“I made a decision to make the Bible my university.” (Harold Camping, President of the Family Radio Network)

“Each of us views the world through cognitive ‘goggles’ — lenses constructed
from the theories and hypotheses in our journey through life.” (Bob Potter)

John H Williams

(Investigator 139, 2011 July)

Saturday 21/5/2011 brought no rapturous joy to fundamentalists when the prophecy by ‘The Datesetter’, 89 year old retired civil engineer Harold Camping, of “the most important day by a billion times more than the world has ever known” went through to the keeper.

The stress of this non-event affected Camping’s health and he’s been hospitalized with a stroke, so his working life may be over.

At 6pm, rolling westwards with the Earth’s time zones, 207 million “faithful” (3% of the world’s population) were to be swept up, while the “faithless” would later be swept away. It’s not been explained why only 207 million would be “knockin’ on heaven’s door”, and why 6.6 billion, including children, were to be consigned to oblivion, pulverised by earthquakes and other calamities until October 21st. Camping kindly invented a neologism for it, annihilationism.

He was “flabbergasted” on 22/5. Then on 23/5 he offered the “Plan B” he’d insisted he didn’t have, in favour of October 21st, 2011, when the “physical rapture” is to occur, coincident with a vast rupture causing an Earthly and a universal Long Goodbye.

Apparently a “spiritual judgment” happened in a sky location on May 21st, an exculpatory device borrowed from the prophecies of American Baptist preacher, William Miller. Some 100,000 Millerites awaited The End, which was to have happened between May 21st 1843 and March 21st 1844. Then, when the new date of October 21st, 1844 passed, splits occurred, out of which three groups formed:
•    The Advent Christian Movement (Christ would come again in 1849),
•    What became Jehovah’s Witnesses, and
•    What became the Seventh Day Adventists.

The SDAs argued that Miller’s original date was correct but referred to Christ’s activities in heaven. (Source: Dr Bob Potter’s summary of his D.Phil. on fundamentalism in the Solidarity Journal, 1985)

Camping’s campaign was well financed from donations of around US $100 million, with many giving all they had since they believed it wouldn’t be needed. So, would his company return the money? “We’re not at the end, so why would we return it?” So good to see a compassionate Christian in action!

In 1992 Camping predicted ‘Finis’ for September 6th 1994 in a book, 1994?  He hedged his bets, citing September 15th (Jewish Day of Atonement), September 25th (Jewish Feast of Tabernacles), October 4th (Jesus’ birth date, according to Camping), December 25th, February 25th 1995 (Jewish feast of Purim), May 3rd  (“four watches”—see Mark 13:35), then full circle to September 6th 1994, the right date after all! This turned out to be just “the beginning of the Great Tribulation”, not Judgment Day! New dates were required, and eventually they became May 21st and October 21st 2011.  

All pious fantasy, given with a “biblical guarantee” as the “Word of God in its entirety”, and “absolutely trustworthy”:  for many literalists, hard to resist. However, Camping’s key to its correct interpretation depends on
(a) “the Bible as a whole” and
(b) “its spiritual meaning”.

To explain his success in conning a large number of people, it’s said that when he talks he is compellingly believable, while his biblical knowledge is second to none. A 2008 PEW survey showed that 41% of Americans believe that Jesus will return before 2050, so any prophecy will raise the expectations of millions, and prophesying doomsday will remain popular.

As the bases for his predictions, Camping analysed biblical, King James Version (KJV), data, plus his version of the ancient Hebrew calendar’s feast days, and used a crucifixion date of Friday April 1st AD33. Many biblical scholars believe that it happened in 29AD or 30AD, so the rapture, according to Camping’s numbers, should have already happened. His book Adam When? dated Creation to 11,013 BC and the Flood to 4,990 BC, based on a bizarre analysis of the Old Testament’s “begats”, leading to a “reference patriarch” idea in which “the next ruler could be a distant grand-son who was born in the same year as the patriarch’s death”.

Fundamentalists are notoriously impervious to common-sense notions about what’s real, like the practicalities of teleporting to a mythical sky residence, and they have profound ignorance of much not found in the KJV. For example, who’d look after their pets, since heaven is believed to have a No Pets policy? For US$135, Eternal Earthbound Pets of New Hampshire will re-home your gerbil, golden retriever or goldfish. The fee covers your pet for ten calamity-free years.

The problem with fundamentalist beliefs is that they’re based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, leading to an intolerant yearning for a good cathartic clean-up of people like me. Fundamentalists use lots of words which don’t represent anything that exists or existed, in my opinion. These nihilonyms are: heaven, hell, the devil, God, soul/spirit, sin, eternal life, creation, creator/designer, rapture, lake of fire, apocalypse, holy ghost, salvation, Armageddon, virgin birth, resurrection, Adam, Eve, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the oft-forecast doomsday.

If only those who were taken in about being taken up could have somehow developed a modicum of skepticism. Some will go through it all again on October 22nd.


Potter, Bob. Exploration of Fundamentalism, Investigator #40, January 1995.

Webley, Kayla  Apocalypse Weekend: Harold Camping Says the World Ends Saturday. He’s Said It Before. Time Magazine 20/5/2011