UPDATE: Actually, Harold Camping said in a 90-minute radio broadcast Monday, according to Slate.com, the May 21 date was an “invisible judgment day” and the real Rapture is occuring on October 21. So stay tuned.
As if in consolation, there were a couple of major earth-shaking events this weekend: On Saturday, a volcano erupted in Iceland, threatening the same travel chaos that attended last year’s volcanic eruption; a small, 3.6 earthquake gently rocked San Francisco that evening, while several Pacific Oceans islands recorded small earthquakes.
But somehow, delayed vacation plans and undersea tectonic blips don’t seem to be what believers in the May 21 Rapture prophecy had in mind. According to Harold Camping, an American 89-year-old retired civil engineer and the lead preacher of Family Radio Network, a Christian radio organisation, the Rapture, God’s Day of Judgment, the end of the world, was supposed to happen at around 6 p.m. on Saturday. At that time, the roughly 2 or 3 percent of the population who are true believers would be whisked away to Heaven, while those left behind would go to the Other Place, also known as Hell. As the sinners are ferried away to Hell, the earth will be wracked by massive earthquakes before being consumed by a giant fireball sometime in October.
Camping’s prophecy: Have you thought about what will happen to your pets if you’re Raptured?
Family Radio Network publicised the May 21 prophesy across the globe, using funds collected from believers to put up billboards, road signs, and take out ads on public transport as far away London and Israel. Thousands of people believed the ads and quietly – or not so quietly – made themselves ready for the end of the world; others, who didn’t believe (or perhaps didn’t believe enough) took to social networking sites to mock the prophecy or even to make an end of the world confession, just in case this really was it. Still others planned parties (sadly, one of those parties ended in tragedy when a teenager in Michigan drowned after making a celebratory jump off a bridge into a swift moving river).
And then: Nothing. The world woke up on Sunday morning to headlines reading some variation on “Apocalypse not now” or “We’re still here” and true believers to disappointment (like the guy who ordered a pizza at 5 p.m. on rush delivery, worried that he wouldn’t have enough time to eat it).
Camping, who previously predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1994, is reportedly “bewildered” and “mystified” that his prophecy didn’t come true; he told reporters on Sunday that he was “flabbergsted” and “looking for answers”. A board member at Family Radio Network told ABC News that Camping didn’t understand why the Rapture didn’t happen; that same board member told the news broadcaster that he thinks the board and the public deserve an apology from Camping. (Notably, some employees at Family Radio didn’t believe in the prophecy themselves and planned to be at work on Monday.) The Family Radio Network site, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten about the prophecy.
Camping says it’s a “big deal”:
- It didn’t happen – but the would-be apocalypse was a ‘cultural moment’. “The day ended with no discernible apocalyptic events, but the prediction produced an unusual cultural moment: a brief window where the odd and the humorous, the faithful and the commercial and the cosmic all blended into … well, something,” The Associated Press’s Ted Anthony opined. “Clearly something about the prediction from Family Radio International touched a nerve. And unsurprisingly so: In uncertain times — and these are most certainly those — it’s hard to avoid wondering just how bad things might get.”
- Don’t stop believin’. Camping was wrong this time and he was wrong the time before, just as countless other would-be prophets have been wrong. But that won’t stop people from believing in apocalypse predictions, said Maia Szalavitz at TIME’s Healthland blog, adding, “Indeed, the failure of the apocalypse to materialize will only strengthen believers’ convictions.” Blame it on the theory of cognitive dissonance, touted by psychologist Leon Festinger, who chronicled the psychological impact a failed prophecy, in this case, that a UFO would come and rescue them from the end of the world in 1954, had on believers. Cognitive dissonance means that “the more we have given and invested in a particular point of view, the less likely we will be to abandon it in the face of contrary evidence,” explained Szalavitz. “So, if we have demonstrated commitment to something or someone — the way the UFO cult members did — we become even more committed and will go so far as to change our ideas to remain consistent with that commitment and avoid any regret or sense of failure related to earlier choices.”
- Wait – the atheists are the bad guys here? Bruce Gorton, blogging at South Africa’s Times Live, complained that atheists are being made out to be the bad guys because they’re laughing at Camping’s “error”. “So lets think about this for a second: The rapture ready crowd actively wants the world to end. They want God to lift them up to heaven, and to torture 97 percent of the human race for all the rest of eternity,” wrote Gorton. “You know, the sort of goals and aims we associate with corny, badly written comic book villains, except most of them aren’t this bad. And atheists are the bad guys for being happy that this didn’t happen. Riiight.” Moreover, he added, the “good” that rapture crowd folks are doing, presumably in order to get the golden ticket to Heaven, isn’t all that good: “American Evangelists in Africa are why gays in Uganda are fighting for the right to simply keep on breathing. They are why Nigeria needs special homes for children accused of witchcraft. Their influence in South Africa includes preaching that prayer, not anti-retrovirals, can cure AIDS. A lot of the time what looks like charity works out to being just plain predatory.”
- Can anything good come out of this? Christian Post asked the same question of several American religious scholars, some of who determined that it’s at least gotten people thinking about the Second Coming of Christ. Others, however, felt that Camping’s prediction was a “tragic” twisting of the Scripture; Eric Theonnes, a professor of biblical studies and theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, told the Post, “Sadly, Christians should be the ones with the most settled confidence in the face of potential problems but we can be the biggest alarmists and conspiracy theorists.”
- Let’s be better. Already, it seems, some good has come of it. Carla Ledbetter, a blogger for The Washington Times, explained that the failed prophecy is making her want to be a better person: “Nobody knows when the rapture will occur; all we can do is try to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. There have been many false prophesies about the exact date and time of the rapture; more than likely, there will be many more. Living our lives in a way that is pleasing to God, and making sure that we ask for forgiveness for our sins is one way that we can be ready to stand before God and receive judgment for our actions. While I can’t speak for anyone else, I sure do not want to hear God say: ‘Well, kid, you could’ve done better.’”