By Hannah Spadafora
Saturday, May 21st was set to be judgment day, the beginning of the end of the world. Harold Camping said so, and many people, upon hearing his prophecy through his unique Christian program on FamilyRadio.com, felt it deeply rang of truth. This left believers with many decisions to make on how to prepare for the end—or, more precisely, how to stop preparing for a future in a world which was nearly finished.
It was posted on billboards, bellowing from bullhorns of trailer preachers, and eventually covered extensively, as a strange thing, on the news. And, according to followers, to have kept on living as if the world wasn’t about to be cast into judgment or rocked to its end would have been to show distrust in God’s plan. So, as the question of what one would do before they die merged with the question of what one would do to avoid hellish torture, some believers just stopped.
Robert and Abby Carson knew it was the right thing three years ago. They heard the message and quite devotedly dropped their jobs to become missionaries, forewarning others around the globe about how close Judgment day and the subsequent end of the world were. The expenses of doing so were undoubtedly made lighter with use of the money they had been putting away for college attendance for their three children—at least one of whom, their daughter Abby, sincerely felt would neither make it to college nor to Heaven. In online ‘Rapture forums’ others expressed similar doubts on whether they should continue with goals like college or future careers, some admitting to having taken similar withdrawal efforts from what was their previous life plans.
Closer to judgment day, many others elevated their efforts to either ‘trust in God’s plan’ or to avoid God’s wrath of judgment. Under the idea that one cannot take their fortunes with them when they die—and perhaps also that gaining the riches of Heaven means leaving behind the gold of earth—life savings no longer needed by some believers were either sent to the ‘prophet’ of sorts, Harold Camping, or spent in the pursuit of spreading his news of the world’s end across the globe, one RV road trip at a time.
And, across the globe it did spread, with a few different key reactions. Followers such as Brian Haubert and Kevin Brown said God commanded them to go forward and preach the gospel of the end of the world; thus they found themselves passing out flyers and trying to provide the judgment day truth to the people of New Jersey. Andrea and Joel Martinez, a couple from New York, felt that the knowledge of the world’s end freed them to enjoy their last days with their two young infants. Of the other type of reaction, Nastya Zachinova, hearing it in Russia, feared being left behind to endure the agony of 161 days of hell which was to be wrought upon earth post judgment day. In California, mother Lyn Benedetto had a similar reaction, frightened both she and her children were not righteous enough to escape.
When May 21st arrived, Kevin Brown, Brian Haubert, Andrea and Joel Martinez, as well as many other faithful followers of Camping’s preaching, had done what they felt was their holy duty and were prepared for their rapture. Nastya Zachinova felt sure she would escape the hell-on-earth punishment the wicked were to see. Lyn Benedetto attempted escape for both her and her children as well. And, by the end of the day, the occasional empty pair of smoking shoes or collapsed set of clothes could be seen on various pavements of the world.
Of course, the clothes collapsed were from pranksters. At the 6pm mark, no people ascended, nor earthquakes rebounded. The faithful followers, even those with young infants like Andrea and Joel, had spent every last penny of their savings, left broke and perplexed. While many outsiders mocked the failed prediction for the end of the world, some very real consequences emerged for a few believers who acted in devoted belief of the prediction. Lyn Benedetto, for instance, had cut both her children and her own throats out of fear; and though they thankfully survived (undoubtedly living with some trauma) into the new not-hell-on-earth day of May 22nd, believers such as Nastya Zachinova, who sadly hung herself in fear of the tribulations, were not so lucky.
Before the failed doomsday, Camping had said many times he was doing God’s work, and that he was absolutely sure he has been given insight to God’s plan, which absolutely involved the rapture happening May 21st—the calculated date in the bible. There is no room for doubt for those who are unfortunately drawn to such unified purpose—doubt cannot creep through. Perhaps if someone we respect is convinced, one is more likely to see it as true.
A day or so after the perplexing non-event happening, Camping came back to the limelight, explaining to the world that, of course, he hadn’t been wrong at all. Judgment day did happen—but no one was good enough to be saved (his first answer), or later, it was a spiritual judgment day on May 21st. The real apocalypse, we are told, is still due to unfold on October 21, 2011. And Camping, rest assured, is not a half senile prideful man leading good people into a belief which will cause them to act irresponsibly or even damagingly in the name of the end already coming. He’s a true preacher, so, everyone, just relax.
The range of easy justification is not surprising. Movements such as this always rest on a heartbreaking notion that God will not abandon His followers; he will physically end the daily struggles of those who believe unquestioningly and multiply the torment of those who don‘t. The idea of the end of the world has appealed to those ready for Jesus to take their burdens off their shoulders. Camping has reinforced his followers with both comfort—in the permission to henceforth refrain from dealing with the hardships of earthly responsibility—and fear—in preaching the literally hellish consequences of not believing and spreading his predictions, which has led to spiritual, emotional and physical damage to the people who trusted him. But, never mind that Camping is literally taking away people’s futures and claiming it as God’s work.
Even when the world at large keeps turning on October 22nd (as it did on May 22nd, and every failed doomsday prediction before that), it will be as Camping has predicted for his followers. The world will end for his followers. The failure to see a future is the failure to have a future; since Camping is still predicting the end, there is sadly no way for him to not deliver on this.
“What did Satan do? He quoted the bible. That is the sword that Satan uses. And that is the sword by which he is able to destroy the churches because every church says [deep, ironically mocking voice], “We believe the Bible is the Word of God, it is infallible, it is inerrant. And therefore, Trust US.” They believe they have the sword of the Word of God but because they are not faithful to the Bible, they have modified that Word so it becomes not something that brings life, but is something that is guaranteed to bring death.” (Harold Camping, November 15th, 2009)
About the Author:
Hannah Spadafora has completed the requirements for a BA in Religious Studies with a minor of English at Georgia State University, and will have finished up with a second BA in Philosophy by her expected graduation date in Summer 2011. Her significant areas of interests include Religion and the Modern Day, Religion’s Role in Media, Pop Culture and Literature, and Theories and Methods of Religious Studies. She intends, over the next couple of years, to gain further publishing of both scholarly and literary works, and to enter into a Masters Program focused in the social sciences.