Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

May 21 is said to be the end of the world

Soon it will be spring again. The snow will melt, the dogwoods flower. Trumpets will blast, graves will open, and Earth will begin a five-month descent to its fiery end.

Harold Camping speaks while holding the Bible during his live television broadcast, Dec. 12, 2002, in San Leandro, Calif. (AP Photo)
Harold Camping speaks while holding the Bible during his live television broadcast, Dec. 12, 2002, in San Leandro, Calif. (AP Photo)Read more

Soon it will be spring again. The snow will melt, the dogwoods flower. Trumpets will blast, graves will open, and Earth will begin a five-month descent to its fiery end.

Radio evangelist Harold Camping can hardly wait.

May 21 is Judgment Day, when "this world will be a horror story beyond anything we can imagine," he asserts.

A fixture on Christian airwaves here and around the world, Camping, 89, is exhorting all who are listening to "make ready" for Jesus' triumphal return, whose precise date he says God has revealed to him with "fantastic proof" in the Bible.

End-of-timers generally have been fixated on the doomsday date of Dec. 21, 2012 - when the "Long Count" calendar of the ancient Maya ends and, presumably, the world with it.

There won't even be a 2012, according to Camping. His website displays the number with a red slash through it.

Just as the Wright brothers figured out flying, Camping has predicted Judgment Day where so many others have failed, said Chris McCann, 49, of Darby, a married father of four who retired from his job in the mailroom at a financial-services company.

McCann is so confident of Camping's prediction that he and 20 others, most from the Philadelphia region, spent 10 days in Ireland and Scotland this month distributing thousands of May 21 tracts.

"This will be the day," he said.

In a phone interview last week from his Oakland, Calif., office, Camping warned that those who do not accept his complex calculations, including even devout Christians, will face "sudden destruction" when Jesus returns.

Although many have lacked Camping's down-to-the-minute surety, predictions of time's end have been burbling up almost since time began, notes University of Wisconsin history professor Paul Boyer, a scholar of apocalypticism.

"Prophetic belief gives order and shape to human experience, and meaning and drama to history," he said last week. "We need beginnings. We need endings . . . Each generation somehow finds evidence that the end times are upon us."

He cited St. Paul; the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen; the English Pilgrims; the 19th-century founders of Jehovah's Witness and Seventh-day Adventism. Philadelphia's own the Rev. Donald Barnhouse, one of the first radio evangelists, warned for decades that the end was near, without getting specific.

Curiously, said Boyer, the explosion of scientific knowledge in the 20th century - including astrophysicists' confidence that Mother Earth has another 5 billion years - has done little to quell the market for apocalypticism, especially in the United States.

Author Hal Lindsey's 1970 thriller, The Late, Great Planet Earth, has sold more than 30 million copies, and it continues to do so despite its suggestion that the end would come in the 1980s.

The Rev. Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of novels depicting the Rapture, Armageddon, and the machinations of the Anti-Christ has sold 65 million copies since 1995 and been made into four movies.

Now comes Camping - again.

In the late 1980s, he began warning the end would come in September 1994. When Gabriel's trumpet failed to sound, he revised his dates for several years before dropping the subject.

Now the former civil engineer, who is not ordained, maintains that God has revealed to him the true meaning of many dates and symbolic numbers in the Bible.

Essentially, he argues that May 21, 2011, is "exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C., when the [great] flood began," and that these 7,000 years mirror the seven days God gave Noah to warn the world to get ready for destruction.

At the end of the new warning period "there will be a huge earthquake the likes of which has never been had in history," he said in the interview, "and the graves will be opened all over the world."

Jesus will gather up the saved in their glorified bodies - there will only be about 200 million - and the unsaved will be left to rot into manure. "The Bible uses some ugly language" to describe the end, he said.

Five months later, on Oct. 21, "the entire universe will be annihilated."

That Christ will return in glory to judge "the living and the dead" lies at the core of Christian belief, and most conservative Christians share Camping's conviction that the Bible paints an authentic picture of how the world-as-we-know-it will end.

But most also point out that Jesus told his disciples that even he did not know the "day nor the hour" that that will occur.

Quite a few are making a prediction of their own: The sage of Oakland will wake up embarrassed on May 22.

"We joke about it," said the Rev. J.A. Jones, longtime pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Camden, whose large church sits just blocks away from Camping's local radio station, WKDN-FM.

Many of his parishioners have heard Camping's warnings, Jones said, and asked him anxiously if the May 21 date is true.

"I tell them, 'No, but if you're so concerned, why don't you deed us your house and car?' and then they laugh. . . . Everyone who ever made those predictions got egg on their faces," Jones said.

At 106.9 on the FM dial, the 38,000-watt WKDN is one of 66 stations in Camping's Family Radio network, which includes many more small "translator" stations and broadcasts globally in 60 languages via shortwave. He said he had "no idea" how large the network's audience might be.

An employee at WKDN, who asked not be identified, said "not everyone here is on board" with Camping's May 21 date for Armageddon.

Not so Allison Warden of Raleigh, N.C. A Camping disciple, she has not only created a website,, but through solicitions and donations she and her four-person team have mounted billboards in 10 cities, including Nashville, Atlanta, and Detroit, where Camping's radio message is not heard. "Save the date!" the signs advise. "The return of Christ: May 21, 2011."

"It's amazing to think you're alive when Christ is coming back," Warden said last week. "It's sort of surreal, but very exciting. This is the fulfillment of everything people in the New Testament era have looked forward to."

The Rev. Derek Morris, editor the Seventh-day Adventist Church's clergy magazine, Ministry, said he understands the excitement of believers like Warden and McCann.

"It's a natural human desire, if we believe the Lord Jesus is going to return, to want to know when," he said.

But Adventism's 19th-century founder, New York farmer William Miller, "learned the hard way," said Morris, when he predicted the end would come between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. After the latter date passed without "the dear Lord" appearing, Miller made repeated revisions, but on his final attempt, Oct. 22, he conceded he had erred.

The day became known among his followers (and former followers) as "The Great Disappointment."

Camping does not intend to be disappointed. He has no plans for May 21 other than to "watch and wait," he said.

He scoffed when asked how he might feel if he wakes up on May 22.

"I would be disobeying God if I say there's a possibility of that," he said. "I mean it with all my heart. There's no possibility - none, none, none - that it will not happen."