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.
— Barnum 3:16
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 5/20/15.)
Image from Jim Lord, CC license