Will Saturday be the end of the world? Evangelicals party like there’s no tomorrow
- Saturday is last day on earth, claims evangelical Christian
- Harold Camping, 89, wrongly predicted ‘the rapture’ date once before in 1994
- God’s chosen few ascend to heaven, sinners left behind to face earthquakes
- Atheists hold parties to celebrate ‘inevitable embarrassment’
- Christian author calls Camping’s prediction ‘flat-out wrong’
The world will end at 6pm tomorrow according to the followers of an evangelical Christian minister, who claims he calculated the date and time of ‘The Rapture’ by adding up numbers in the Bible.
Harold Camping, 89, is the leader of Family Radio, an independent ministry which spreads its word via a network on 66 radio stations and online broadcasts.
Camping has previously written a book called ’1994?’, in which he wrongly predicted the end of the world in that year, and was later forced to apologise for a mathematical error.
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The Rapture is supposedly the time when God’s chosen people ascend to heaven and the rest are left behind to face apocalyptic scenes of earthquakes and fire.
A period of ‘trial’ on earth for non-believers is forecast to follow and could last six months, but by October 21 all those who have not been saved will be dead, goes the prophecy.
The concept of Judgment Day is a long-standing one, but the idea of the Rapture is more modern, having first appeared in Christian teaching in the 19th century.
WHY NOW? THE WORKINGS OUT BEHIND THE END OF THE WORLD
Harold Camping’s homemade mathematical formula for the apocalypse works, in part, like this.
He bases it on a verse in Chapter 2 of Peter verse 3:8, which says that one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day to God.
Elsewhere it is said that there will be seven thousand years between Noah’s flood and the end of the world.
Camping believes that the Noah’s Ark flood happened in the year 4990 BC.
So to Camping, the seven days translates to 7,000 years.
And 4990 plus 2011, minus one because there was no year ’0′, equals 7,000 years.
The date of May 21 has been derived from complex mathematical formula made up from numbers that appear repeatedly in the Bible.
However, this predicted date is entirely the work of Camping and his followers, who have spent decades studying the bible for coded messages.
So certain is he of his revised date, following on from his 1994 embarrassment, that he and his followers have spent millions of dollars on billboards across America that have been warning for weeks: ‘Judgment Day is coming May 21st, 2011 – The Bible guarantees it!’
Most Christians barely pay the ‘prophecy’ a second thought but Camping, from Oakland, California, stands by his latest Doomsday warning.
‘We know without any shadow of a doubt it is going to happen,’ said Camping.
‘There’s going to be a huge earthquake that’s going to make the big earthquake in Japan seem like a Sunday School picnic.’
Camping, a civil engineer who once ran his own construction business, plans to spend the day with his wife in Alameda, in northern California, and watch doomsday unfold on television.
‘I’ll probably try to be very near a TV or a radio or something,’ he said.
‘I’ll be interested in what’s happening on the other side of the world as this begins.’
His prediction has been dismissed as ‘flat-out wrong’ by one leading Christian author, who has accused Camping of abusing the current climate of fear rendered by natural disasters to make money.
‘Nobody knows the exact day when these things are going to happen,’ Steve Wohlberg, who has written more than two dozen books about the End of Days, told the New York Daily News.
‘They’re looking at all of these disasters and everything that’s going on in the planet, and this is creating a climate of deep interest in Biblical prophecy.
‘In my mind, Harold Camping has quite an account to render with God when judgment day comes.’
However, just in case the prediction is right, some Americans are making the most of their time left with ‘Rapture Parties’ across the country, some serious, some not.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the American Humanist Association is organizing a two-day anti-Rapture extravaganza.
There will be a party on Saturday and a concert on Sunday – with the tongue in cheek proviso that Sunday’s fun could be cancelled due to a natural catastrophe of some sort.
Camping’s prediction has been publicised in almost every country, said Chris McCann, who works with one of the groups spreading the message, eBible Fellowship.
McCann plans to spend Saturday with his family, reading the Bible and praying. His fellowship met for the last time on Monday.
‘We had a final lunch and everyone said goodbye,’ he said.
‘We don’t actually know who’s saved and who isn’t, but we won’t gather as a fellowship again.’
The publicity has had some effect outside North America. In Vietnam, a crowd of around 5,000 members of the Hmong ethnic minority gathered near the border with Laos to await the biblical event, but they were soon dispersed by the government.
However, the Rapture – the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on earth that precedes the end of time – is a divisive belief even among Christians.
Most don’t believe in it, and some are actively against it because they feel it makes them look foolish.
‘People like this man are over-literalising certain passages that are not meant to be taken in such a strictly literal sense and they’re trying to build strict chronologies by piecing together different Bible verses that were never intended to be interpreted in such a fashion,’ said Dr. Don Howell, professor of New Testament at Columbia International University.
In an attempt to talk to Camping on his own literal terms, Dr Howell also points to Matthew 24, which says no one but the Father knows when the end will come, not even Jesus or the angels.
The Rapture is often mocked by non-believers in popular culture – the comic strip ‘Doonesbury’ has tackled the subject – while a Facebook page called ‘Post Rapture Looting’ has won huge support.
More than 175,000 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as: ‘When everyone is gone and God’s not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansions we’re going to squat in.’
Jerry Jenkins, co-author with Tim LaHaye of the ‘Left Behind’ series of apocalyptic novels that have sold millions of copies worldwide, is among those who has a problem with the prediction.
‘As a believer, I’m already a kook compared to most people, so for someone to choose a date and get everyone excited about a certain time, my problem is it makes us look worse,’ said Jenkins, 61.
But the very industry in which Jenkins’ books are aimed and sold are part of the problem according to Barbara Rossing, professor of the New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
She describes a huge apocalyptic ‘prophecy industry’ that includes video games, board games and books, and says: ‘It is very appealing to people.’
Indeed, according to its tax returns Family Radio, a non-profit organisation, has raised more than $100m over the last seven years. It owns 66 radio stations worldwide and a recent spike in activity has seen it lavish millions on its international billboard advertising campaign.
When asked what the church was going to do with the money when the world ended, Camping told Contra Costa Times; ‘When Judgment Day comes, if someone is a billionaire, how will they take their money with them?
‘If we have any money left, and we will because we have to pay bills up to the very end… it will all be destroyed because the world will be in a day of judgment.
‘The money is not important at all. It’s a vehicle to spread the judgment and a vehicle of the Lord.’
But as the true believers prepare for what they hope will be their last day on earth, many atheists are having fun with the anticlimax they anticipate.
In Tacoma, Washington, atheists have organized a party for Saturday night under the banner ‘countdown to backpedaling’, on the assumption that Camping and Family Radio will change their story if Judgment Day does not come.
At least 100 people are expected at the party, said Sam Mulvey, 33, an organizer of the event and the producer of a weekly atheist radio show in Tacoma.
‘If the world still exists the next day, Family Radio is going to have to say something and most of the time they backpedal, and that’s what we’re counting down to,’ he said.
Other atheists have taken a more practical approach to the ‘rapture’ by turning the ‘prophecy industry’ on itself to make money.
In New Hampshire, Bart Centre started his company Eternal Earth-bound Pets in 2009.
He offers rapture believers an insurance plan for those pets that won’t join them in heaven: 10-year pet care contracts, with Centre and his network of fellow non-believers taking responsibility for the animals after the Rapture.
The fee – payable in advance, of course – was originally $110, but has risen to $135 since Camping’s prediction. He has 258 clients.
But for some people the rapture is no laughing matter. In Harrison, New Jersey, reformed raver John Ramsey, 25, has given up his job to spread the word with his wife, Marcia Paladines.
Marcia, featured in the video below, is pregnant. Her due date is May 27.
‘God is in control. I have prayed for mercy on my baby,’ a crying Paladines told The Huffington Post.
‘But I don’t know what’s going to happen. If I’m here May 21, then I will suffer the consequences of the wrath of God. I know like anybody else I’ll deserve it because none of us are perfect.’