefs have all been false is so painful that continuing delusion is preferable for most, I guess.

  • L.Long

    I really like these delusionals that believe end-time-prophecies.
    I use them as an intelligence test…They aren’t!
    I even ask them to sign over all their money when the day comes…
    OK they really aren’t REAL stupid because they keep their money and houses…
    Darn!!!!

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    You’ve gotta feel bad for the rest of the family, who were probably forced into the pool every day throughout December.

    Steph wins the thread for that comment, both because that made me laugh and because she’s almost certainly right. :)

  • kennypo65

    The world is going to end on X date and time, so why bother being a productive member of society? Just retreat into your cocoon of faith and wait for the “crapture”. Who cares if the planet is a mess? Jebus will take you up to heaven, so the earth is irrelevant. It’s going to end soon anyway.–What a load of rubbish! Sometimes I wish this crapture shit was true and all these idiots would get the f*ck off my planet.

  • Jeff

    Sometimes I wish this crapture shit was true and all these idiots would get the f*ck off my planet.

    Seconded. I wish it had happened – they’d all be gone now.

  • Zietlos

    You mean the world didn’t end? Here I was being nonexistent and you had to burst my bubble!

  • cag

    Kennypo65 #17. It is a little known fact but the rapture has already occurred. Of course the christers did not make the cut, but now we know where Jimmy Hoffa is.

  • archimedez

    Rejoice, and take comfort, brothers and sisters in atheism, for through our lack of faith we have managed to escape the rapture many, many times. (How many times does the rapture have to not happen before they admit that we were right?)

  • paradoctor

    The end of the world? _Again_?!

  • Jon Jermey

    So she could have prevented the end of the world, and the suffering of millions, just by staying out of the swimming pool, but she didn’t? What kind of a psychopathic sicko is she?


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