Harold Camping and the End of the World

I was sitting in the covered dining area, outside of a Sonic a few weeks ago, eating a burger. For those of you who may not be familiar with Sonic, their gimmick is that they are supposed to be a traditional 1950's drive-in burger and malt shop, with servers who deliver food to your car. It's not the best burger in the world, but hey, they serve banana-chocolate malt shakes, so I'm good.

My meal was interrupted when this old woman with a cane walked up to me. She must have been close to 70 years old, with white hair, wrinkled apple cheeks, a slow walk and a very big purse.

"Excuse me, can I talk to you about God?" she asked sweetly.

"No thanks," I answered, "I'm not interested."

"You're not interested in your salvation? This is important." She said something in this vein... I don't know the words she used exactly.

"Really. Thank you, but no thanks," I said firmly. I went back to what I was doing.

"Well," she said as she started to turn away from me, "You're really going to be sorry when the world ends in 3 years."

That stopped me. "Right. The world's going to end? When?"

She turned back and pulled out a pamphlet. "It's explained here. The rapture will happen on May 21, 2011."

I didn't take the pamphlet. I was just sort of taken off guard. Most religious people wouldn't dare to set a date. When they are wrong, (and they are ALWAYS wrong) it makes them look foolish and they lose followers.

"Oookaay... well I guess we will see what happens on the 22nd. I'll see you then." Yes, I was being glib. And she got ticked off!

"No you won't!" She wasn't so sweet now! That grandmotherly wrinkled-apple face turned very dark and scowl-y!

"Sure I will. We could meet here on the 22nd!"

"No you won't, because you'll be in Hell."

With that, the conversation was over, and she started walking away. I goggled at her a bit, then realized she still had the pamphlet! I HAD to have that pamphlet! Food forgotten, I jumped up and ran over to where she was proselytizing a car-hop.

"Excuse me," I said in my most polite, contrite voice. I pointed at the pamphlet in her hand, "could I please have one of those?" Wordlessly she handed it over.

Oooh boy. The pamphlet was a tri-fold type on standard 8.5 x 11 inch paper, with the words "Does God Love You?" in big block letters on top. The rest of the pamphlet was closely written, 10 point font, with very little whitespace. Its densely packed words contained one of those internally-consistent and biblically referenced fake dialogs between two hypothetical people that Christians constructing strawmen will so often use.

It seems to have been published by Family Radio, and if the text wasn't written by Harold Camping, then it was written in accordance with his teachings. You can read it for yourself online here.

This tract puts a firm date on the Rapture, which is supposed to happen May 21, 2011. The end of the world, when, "...this world will cease to exist..." happens on October 21, 2011. I guess we non-believers get 4 months to get right with God huh? Except, if you read further, you'll find out it doesn't quite work that way.

I listen to Family Radio almost every week. Harold Camping has a rich, senorous voice that would be fascinating to hear if it weren't taking us all to task for being in sin. His words will often falter as he hunts for the exact word he wants, but his train of thought is never disturbed by this.

One of the reasons why I love to listen to Brother Camping is because he teaches a heretical version of Christianity on the Family Radio network of radio stations. Family radio has programming in over 30 languages, and is heard world-wide. You've probably listened to Family Radio (or skipped over them) without realizing it.

This massive Christian public radio station was founded by Harold Camping, and it teaches Camping's beliefs mixed in with Christian hymnals and gospel music.

Besides the end of the world, Harold Camping believes that all Christian churches are currently ruled by Satan. The era of the Christian church, according to Camping, has come to an end. He calls this the "end of the church age", and firmly asserts that no one has been saved through the church during this period.

All of you Christians going to church every Sunday? Not only are you wasting your time, according to Camping, but you are endangering your soul by associating in a house ruled by Satan. You would be better off staying home, praying, and reading the bible. In fact, that is your only path to salvation these days.

Camping has a call-in radio show every day that is great to listen to. He gets all sorts of calls, from adoring fans to indignant preachers. He gets Atheists too. Every call in is treated well, with a sort of quiet dignity. The caller is allowed his or her say, and then Camping responds with either teaching, or gentle chiding. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible, and will quote chapter and verse from memory. He spends a lot of time interpreting what God meant when the bible says something obscure.

Something that I find very interesting is Camping's theology on salvation. He doesn't believe that there is anything a person can to to achieve salvation - including the more mainstream Christian belief of accepting Jesus as a 'personal savior'. This is spelled out in the "Does God Love You?" tract, where it's written:

Q. Now I am desperate. I do not want to be destroyed. What can I do to become saved?

A. There is nothing you can do to get yourself saved. The Bible tells us that only God can save you. God performs the mighty miracle of salvation by applying the Word of God (the Bible) to the hearts and lives of those He plans to save. The effect of this miracle of salvation on the saved person’s life is that now he has a love for God and the Bible. He now is happiest when he is obeying God’s Law book, the Bible. Thus if a person truly desires to become saved, he should spend much time carefully reading or listening to the Bible.

Q. Can I pray that God might be merciful and save me?

A. Absolutely YES! God is very merciful. Therefore, the Bible tells us that we can and should pray to Him, begging and pleading for mercy, for salvation, admitting that we are sinners who deserve the wrath of God. This will not get us saved, but we will have the assurance that God knows of our intense desire to become saved.
In other words, if you're not on God's list, you can just whistle. It doesn't matter how sincere you are, if God doesn't like the cut of your sail, he won't toss you the life-preserver.

It's no wonder that a large part of the call-ins to his show are indignant preachers. Camping soundly whups their tails, in a friendly voice while quoting wide areas of the bible as he delivers the whupping.

But Harold Camping has been wrong in the past. He once wrote a book where he said that the world would end in 1994. (Spoiler: it didn't) He's since justified his miscalculation in his publication "We are Almost There", where he says that 1994 is actually the beginning of the Tribulation.

Still, even with being wrong, even with a method of date setting that pulls information from all over the bible in ways that are probably not meaningful, in ways where Camping is probably seeing patterns that are not really there - even with his stance on the Church and it's preachers... Harold Camping still has devoted follwers here in Fresno.

Two weeks after the sweet-faced granny tried to give me a pamphlet, I was on my bike waiting for the light to change when an old gentleman came up to me on the corner and gave me an identical pamphlet. Perhaps he was her husband? I dunno. It was in a different part of town.

And finally, this makes me very sad. These people are going to have a major problem the day after the world doesn't end. When there is no rapture on May 21st, when the world doesn't end on October 21st of 2011, there will be a lot of very bewildered, unhappy people who will need our support.

It would be easy to laugh at them. But I think they would be better off getting kindness from us.

So when the world doesn't end... send me an email and we will talk. I'm looking forward to seeing you then.



R. Moore said...

Harold Camping believes that all Christian churches are currently ruled by Satan.

This is probably the best explanation for the "problem of evil" (theodicy) I have heard in a long time.

R. Moore said...

One more thought --

If someone truly believes that the world is going to end in some specific time frame, they can prove that to me thusly:

Create a contract that gives to me all of your worldly possessions on the date the world ends.

CrypticLife said...

"When there is no rapture on May 21st, when the world doesn't end on October 21st of 2011, there will be a lot of very bewildered, unhappy people who will need our support."

It's really a sad statement about people's religion when the failure of the world to end in a timely manner will be a cause for confusion and sorrow.

Incidentally, I've heard that apocalyptic cults are generally only very loud about their beliefs after their first date has come and gone, and that's when they actually gain the most followers. I'm not sure about after the second, and third, and fourth dates, however.

Calladus said...

That's actually happened to the Jehovah's Witnesses. On three different occasions they've announced the end of the world and lost 2/3 of their membership each time the end failed to happen.

They've learned their lesson, and no longer set dates.

Anonymous said...

The Mayan say, "December 21, 2012, Sir Issac Newton predicts sometime in 2060. Harold camping says, October 21, 2011 and most Christians say, "endtimes are near."

Physical properties of the sun are going through the sunspot cycle in 2011 or 2012. There appears to be a magnetic shift occuring on earth as of NOW! This shift has happened before and some say, "the earth could start rotating in the oposite direction. They don't know for sure. However, it is known that when a powerful source of energy is "shot" at an electic motor, it will reverse direction because polarity changes.

Maybe, Mr. Camping could be off, by "what ever amount" but most Christians believe, I think, the world is close to the end. Relatively speaking.

Calladus said...

The sun is always going though a sunspot cycle. That's why it's called a "cycle", because it keeps happening over and over.

Paleo-magnetism is the study of what the Earth's magnetic field was in the past. Scientists have shown that the field has shifted in the past. However there is no evidence that a magnetic shift has had any affect on our planet's spin.

And speaking as an electrical engineer familiar with control systems, yes, you can reverse a motor's travel with a correct application of electromagnetic force. That application of force has to come from somewhere - in a control system it comes from a power supply.

From where would a source of power come from to reverse the spin of the Earth?

AmberKatt said...

Wow, that's the most unique interpretation of the Rapture/Tribulation/Armageddon mythos I've run into yet. Usually it's one of three: Pre-Tribulation Rapture, Mid-Tribulation Rapture, or Post-Tribulation Rapture (pre-Trib is the most common these days, for obvious reasons -- no True Believers want to go through the Tribulation, even partially). But all three generally agree on a seven-year-long Tribulation period. And all of them that I know of (granted my knowledge is hardly exhaustive, and years out of date to boot), believe in personal salvation of the "ask God and Recieve Jesus: variety. This bunch is the first of the predestinationers that I've run across that combines that belief with a Rapture/Trib/End combo.

Truly fascinating. *g*

carboncow said...

Here's the party I don't understand...why is is important for them to inform me? We are basically all going to burn anyways.

I like his idea that all organized religion and church is bad...just the idea he is the only right person is what is concerning.

We have nuts in our area that have this posted on their house, cars and jackets. Why warn me? Who cares? Poor logic.

Unknown said...

"It would be easy to laugh at them. But I think they would be better off getting kindness from us."
How Christ-like of you! ; )

I was an atheist up until 6 years ago. Now I am a Christian. I enjoyed your blog, but I am hoping that you unfderstand that a majority of Chrisians certainly are not on board with Camping. What he claims is not scriptual. He is tweeking and pulling from the bible for his own agenda, just as those who pluck verses in an attempt to back themselves in order to judge, etc. I totally get why he's a hoot for you to listen to, I was there too. But now, it's just...sad. Be well!

Calladus said...


You used to be an atheist, but you are now a Christian. That's fascinating. What made you change your mind?

And do you think you were a good person when you were an atheist, or do you think you were a bad person?

but I am hoping that you understand that a majority of Chrisians certainly are not on board with Camping

Of course I understand. But then, the majority of Christians are not "on board" with each other, are they? One denomination's devout belief is another denomination's "incorrect teaching".

He is tweeking and pulling from the bible I know! I love listening to him on his call-in talk show, especially when a preacher or minister calls in to correct him. Camping starts quoting bible verses, the preacher starts spluttering, Camping thanks him kindly and hangs up.

What's funny about this? Because any time I make a well-researched statement about the bible, using interpretations from Christian scholars, there is always some religious person who tap-dances around that in an attempt to show me that I'm wrong and he or she is right. So I'm pretty sympathetic toward the Christian who is out-argued.

mamagrrr said...

well the rapture never happened..... so here we are... be sure to meet that lady at the drive in :)....... the end has been perdicted since the beginning of time on varouis dates people belive it comes and goes...... the only thing i could ever say about the end is.. it will be mans foolish ways that do it ... we will kill our planet with over use of resourses not caring about our mother earth... our sefishness.. our wars... will be our demise look around at the floods the hurricanes the forest fires..... we are slowley killing our home for the value of our doller.... that is the truth as i understand it all... recycle people and love our mother earth and our brothers and sisters on this planet

J.A. McRennary said...

No, don't you know, the rapture DID happen? It's just that nobody you know or see on a regular basis was good enough to be taken!
But seriously, to add to the "Christians are not on board with each other" comment, it should also be noted that the scriptures appear a mishmash of contradictions and odd, antiquated pronouncements.
So when we say "The Scriptures" we may be forced to disambiguate; whose scriptures?
I believe that much wisdom can be gleaned from The Bible. But I also believe the same of the Koran, the Vedas, the Torah, and the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
But I think it is all human wisdom, and not supernatural at all. There is little out there to convince me otherwise.