Whew! Civilization dodged another bullet. Pentecost was last Sunday, and Pentecost is when end-times prophet Ronald Weinland tells us that that the world will end (Pentecost is 50 days after Easter). He predicted that it would be Pentecost 2012 and then 2013. Since then he’s wised up and predicts only that “God’s final countdown for man’s self-rule has already begun and that rule will end soon on an annual holy day of Pentecost.”
That’s the mark of a mature prophet—he gives himself some room to backpedal. Don’t be too specific or give an end date within your lifetime. Otherwise, when the date comes and goes, as it always does, you’ll look like an idiot.
But don’t mock Weinland. Here’s what he said to mockers in the heady days before his spectacular failure: “you will suffer from sickness that will eat you from the inside out, and you will die; your death will not be quick.”
If this all sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of our old pal Harold Camping, winner of the 2011 Ig Nobel Prize in mathematics. Yes, Harold and his Family Radio ministry got us in a tizzy about the world ending. He spent more than $5 million on 5000 billboards announcing the rapture on May 21, 2011, then Armageddon, and then the end of the world five months later. (Of course, when I say “he spent,” I mean “he spent, using not his own money but money donated by his followers.”)
Tomorrow is the five-year anniversary of Camping’s rapture not happening.
Despite Camping’s confidence, some of us weren’t buying it. During the months leading up to the claimed rapture, the Ask an Atheist radio program highlighted the insanity with a weekly “Countdown to Backpedaling” review of the latest on the story. Members of Seattle Atheists helped spread the word with a “The end is nigh” sandwich board sign, and they collected money to help during Armageddon.
Who better than atheists to help out after a rapture, right? You can be pretty sure that they’re not going anywhere.
When the end didn’t come as predicted, the sign was updated (as shown in the photo above) and the money donated to Camp Quest Northwest to help raise a new generation who will be a bit more skeptical of claims without evidence.
While Armageddon didn’t happen, Camping has had his own slow-motion Judgment Day. Assets of Family Radio dropped from $135 million in 2007 to $20 million in 2012 (IRS 990), they sold their three largest radio stations, and donations dropped 70 percent after the false alarm. (Net assets were $45 million in 2014.)
I wrote about the aftermath of Camping’s failure here. What infuriated me most was Family Radio not asking themselves, “What would you do if there were no tomorrow?” Because, for them, there wouldn’t be after May 21, 2011. Many of their followers got themselves right with God, selling all their assets and using the money to spread Camping’s message. Curiously, Family Radio didn’t, almost as if they didn’t believe their own message. Given the actions that they knew their followers were taking (which included at least one attempted murder/suicide on May 22), doesn’t that sound like fraud?
Imagine this: what if Camping had put his money where his mouth was? Since he wouldn’t need anything after the rapture, he could’ve liquidated his assets and created a foundation to help people in need. And now, instead of it being a pathetic memory of an old man’s overconfidence in numerology, it’d be an ongoing foundation.
Every private U.S. foundation is obliged to distribute five percent of its assets annually. If we imagine that he turned Family Radio into a $100 million foundation in 2011, that’s five million dollars each year to actually help people. Y’know, like Jesus did. But that opportunity was missed, and Family Radio will now be remembered most for the harm it did.
Don’t forget that the first prediction of the end times failed as well:
There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28).
If these end-of-the-world prophecies don’t stop, people will soon stop listening to end-times prophets.
Gotcha! I’m kidding, of course. “The sky is falling” is as enticing to the Chicken Littles of today as it’s been for the last 2000 years.
If you don’t want your religion laughed at,
don’t have such funny beliefs.
— seen on the internet(s)
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/21/13.)
Photo credit: Ask an Atheist podcast