(This is a sequel to Titanic Denial. Be sure to read that blog entry first if you missed it.)
Very early in the morning on Friday, May 20, I was reading entries on a forum where supporters and detractors of Harold Camping’s prediction of Judgment Day May 21 had been exchanging opinions for a long time. The detractors seemed to be in the majority on the forum, but a few die-hard True Believers were still posting on there by May 20 also, spending what they believed to be their last hours on Earth among heathen scoffers.
At 3:30 AM, a detractor put up an extremely unusual post. It was his poignant vision of what the Last Hours of Harold Camping might be like before his predictions failed and came to haunt him. Here are a few excerpts. You can see the whole piece, still posted on the forum archives.
9 PM Pacific time on May 20th…
An old man sits in a chair watching CNN. He does not typically have much time for television, and the images are mostly foreign to him. His wife; a daughter; and a few close friends are at hand. The programming is banal. He flips through the channels, focusing on “Breaking News!” banners occasionally running underneath the current headlines. Maybe….maybe…no. Not that one. The breaking news he is looking for is way beyond Gaddafi’s conflict in Libya.
He has not slept well the past few days, and is tired. Through the day he’s had some fitful naps, interspersed with jolts of realization: This is the Day. The Day of Judgment. For nearly twenty years he has drummed into his followers that May 21, 2011 might be The Day, and for the last 5 years he has become convinced of it. In fact, his verdict is Absolute. It. Is. Going. To. Happen. The Bible Guarantees it.
… He watches intently as the news flickers by. Maybe…maybe…no. Not that. Is there news of an earthquake? What time is it?
He is strangely divorced from the lives of the people whose videos are up on the screen. Their personal stories are irrelevant. Their fate is up to God. He sees only one thing in his daily obsession: Judgment Day is coming. The Bible Guarantees it.
…The night progresses. Even the news channels begin recycling their stories and programs. No breaking news banners. Nothing.
He dozes fitfully. Apparently the actual timeline is Jerusalem, and not a rolling rapture. A tiny chink in the original construct, but unimportant , really.
8 AM Pacific time. It is 6 PM in Jerusalem, and 17 Iyar is nearly over. At last! But the news of the day is still ordinary. Wait…some breaking news. Maybe…maybe…: “The President said today….” No. No. Not that one. Not that story.
The man is exhausted. He is suddenly very frail. He is suddenly insecure. Surely the thousands of supporters out there cannot be also wrong. Surely their support of his message means they also found his conclusions infallible. Surely that means something.
Wait! Breaking News on the CNN monitor banner:
The End of the World is Here!
At last! …but… no. No; not that one. The story is about some people in a Van with a huge sign on the side proclaiming “Judgment Day is May 21. Guaranteed.” This is his van. These are his people. And the news media is filming them as they silently drive home, like soldiers returning from a war that never happened. The news media is trying to be polite but the bystanders are snickering. The man suddenly comes to the realization that when his prophecy failed, his lifework became a mockery. His entire empire has become…an advertisement for the Enemy to show the Bible is nonsense. Can it be? Can it be?
…And so the awful realization gradually takes hold. He has been wrong. Completely, utterly wrong. His is a false gospel. 50 years of Bible study, and it has ended today in failure. Unspoken, the truth seeps through the room. “A little soup, Harold?” asks his wife. He is suddenly very, very old.
…Yet the day goes on with not a sign the guarantee will be fulfilled. There is no earthquake. No news except ordinary stories and even a tiny snippet or two about “Judgment Day,” added for filler and human interest. His lifework. His empire. Now a humor piece for comic relief from the real news, mixed in with adverts about cholesterol pills and hygiene products.
Tomorrow…perhaps tomorrow? Perhaps the modern calendar is off a day. Can it be? But no; no. The thought of mounting a real defense is too overwhelming in his exhausted state.
And so his wife eventually persuades him to get to bed.
Thus ends Judgment Day. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
And the Great Disappointment begins.
Harold Camping had made his farewell address to his supporters on Family Radio Thursday evening, and had announced he was going to be in seclusion in a motel somewhere with his wife to wait for The End. Someone on the forum responded to the fictional version of events:
Excellent but sad. The way that he bid farewell last night, I don’t think that we will hear from him again no matter what happens. I think that he is resigned to live out the rest of his life in solitude. There isn’t any fight left in him. This time he lost control of the train. It started down a track that he chose but along the way his followers’ excitement and fervor built so much steam that it became a runaway train.
I do not participate on that forum. I’m only an observer, gathering information to help clarify what really does happen When Prophecy Fails. But I was tempted to post a response to the two gentlemen who were expressing early pity on how Harold would likely react to the failure of May 21 to usher in a Rolling Earthquake, a Rapture, and five months of physical Hell on Earth before the final destruction of the Heavens and Earth on October 21.
What I was tempted to write was … “Oh, Ye of Little Faith!”
Not faith in God. Faith in Human Nature.
I’m not a prophetess, but I could have prophesied with little fear of failure exactly what Harold Camping would do. And it most assuredly wouldn’t end up like the little pathetic scenario given above.
Doomsday … Not
When May 21 came and went all over the world, Harold Camping was indeed befuddled at first. Flabbergasted, as a matter of fact.
The man who said the world was going to end appeared at his front door in Alameda a day later, very much alive but not so well.
“It has been a really tough weekend,” said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old fundamentalist radio preacher who convinced hundreds of his followers that the rapture would occur on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Massive earthquakes would strike, he said. Believers would ascend to heaven and the rest would be left to wander a godforsaken planet until Oct. 21, when Camping promised a fiery end to the world.
But on Sunday, almost 18 hours after he thought he’d be in heaven, there was Camping, “flabbergasted” in Alameda, wearing tan slacks, a tucked-in polo shirt and a light jacket.
Birds chirped. A gentle breeze blew. Across the street, neighbors focused on their yard work and the latest neighborhood gossip.
“I’m looking for answers,” Camping said, adding that meant frequent prayer and consultations with friends.
“But now I have nothing else to say,” he said, closing the door to his home. “I’ll be back to work Monday and will say more then.”
On the main Internet forums where his supporters huddled to discuss the aftermath, there was indeed a lot of befuddlement. Participants seemed shell-shocked at first. But few seemed ready to abandon ship. At all. They were still SO convinced of the air-tight arguments Harold had presented for the May 21 date, that even the reality that the date failed miserably didn’t dissuade them from still hanging on to his chronology. Which is precisely what I had expected would happen.
The theory of cognitive dissonance as elaborated in When Prophecy Fails indicates that many people who have invested deeply in a prophetic scheme, with a specific date set for a catastrophe, will not react to the failure of the predicted event with disillusionment. They will merely seek for a way to … explain away this apparent failure. And history has shown that one of the most typical ways to do this among religious movements is to “spiritualize” the date. What this means is that “something” happened on the date, just not the “something” expected by the True Believers.
On Monday evening, May 23, Harold Camping showed back up at the Family Radio studios for a live broadcast of his call-in show, Open Forum, along with a short press conference at the end. If anyone was waiting for an “apology” from Harold Camping for his prophetic failure, for regrets expressed for people’s lives being torn up by foolish decisions and sacrifices they may have made to be part of his Rapture brigade, they were quickly disappointed.
Sure enough, Harold Camping didn’t “fall on his sword” over the failure of his prophecy. He just “fell back” on the tried and true gimmick of saying that he had merely misunderstood that God had never intended to do something “visible” on May 21. He did something “invisible.” He Closed The Door To Salvation. And how would anyone “prove” that He hadn’t done that? They couldn’t! It’s a “fail safe” declaration.
No apologies. No regrets. No sympathy for supporters. Nothing but excuses—and a revised explanation of the timeline.
Family Radio now has posted on its website the same explanation Harold gave to the press and his listening audience on May 23. What Happened on May 21. Below are excerpts.
What really happened this past May 21st ? What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what He wanted to happen. That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished on that day. For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment.
… No one who had not become saved by that date can ever become saved.
…The time line, the certainty of it, the proofs, and the signs are all precisely the same. No other past teachings have been changed or modified. Indeed, on May 21 Christ did come spiritually to put all of the unsaved throughout the world into judgment. But that universal judgment will not be physically seen until the last day of the five month judgment period, on October 21, 2011.
Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on October 21, 2011, on the last day of the present five months period. On that day the true believers (the elect) will be raptured.
Harold Camping is obviously completely comfortable with this “explanation.” It has, however, been of little comfort to those whose lives were torn apart by the May 21 debacle. Asked by the press on May 23 what advice he had for those who no longer had their jobs or homes or savings, he insisted that the economic problems in the nation had left many people with the same issues. So those who were victims of his prophetic scheme should use the same solutions. As he put it, “People cope.” They could move in with friends or family, look for new jobs, get public welfare. Did Family Radio have any obligation to help any of them? Of course not. No one including him had ever ordered anyone to make any sacrifices. It was all of their own free will. So they just needed to “rely on God” to help them through the rough times. Not Harold Camping.
And what about those left not just with physical problems, but emotional turmoil? Such as these two forum posters… who still, in spite of it all, couldn’t bring themselves to just admit that Harold Camping was a false prophet and his predictions nonsense?
(posted by B__ on Memorial Day)
I am troubled.
How has believing and following Jesus Christ turned from a walk of simplicity of faith into something seemingly full of convoluted intricacies. (I cringe to see this written)
If I am not part of the initiated I am in the dark and not following my LORD?
How did His easy yoke turned into something unbearable unless one has this knowledge that is hidden from most?
… I am missing my folks this memorial day.
I am embarrassed to tell you on the wee hours before May 21 I got the stool out and climbed up to the cupboard where the ashes of my parents are kept. I believed the dead in Christ would rise first, then me. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Mama and Mr. Dad. I fell asleep holding my bible in one arm and the can of ashes in the other arm. Like the rest- the wake up of that day was excruciatingly horrible.
(response by R__)
Thank you for this heart felt post B__. You expressed very well how I sometimes feel. These are strange times. I was just telling my wife today that we should live as if we could meet our Lord any day and if we be disqualified for not knowing the specific details of His return, then so be it. I love the bible, I love my Lord and sometimes think that the joy of the Lord shouldn’t be so wrought with anxiety and trouble.
If heaven is now restricted to those few privileged who have unlocked the mysteries of Christ’s return and now stand confident in their salvation, then sadly I am yet still in the back of the room, hidden in the shadows, beating upon my desperate breast.
In great fear, R __
And then there are the somewhat “weird” questions that some are left with, based on the “new” understanding of five more months to go before The End.
(posted by K__)
I have been considering this “no salvation” message that is currently making the rounds. Seems like many of us are still just pondering it right now.
If there were two believers recently married, what should they do about sexual intercourse and children that might come forth? If there is no salvation, does this mean they should refrain from intercourse or trying to make a family? Or should they try anyway, knowing their child is unlikely to become saved, and may not even reach newborn status.
Good question. Also, for the first time in the history of mankind, we get to look someone conceived after May 21 in the eye (if the Lord tarries past Oct 21) and say you are absolutely not saved and guaranteed to perish eternally. Beginning May 22, 2011, some get to play God, knowing with 100% certainty those who will not become saved.
Or perhaps “Blasphemous” might be a better word choice.
Stay tuned for more of the Rest of the Story, in: