John Walker's Electronic House

A Few Thoughts On The End Of The World

by on May.21, 2011, under The Rest

I’ve been having a lot of fun this week, laughing at the ridiculous behaviour of Harold Camping and his followers as they so fervently predict a Judgement Day for the 21st May 2011. While such end-time predictions come up frequently, this is the first to have really caught the imagination of the internet, leading to all manner of spoof sites, news stories and Twitter attention. The profile of today’s rapture is a lot higher than any of the huge number of others that have been popped in the diary previously. There’s all sorts of excellent ideas around like this, this and this.

Come today – the day it all kicks off according to Mr Camping – I find myself feeling more sadness than anything else. Because for anyone who’s been fooled by this nonsense, tomorrow could be a really crappy day.

There’s no doubt that I feel a sense of glee about checking out Family Radio’s site tomorrow morning, and seeing how they wriggle out of it. But then I remember that there’s actually thousands – perhaps even many more – of people who have been tricked by this, and will have their faiths rocked, if not destroyed, when they don’t get their earthquake. Naive faiths, built up for them by the cruel or the stupid, that focus on the self-centred, narcissistic bastardisation of Christianity that preaches individualism and an eschatology of destruction and death. Whether you believe that the world won’t go tits up today because you believe there is no God in the first place, or because you believe what God said about no one knowing when such changes may occur, I’m going out on a limb and suggesting we can all agree that come tomorrow a lot of these people are going to be shattered.

Is it a good thing? It’s a good thing if there’s someone there to look after them, and the thickly stupid nature of their thinking is broken. They can have a chance to shed such unhelpful thoughts. But the chances are they’ll be left with the same people who conned them in the first place. So it’s a pretty sad thing.

Either way, tomorrow’s going to be interesting. Harold Camping, Family Radio, and eBible Fellowship, aren’t exactly hedging their bets. From their website’s FAQ:

What if May 21 ends and nothing occurs?

The Biblical evidence is too overwhelming and specific to be wrong. Christ’s people can look with great confidence to this date because God promises His “beloved” He will not come upon them as a thief in the night. God in His mercy has revealed the vital information needed to know the day. Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 will occur because the bible declares it. Anyone whom God has not saved will arrive at that day with no hope for salvation. God warns simply the “door will be shut.”

So that’s nice. A very reasonable question they must be asked a lot somehow manages to crowbar in a way of saying, “If you’re asking this, you’ve no hope.” What a phrase for a Christian to use.

“No hope.”

It’s hard to imagine a phrase that more horrendously misses the entire point. But there you go – there’s no doubt whatsoever.

This “overwhelming and specific” evidence is so hilariously nonsensical that it doesn’t even merit taking apart. It sort of takes itself apart as you attempt to follow it, which you can do here. Ah – so when God say “seven days” about something completely unrelated, what he meant was “seven thousand years”, which is today, if you date it forward from a date he made up about an impossible event that’s described in an allegorical poem. Infallible!

The same bonkers application of random verses from all over the Bible, plucked out of context and then glued together, is behind their conviction that despite Jesus unambiguously telling them the precise opposite, they have special permission to know the date for the end of the world. So don’t you go pointing that out to them either. In fact, brilliantly, they claim it was impossible for anyone to discern the doomsday date before 1988, because – er – he says so.

But of course look a little deeper in their “facts” page and you see the true character of these people emerging. What are their signs of the end of the world arriving?

“Jesus warned of several spiritual signs, such as the complete degradation of the Christian church, the devastating moral breakdown of society, the re-establishment of National Israel in 1948, the emergence of the ‘Gay Pride Movement’, and the complete disregard of the Bible in all of society today as direct evidence of His return.”

Ah, the agenda becomes so clear. It’s them Jews and them gays. If there’s any doubt that their doctrine is routed in anything other than hate, dispel it. It always bewilders me that people who make their living digging through the Bible for verses they can pluck out of context to condemn can miss the bit where Jesus was Jewish, and, er, didn’t hate people. But so it goes.

Of course, lovely Mr Camping took his followers through this all once before. In 1994 his maths infallibly proved to him that armageddon was fast approaching, with all the accompanying fuss. But, well, oops. However, he’s got that covered too!

“In 1992 Mr. Camping wrote a book entitled 1994? In that book Mr. Camping highlighted the abundant evidence pointing to 1994 as a probable year of Christ’s return. Given the abundance of information pointing 1994 and the urgency of time, the book 1994? was written. Mr. Camping felt as a teacher, he must share the Biblical information he had found and warn the world.”


“Important subsequent biblical information was not yet known, so this book was incomplete. Mr. Camping warned there may be something he overlooked therefore the question mark was prominently placed on the title.”

Oh! Oh well that’s fine then. Clearly the Bible wasn’t finished in 1994.

“Mr. Camping wrote on pages 494 and 495 of the book 1994? he believed 2011 was the most probable year of Christ’s second coming. Given the fact 2011 is the 7000 year anniversary of the flood, but he misunderstood Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 verse 22 “except those days should be shortened”.”

He wrote that in his book “1994?” did he? But this time it’s “infallible” so no need to worry about a repeat! Why?

“In the nineteen years since 1994? Was written the biblical evidence for 2011 has greatly solidified. Today there is no longer any question, May 21, 2011 is the day in which Jesus Christ will return.”

To be honest, I’m impressed. To exhibit not a glimmer of humility, to maintain such extraordinary arrogance in the face of having been so wildly wrong, can’t be easy. And to give Camping some credit, he did something few do – his second prediction in ’94 was very likely to be outside of his own lifetime. It does seem to be the habit of these soothsayers to somehow always predict the end of the world to happen in their own time on the planet. You rarely here someone screeching in the street that the four horsemen will come trotting in in 2134. That Camping has lived to see his 2011 prediction is pretty impressive, since he’s now 89. Of course, it might be a result of just pure stubbornness.

So, well, if the world starts falling to bits today, boy will I have egg on my face! Just, if we could avoid having any coincidental earthquakes today God, that would be mighty helpful. Thanks.

They’re wrong, by the way. There is hope.

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20 Comments for this entry

  • George

    From the ‘what if the world doesn’t end?’ section:
    “God promises His “beloved” He will not come upon them as a thief in the night.”

    Isn’t that the exact opposite of what the Bible actually says? Two minutes of lazily searching comes up with Matthew 24:43, 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, Revelation 3:3 and 16:15. Which translation of the Bible has Mr. Camping been reading? Because it sure doesn’t sound like mine.

  • Flameberge

    You know, I can’t even summon the effort to make a rubbish joke comparing this screw up in gravity to the Force Commander review.

    I also have an awful lot of sympathy all the thousands led astray by this nonsense. Yes, a few of that number will likely be incredibly stupid, but most, as you say, will just be people who have had their faith guided down avenues of hate by a comparatively small group of reprehensible individuals. It’s the same way I feel very sorry for those taken in by ‘faith healers’ and such. It just makes me sad to see such things perveted in such a way.

  • NM

    Um – “not a glimmer of hubris”? Surely this is the very definition of hubris!

  • John Walker

    Why do I KEEP making that same mistake? My brain refuses to update. Fixed now.

  • Simon

    I was checking Wikipedia for any interesting coincidences when I found this fascinating story. On this day, 64 years ago, the Demon Core kept by the scientists at Los Alamos struck again, claiming one immediate victim as well as bathing a room full of people in radiation.

    “…Allowing them to close completely would result in the instantaneous formation of a critical mass and a lethal power excursion, and the only thing preventing this was the blade of a standard flathead screwdriver manipulated by the scientist’s other hand. The test was known as “tickling the dragon’s tail” for its extreme risk…”

  • Derek K.

    Thanks for this – I hadn’t bothered to actually find the source yet. It’s awful.

    Especially given that his date for “The end of the Church Age” is never actually justified, it’s just stated.

    But consider that for every person that is lead astray, perhaps there will be another who saw this and said “You know what, I need to figure out what’s *really* going on” and started to think about it, and gain a real understanding of what they believed.

    Doubtful, but one must hope.

  • EthZee

    One interesting bit from that article, Simon:

    “The Demon core was put to use for the Able detonation test of the Crossroads series on July 1, 1946, demonstrating that the criticality experiments of Daghlian and Slotin increased the efficiency of the weapon.”

    Almost as if the lives it claimed gave it extra power.

  • Jambe

    I’m going out on a limb and suggesting we can all agree that come tomorrow a lot of these people are going to be shattered.

    Eh. A dozen egregiously ignorant schmucks will be sad for a few days. Meanwhile hundreds of people will be needlessly murdered the world round and they will never be mourned by as many people as will be mourning the delicate ‘spiritual’ emotions of a few nincompoops.

    *rubs eyes and sighs*

    I’m surprised you wrote this much about something so trivial. This would’ve done:

    “Some con artist convinced people that he knew the date of Armageddon. If you can’t take Jesus’ word about the day and hour, have a look at the track record of such prognostication. Or, if you’re feeling pessimistic, ask some knowledgeable astronomers the odds of a devastating impact.”

    Paying these goobers attention is counter-productive. It’s exactly what they want. More hits = more prospective converts and book sales.

  • John Walker

    Jambe – I really don’t need you to tell me what I’m allowed to write on my blog. That you don’t care about vulnerable people being deceived is not going to dictate the editorial direction of my own brain, and you probably don’t need to tell me what I’m allowed to do.

  • Nick Mailer

    Gosh, isn’t Jonathan sexy when he’s priggishly tetchy?

  • Fiyenyaa

    I’m pretty much with you John – maybe there are some funny cartoons and ideas about the concept of this being believed by people, but the reality of it really doesn’t live up to the theoretical humour. The fact that people could be taken in by this doesn’t seem at all risible to me.

    Something I do think you have perhaps misinterpreted (although I could well be wrong) is the part about the establishment of Israel: I don’t think it’s a comment about how bad “the Jews” are to do such a thing, but an example of fulfilled prophecy. Hardcore fundamentalists tend to be fairly self-interestedly pro-Israel as a rule, as they see it’s establishment and dominance as some of the conditions required for the end times.

  • Blissett

    Like John I did feel a real concern for those taken in by this nonsense and the affect that subsequent events will have had on their emotional well being.

    However, to me, Mr Camping’s particular brand of Christianity doesn’t seem to me to be any less plausible than any other kind. Sure as John has done you can pull apart the route that has led him there. But the place he’s ended up is surely much more recognisable to most Christians than my own particular atheistic world view? That’s what makes me rather uncomfortable about the number of fellow Christians willing to poke fun at Harold Camping for being so “obviously” crazy.

    Thankfully I suspect mainstream faith leaders won’t be making the same rookie mistake of predicting the short term future in detail any time soon. Otherwise, perhaps I’d have to widen my concern to encompass rather a lot more people.

  • Jambe

    John, you can obviously write whatever you want here! I was just pointing out that you gave Camping exactly what he wants.

    Manipulative, greedy pastors exist, and that’s a real problem, but it’s not the root issue. The issue is that many people lack the means (and often the interest) to leave their ignorance and credulity behind.

    I agree that this nonsense should be combated, but con artists will always exist. The best way to fight them is to marginalize their messages and to contribute to society’s skepticism, as bad ideas are less tenable in intellectually rigorous societies.

    I disagree that this is a serious issue, hence my suggestion that you expend less effort combating it specifically. I think you grossly misjudge how pivotal Camping’s predictions are to his followers’ well-being. They have some embarrassing ads up now, but otherwise, meh.

    I think you overreacted to us both.

  • Walrus

    It was just a short-lived fad, anyway. The real end times are in December 2012, just like the Mayans predicted!

  • Vagabond

    Blissett, I’m not sure I’d categorise it as “rookie”, since he was already wrong about the world ending in ’94, and since Family Radio is worth $122 million, i’m not even sure you should classify it as a mistake.

  • Kieron Gillen

    I just like the idea that Rapture happened and everyone’s been left behind.


  • Adam

    I’d been rather looking forward to it myself! I’ve always thought it would be quite exciting to live in a post-apocalyptic world. Though I’m not sure how I would cope without the internet, I break out in a cold sweat when we get a power-cut.

    The thing that amazes me more than anything about all this is that here we are in the 21st century, and the world is still bursting to the brim with gullible bloody morons. It makes me despair.

    I can’t help but think that this is all a huge publicity stunt though, the certainty and arrogance of it all otherwise defies belief. How many people had heard of that Camping nut-case this time last year? And how many have now?

  • Walrus

    This is horrible, and goes to show that this has seriously affected some people:

    About his followers who have spent their savings and quit their jobs because of the trust they put on their leader, Camping denied any responsibilities.

    “They should have relied on God and not me,” Camping said. “Family Radio is not in the business of financial advice.”

    “People cope,” the Family Radio president said, indicating that those who invested in the prediction should learn how to get on with their lives.

    Some of Camping’s followers, including Adrienne Martinez who is pregnant with her second child, has spent their entire money and savings and quit the jobs.

    This was Camping answer to them: “Family Radio is not in the business of financial advice. They should turn to God and pray.”

  • Jambe


    I pity those who sold their homes, spent their savings, and attempted suicide (though the veracity of the suicide stories is questionable atp). Blissett nicely summarized how I feel about this.

    It’s just that I think honoring Camping’s woo with analysis does you something of an injustice, John, given the caliber of what you’re critiquing. The implication is that Camping is leading otherwise good people astray, correct? Suppose you learned Camping genuinely believes in what he does as an article of his faith. Would that affect your position on his ministry? If he genuinely believes in it and can’t be argued out of it, should be forcibly segregated from society? Lobotomized?

    Furthermore, can the implication be drawn that God wouldn’t take into account Camping’s misdirection when any good-but-for-Camping individual’s judgement was due? Or is the suggestion that heaven and hell as discrete places don’t exist, and Camping’s reinforcement of this naive notion is therefore improper?

    There are so many inconsistencies in religion-on-religion disagreements that it boggles the mind; I think you can appreciate that. From the outside of faith looking in, this article honestly reads as having been spurred by guilt-by-association more than anything else. Perhaps that’s a bias speaking.

  • zipdrive

    KG: I laughed out loud, reading that.