Celebrate Harold Camping Day, the Day to Remember Our Favorite Doomsday Prophet!

Celebrate Harold Camping Day, the Day to Remember Our Favorite Doomsday Prophet! May 17, 2019

May 21 is Harold Camping Day! In 2011, that was the day that should’ve been the last day on earth for devout Christians, according to Harold Camping.

Harold Camping is my favorite doomsday prophet. If he’s not for you, I’m sure he’s in your top five. He used the infallible science of numerology to conclude that May 21, 2011 would be the date of the Rapture®. Good Christians would be whisked off the earth to avoid the horror of Armageddon, the final battle in which the blood would flow as high as a horse’s bridle for more than a hundred miles. Reality for earth and the rest of us poor souls would end five months later. Camping spent $100 million on advertising to warn the world, including putting his message on 3000 billboards.

Countdown to Armageddon!

Who could be surprised? Camping was wrong. May 21 came and went and he and his Christian friends were still here. (It seemed rather arrogant for him to just assume that, of course, he would get raptured. My vote was that he just wasn’t a particularly good person.)

“I was wrong” is a phrase that didn’t spring easily to Camping’s lips, and he declared that date an invisible judgment day. He was certain that the world was still on the chopping block.

If you remember those Bible verses stating that the end would be a surprise and that even Jesus didn’t know it, don’t forget that the Bible can argue for just about anything. Camping found verses that make a convincing argument that Man can indeed know the time of the end.

And then, of all the bad luck, the world didn’t end five months later as predicted. Too little and too late, he finally realized his mistake and publicly admitted it.

While some of Camping’s followers spend their life savings to make themselves right with God, Camping hadn’t dissolved his $100 million radio empire and donated it to the needy in anticipation of the end. It was almost like he didn’t believe his own preposterous story. He didn’t even compensate his followers who had lost so much in believing him.

Camping was recalled to heaven in 2013, perhaps to consult with God on the timing of the End. His Family Radio web site has since scrubbed away all mention of this humiliating debacle.

Camping’s mistake was being specific. He actually tried to make a testable, precise prophecy using the rules that we all follow when demanding a prophecy from the other guy. Christian apologists swoon at feeble biblical “prophecies” like those claimed for Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, but they’d laugh at them if they came from someone else’s religion. They know what makes a good prophecy, but they can’t see that their favorites aren’t even close.

For more of history’s end-of-the-world prophecies, see this infographic.

More doomsday insanity

Doomsday prophecy must pay well enough, because it’s still popular among people who are either charlatans or deluded (it’s hard to tell for sure).

Street preacher Ray Comfort assures us that we’re in the end times, though his efforts crumble on critique.

John Hagee invented a new, timeless Bible prophecy, the Prophecy of the Four Blood Moons. The concept is ridiculous, and the movie didn’t help. His four “blood moons” (that is, lunar eclipses) came and went without incident, the last on 9/28/15. Perhaps like me you got some popcorn to enjoy the schadenfreude.

Hagee made clear that this was just grandstanding with his book’s subtitle, “Something is about to change.” If God were giving us a message with these four blood moons, then what was the message? After the fiasco was over, Hagee didn’t even bother (that I could see) to have any sort of rationalization for the failure. He was too busy with whatever his next moneymaking scheme was, and his flock were too gullible to call him on the failure.

Just to show that it’s not just evangelicals who luv them some nutty prophecy, here’s a Catholic one. Dwight Longenecker (whose analysis I’ve critiqued before) handwaved that the Third Secret of Fatima indicated that big changes would happen by May 13, 2017, the 100-year anniversary of the apparition of Mary at Fatima. I’d try to make sense of it for you, but I’m sure I can’t.

You might think that Chicken Little’s false alarms don’t amount to much except to ridicule the Christians who enable and support this kind of thinking. Or you might feel outrage that these ridiculous Christian leaders and their Bronze Age thinking still exist in the twenty-first century. People take this seriously, and people died because of Camping’s nonsense. Either way, let’s remember groundless prophecies past and future on May 21, Harold Camping Day.

There’s a sucker born every minute.
— Barnum 3:16


(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/20/15.)

Image from Jim Lord, CC license

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  • Michael Neville

    Not only does the Bible say that no one, not even the Son, knows when the world will end, it also talks very directly about false prophets:

    and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Matt 24:11 (NIV)

    For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Matt 24:24 (NIV)

    Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries[a] and the delusions of their own minds. Jer 14:14 (NIV)

    But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. Deut 18:20-22 (NIV)

    It’s a little late for Camping, but Hagee is ripe for stoning. Just wait for the whistle:


    • And supposedly false prophets have a place reserved for them in the Lake of Fire (Revelation).

      • Kit Hadley-Day

        give most of them seem to parley there false revelations into real world profits I guess it is a nice spot.

        • Ignorant Amos

          Eye-wiping gits the lot of ’em.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          what is an ‘eye-wiping git’ i have never heard the expression before, i prefer ‘malodorous pervert’, i would guess it has similar connotations

        • Ignorant Amos

          If ya have yer eye wiped, ya’ve been taken as a gullible fool.

          Like, if someone sells ya miracle snake oil, you are getting your eye wiped and the fucker selling ya the oil is an unscrupulous bastard, or git.

        • Kit Hadley-Day

          what a wonder the English language is. Today is a good day as i have learnt something new

    • Mike Panic

      That jesus guy sure is good at complaining.

    • Damian Byrne

      What’s always struck me as hypocritical about that, is that a Christian can (more or less) agree that Person X is a false prophet, when that person says something that does not come about.

      But what about Jesus himself? How come the same warnings given in these verses don’t apply to him? According to Christianity, he appeared, performed great signs and wonders…and then hasn’t shown up for a couple thousand years and counting. Jesus supposedly spoke against the laws God had commanded, and this is why the Jewish priests were against him. Those priests would have known about Deuteronomy 18, and when they hear about this Jesus fellow, they would have seen a guy speaking against what God had previously commanded the Jews. No wonder they charged him with blasphemy! They were going by what God had told them!

  • JustAnotherAtheist2

    Forgive my pedantry, but I can’t help but chuckle that the article opens with:

    I’m kicking myself for forgetting an important anniversary! May 21 came and went without an appropriate commemoration.

    Yet it was posted on May 17th and updates an original that went up on May 20th.

    • larry parker

      Numerology is hard.

      • Michael Neville

        I know. After 20 I run out of fingers and toes.

        • Greg G.

          But you can still count to 21.

        • epeeist

          That’s why you should count in binary.

        • RichardSRussell

          Male? You should be able to make it to 21. 22 if you use your nose.

        • Michael Neville

          I said I ran out of fingers and toes, not that there weren’t other body parts that could be used.

        • Greg G.

          They don’t like it at work when I have to count to 22.

        • epeeist

          Eric Morecambe: “It’s nice out.”

          Ernie Wise: “Yes, but put it away, there’s a policeman coming.”

    • Ouch! Thanks for that. I’ve made a correction.

      (I’ve been busy getting posts in the queue because I’m leaving for a vacation. Things have been hectic …)

  • avelworldcreator

    Of course it always falls the day before my birthday. :p

  • Greg G.

    Camping spent $100 million on advertising to warn the world, including putting his message on 3000 billboards.

    At an intersection on my way home from work, there was a fiery billboard on the right that said, “You will meet the Lord when you die!” On the left was a Camping billboard that said Jesus was coming on May 21. I always thought it was nice that I might get to meet him without dying.

    • MR

      Last month I kept seeing billboards that Loverboy was coming on May 16. Jesus and rock have always been in competition. Rock always wins.

      • Concerts rarely are canceled, but Jesus is always a no-show (and don’t expect to get your ticket refunded.)

        • But the ticket is a free gift! /s
          You only have to give tithes constantly because you feel so very loved as a result of that free gift.

  • aCultureWarrior

    Bob’s judgement day is every time he and his boyfriend Kneel have to go the HIV/AIDS clinic to “get tested”.

  • Damian Byrne

    I was travelling in my nation’s capital yesterday, and as I was walking along to catch the bus, I saw a guy with a large yellow sign. “Christ died for your sins” on one side…and “You will turn into hell” on the other. Not “go to hell” or “turn to hell”, or “be sent to hell”, but…”turn INTO hell”. If I’d had the time, I would have struck up a conversation and pointed out the grammatical error. If he truly had a god behind him telling him to carry this sign around, surely the god would have told him about the error, as that would dissuade people like you or I?

    • epicurus

      Maybe it’s not an error. Given all the denominations and all the disagreement maybe his church believes you really do turn into hell 🙂

  • Don Rowlett

    I was at Camping’s church service where he made his famous prediction. The first thing I thought was “Rut roh. This is not going to end well”.

    • MR


  • Jack the Sandwichmaker

    Are we sure all the good Christians weren’t raptures in 2011? Maybe good Christians were just really hard to find

    • Greg G.

      It was just that Prester John cult in Shangri La that got raptured. They were surrounded by two Sabbath rivers. One flowed six days per week but dried up on the Sabbath, according to Pliny the Elder, and one that was dry six days a week but flowed only on the Sabbath, which was observed by Titus, according to Josephus, Jewish Wars 7.5.1 §96-99.

      • Jack the Sandwichmaker

        And one guy up river with a calendar keeping track of when to open which dam.