Harold Camping, the Preacher Who Wrongly Predicted ‘Judgment Day,’ Is Dead

Radio evangelist Harold Camping was so certain that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011 that he staked his entire reputation on it. His company, Family Radio, spent more than $5,000,000 on 5,000 billboards announcing the date and a media frenzy followed.

Late tonight, his family announced that Camping died on Sunday:

Yesterday, Sunday, December 15th, at around 5:30 p.m., Harold Camping passed on to glory and is now rejoicing with his beloved Savior!

On Saturday, November 30th, Mr. Camping sustained a fall in his home, and he was not able to recover from his injuries. He passed away peacefully in his home, with his family at his side. We know that each of us remain in God’s hand, and God is the One who knows our appointed time to leave our earthly body behind.

A Kansas news station was a little more honest about the legacy he left behind:

Camping became an international laughingstock when he warned “Judgment Day” would occur May 21, 2011 with the second coming of Jesus Christ. He went on to say the world would end October 21, 2011.

Camping admitted to reporters he was “flabbergasted” when his prediction proved false. Donations to his ministry dropped noticeably after that, and Family Radio was forced to sell several of its most powerful FM stations to stay afloat financially.

Camping was singled-out as a laughingstock, no doubt. But his beliefs were no different than those of 79% of Christians in America who think Jesus is coming back one day and the 20% of American Christians who think it’ll happen in their lifetime.

Camping’s tragic flaw was that he put a specific date on it when those other Christians were simply content with saying Jesus would return in “the future.” They’re all wrong, but Camping gave himself no wiggle room with his proclamation.

Ultimately, Camping’s investment in a fool’s errand may have done more for atheists than it ever did for Christians. Atheists had no problem capitalizing on his silly prediction either. The Freedom From Religion Foundation even purchased billboards in Camping’s hometown of Oakland, California:

If there’s anything positive I can say about Camping, it’s that he didn’t appear to be a con artist, making up a Rapture date that he knew was untrue in order to dupe people into giving money to his ministry (for reasons that would make no sense if the Rapture actually occurred on that date…). He seemed to be sincere. He really thought Jesus was coming back on that day. He was genuinely heartbroken to learn he was wrong.

But sincerity won’t be his legacy. We’ll forever remember him as the guy who was convinced Jesus was coming back on a certain day… only to learn in the most public way possible that his beliefs weren’t based in reality. Even though his family said he is now with God, you have to wonder how much doubt seeped into his mind these past two years. Did his faith crumble at all after God let him down on May 21? We’ll never know, but that nagging voice in the back of his head must have gotten at least a little bit louder the day after.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.twitter.com/alansimpson jediofpool

    I did not predict that happening. To be fair, I’m not full of shit.

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    This makes two people that have used religion to scam people out of millions to have passed away. Don’t they come in threes? I wonder who’s next?

  • JoeyL

    Does Sylvia Brown count?

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    I don’t think she does. Did she have her own radio show, hold mass in a mega church, or constantly drone on about with religious sermons? I always thought she was one of those TV psychics like Uri Geller or John Edward.

  • Mike De Fleuriot

    Nope, she was a real charlatan, covering all bases, QM woo, Angels, God, Spirits guides and anything else woolly. Plus she smoked.

  • James K

    Some of my quarks are playing Marco Polo with her right now.

  • Neko

    boggle

  • http://www.dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I learn so much in this forum. If I didn’t follow it closely, I’d have never known the meaning of that caganer in the lower right corner of the billboard. It’s a pooping Camping!

  • http://lady-die.deviantart.com/ LizzyJessie

    Looking at it with your comment in mind, I do believe you may be correct! I thought it was an odd posture for someone to be praying.

  • Rob Bos

    Sympathy to the family. He may have been a bit of a crook, but some people are grieving right now and I hope they’re doing well.

  • cr0sh

    Devils advocate…

    If he honestly believed it – can he still be called a crook?

    My sympathy towards the man would be more along the lines that if he was this much of a believer (no one spends that kind of money with no return on it if they aren’t)…it is a tragedy that he never learned of and from his errors.

  • Bert

    Except an 80,000,000 dollar return.

  • Dan

    Grieving about what exactly? Do they think he’s not in heaven? Are they being selfish and wanting him here on earth for themselves rather than allowing him to live in peace forever with his creator? Death seems to be an entirely different thing if you actually believe the things they believe so I can’t really understand why they would grieve.

  • peter taylor

    Indeed Daniel, when I hear the trope “No Atheist in a foxhole” I think, there’s no real Christian at a child’s funeral. They believe in the innocents of childhood and also that their God loves the little children. So why are they not celebrating?

  • Malcolm McLean

    Death itself is an evil. Christians believe it’s the gateway to a better life.But it’s not in itself something which is good.

  • puckerings

    That’s utterly contradictory. How can the path to eternal happiness be a bad thing?

  • Malcolm McLean

    The Second World War was objectively a bad thing – millions killed, cities destroyed, basically honourable young men seduced into carrying out appalling atrocities. It was a nightmare. But it did lead the way to a much better society, at least in the countries which had the good fortune to end up under American occupation.
    Something which is bad in itself can lead to something better.

  • Jim T

    Whatever the family does I am sure that they will ask for lots of money from their fan club…..

  • Don Gwinn

    Just a bit of a crook. Like Bernie Madoff or Benny Hinn . . . or a fun combination of Bernie Madoff and Benny Hinn.

  • sam

    “Harold Camping passed on to glory and is now rejoicing with his beloved Savior!”

    No, no. You fundies can’t even get your own ignorant superstitions right.

    Ezekial 14:9 “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I YHWH have deceived that prophet, & I will stretch out my hand upon him, & will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel.”

  • Richard Thomas

    Now THAT’S persecution.

  • Malcolm McLean

    Fundamentalism isn’t monolithic. Most fundamentalists didn’t subscribe to a Mat 21, 2011 rapture, quite a few don’t subscribe to a rapture at all. Whilst Camping doubtless derived the date somehow from the Bible, it doesn’t leap out explicitly from the texts.
    Actually the early Christians thought that the end of the world would occur within the lifetimes of people who knew Jesus. That’s one way of dating the New Testament. In the event, the destruction of the Temple did occur, but it didn’t lead to the end of the world, just the end of the Jewish sacrificial system.

  • sam

    I don’t claim that fundamentalism is monolithic. I was addressing specifically Camping’s family who imply he wasn’t destroyed by his god. Self-described biblical literalists have always cherry-picked the verses they want to interpret literally. The problem is theirs.

  • Bryan DiMicelli

    An important detail in this prediction by early Christians is that this assumption is due to the fact that it was Jesus who falsely predicted this day of judgement would occur in their lifetimes. In fact, this false prediction is still in the bible.

    Essentially Camping and Jesus had a lot in common in this regard. They both sincerely believed in their own nonsense (most likely) but both made apocryphal predictions that were not true.

    I can only hope that Camping’s teachings don’t spawn some new global cult in the decades to come just like his predecessor.

  • Malcolm McLean

    The question is whether the gospels were written before the destruction of the Temple, therefore a genuine prophecy by Jesus, or slightly after, therefore patching up the prophecy to make it seem better than it was. (Note “genuine prophecy” doesn’t commit you to a theistic position, it is often possible to predict political events without supernatural aid).
    People are divided on that. The predictions are pretty accurate, but not so startlingly accurate that they could only have been retroactive, and one of features is a confusion of destruction of Temple and end of the world. A good suggestion is that the texts were written more or less contemporaneously with the events, when it was obvious that the Temple was in military trouble, but not obvious that its fall wouldn’t be the start of a sequence of events that led to Jesus’ return.

  • Don Gwinn

    Ouch.

  • jrg1981

    The only Rapture worth mentioning happened on January 12, 1981, when it became Blondie’s fourth number one hit.

  • baal

    oo oo oh oah

  • Artor

    The anniversary of that is coming up. I’ll eat a car in celebration.

  • duke_of_omnium

    That’s so passe. Now I only eat guitars.

  • SeekerLancer

    Say what you will about the guy but how many people his age get to become news media and Internet phenomena? He certainly managed to make some noise.

  • peter taylor

    If you’re prepared to be a laughing stock then I’m sure you could do it.

  • compl3x

    I love the “The Bible Guarantees it” seal of approval on that billboard.

  • Maggie Priceless

    not only was he wrong, he was wrong twice.

  • Greg G.

    He was wrong twice in 2011 but he was wrong in 1994, too.

  • SecularAmerican

    I can’t get happy about this.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Harold Camping’s pride and humiliation, his theatrical certainty and his secret doubt, his love, his anger, his tenderness and his harshness all, all have now passed into nothingness. Nothing remains of him but ink on paper, electrons on disks, and neurons in the brains of those who knew him or heard of him. The heat of his life spreads out in all directions thinner, fainter, until it is undetectable. The atoms of his body will eventually mingle with the environment, the carbon and calcium and iron and all the others, breaking bonds and forming new ones, to become useful perhaps to other living things just as briefly as they were useful to him.

    And the world will go on. There will be disasters and catastrophes again and again. There will be many more great extinctions than the Earth has suffered so far. Long after the last thundering prophet and the last laughing skeptic are remembered by no living thing, still, life will continue in new forms for a time far longer than could ever be imagined by the authors of Harold’s favorite book, until the last terrestrial organism will dry up, and the desert planet will bake, waterless, airless, under a swelling, aging, reddening sun, and is finally consumed. No eyes will witness this; no mind will take note.

    While we are here in this flash-of-lightning moment, let us spend just a little of our precious energy mourning our fallen friends, and even less crowing about our fallen enemies, and put most of that energy into making each other’s lives a little better.

    We have nothing better to do; there is nothing better we could do.

  • tsig

    Destroying our enemies, grinding them into the dust and listening to the wailing’s and lamentations of their widows and children is what we’re biblicaly called to do.

  • phranckeaufile

    No, that’s Conan the Barbarian, who is a humanitarian compared to Yahweh. 1 Sam. 15:2-3.

  • Russ Collins

    He was an absolute fucking idiot. The world is better off without him or any other fundamentist religious fucktard

  • 5oh4

    I wonder if Westboro Baptist Church is going to protest?

  • peter taylor

    Yes he was sincere, unfortunately this was through his narcissism, he, just like those that donated or those that sold all their belongings, had the sincere belief that they were among the chosen people. They believed sincerely that the universe was created for one purpose only, them.

  • Greg Scott

    Everybody will remember where they were when they heard Chicken Little died..

  • Rain

    Camping admitted to reporters he was “flabbergasted”

    The guy that thinks people who don’t believe him are idiots being controlled by the most evil force in the universe is flabbergasted. Yeah I feel real bad for the guy.

  • Rain

    He thought the Bible never had anything added to it after the 1st century. Everything totally original and pure. That’s about all I need to know about the guy lol. He must have been living in a sadly naive and ignorant bubble with a dreadful fear of google. Also he didn’t believe in hell. I like him already!

  • Matt Bowyer

    He was a charlatan, and I treat all charlatans the same way: With contempt.

  • Wildcard

    Guys can we not celebrate his death? Yeah his ideas were incredibly stupid but he was neither Fred Phelps nor a politician. The harm he caused others is real but it was done without true malice towards them. His actions are regrettable but I don’t see his death as a victory for anyone.

    This post was only addressed at a few commentators. I feel Mehta didn’t display this attitude except the last paragraph.

  • Dave The Sandman

    How do you judge an absence of malice?

    Really?

    So the cynical and deliberate exploitation of ignorant people, bilking them out of money, persuading them to ruin their own lives and those of their families, and in some more extreme cases commit suicide is free from malice?
    Fine. Then like David Koresh and Marshall Applewhite I guess old Harold was a bit of a cheeky naughty boy.
    Screw that. I’m glad the rotten black hearted old fart is dead and gone. May his sick death cult soon follow him into the dust and ashes of history. Personally Im sure his delusional masochistic flock will just migrate to the next prophet of doom.

  • Wildcard

    Tell me if that is true. Didn’t he really think it was gonna happen, yes people ruined their lives because of what he said. His legacy is toxic I’m not denying that, but I think he did it out of ignorance and not to only get money. Can you show me that he did it knowing it was a scam, if so than I’ll agree with you.

  • The Starship Maxima

    I grew up listening to Camping. I’ve heard a lot of preacher folk over the years.

    One difference between him and the others is that unlike others whose doomsday predictions were wrong and tried to come up with some bullshit explanation (‘the rapture happened so fast you didn’t notice’ lol whut) he actually said, “Well damn, I got that wrong.”

    I’m inclined to go with Card on this.

  • Wildcard

    Do you get Nostalgic for the older days of his radio show like younger people do for the TV of the 90s? “Camping was SO much better when the world was gonna end in 1994”

  • Oranje

    Anyone—whether Camping or bin Laden or Zawahiri—who holds up their finger and lectures is automatically a jerk. I instantly start hearing them in the voice of Brainy Smurf.

  • Jim T

    I feel no sympathy for the loss of such a huge swindler. 80 million tax free dollars is a giant scam….I hope that they all feel a deep loss like all the people that felt like fools for giving them so much of their hard earned money. I am sure that the family and scammers that worked for him will be asking for shitloads more money just because it is an opportunity to rake in some more cold hard cash. That is all that his death means to them.


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