World To End—Again

October 18, 2011

It’s almost that time again. No, I don’t mean fall, or Halloween, nor (shudder) the holiday season.

No, it’s time for another doomsday. Many of you may remember Harold Camping, the leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, who concluded after careful study of the Bible that the world would end (or begin to end) on May 21, 2011. He wasn’t sure how long complete global devastation would take-these things are hard to estimate-but he was certain that by October nothing would be left of our pale blue dot.

According to an Associated Press story at the time, “To get the word out, they’re using billboards and bus stop benches, traveling caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn., to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message, and mission groups are traveling through Latin America and Africa to spread the news outside the U.S.”

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Earth’s demise were greatly exaggerated. When May 21 came and went, Camping and his followers scratched their heads and eventually admitted that there must have been a miscalculation somewhere. Camping did not admit defeat and instead moved the real date back a few months, concluding that maybe October was the month that Armageddon would begin, not the month that that it would end. (To be fair, Camping previously claimed that the world would end in 1994; that, also, did not occur.) According to an announcement on his Family Radio Network website, Camping says he’s got it right this time: the world will end this Friday, Oct. 21.

Most prophecies of Armageddon, like Camping’s, are rooted in Bible passages. In the 1830s and 1840s followers of a man named William Miller believed that the world would end in 1843 or 1844, based on his reading of the Bible. Miller had thousands of followers, many of whom abandoned their houses and personal property in preparation for their meeting with God. The Judgment Day came and went without noticeable global destruction, and some of Miller’s followers formed what would later become the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Author Hal Lindsey was one of the highest-profile Christian doomsday prophets in modern times, with 1970s best-sellers like The Late Great Planet Earth.

Authors Jim and Barbara Willis, in their book “Armageddon Now: The End of the World A to Z” (Visible Ink Press, 2005), note that End Times prophecy has been especially popular over the past few decades. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, authors of the wildly popular doomsday-themed Left Behind books (over 65 million copies in print), acknowledge in their book “Are We Living in the End Times?” (1999, Tyndale Press) that history is littered with failed Armageddon predictions. Yet, they insist, the fact that would-be prophets such as themselves have a spotless track record of complete failure should not discourage anyone: “That others before us were wrong about the nearness of the Lord’s return should not deter us from searching the Scriptures, now that some of the end-time prophecies are being unsealed.”
This is a familiar refrain heard from Camping and countless others: We know that everyone else got it wrong, but we have special knowledge (and we’re smarter than everyone else) so we’ll get it right. While they scour the Bible for evidence supporting their beliefs, perhaps Camping, LaHaye, and their ilk should re-read Proverbs 16:18 (“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall”).