Doomsday countdown, day five: Harold Camping's third try

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If there's any lesson we can take from our look back this week at a number of apocalyptic prophesies (apophesies, as I like to call them) in advance of what Harold Camping is predicting to be the end of the world today, it's that they all have one key component in common: Not a single one of them has ever turned out to be correct. So you'd think people would be a little more discriminating when they bought into shit like that, but alas, discriminating is a thing many people are not; when Camping announced that the world would meet its end on May 21 of this year, thousands of people quit their jobs, handed over their cash and otherwise jumped on the bandwagon in preparation. And that's bad enough, but here's the kicker: Harold Camping had been wrong before.

But before we get into that, let's review: Starting around 2009, Camping crunched some biblical numbers and concluded that the Rapture -- in which Christians gets spontaneously spirited up to heaven and everyone else has the best party ever -- was going to take place on May 21 of 2011, with the world's total destruction coming to pass, well, today, on October 21. So he started the ball rolling; over the course of the next two years, Camping's California-based campaign spent over $100 million on getting the word out through billboards, literature and radio broadcasts -- to say nothing of all the free press -- and took in as much from his followers, who were eager to get the world repenting. What they didn't know, apparently, was that Camping's track record of guessing the date of the world's end was not exactly stellar.

See, Camping's got a system. Based on a few measurements from a few select passages, the addition of multiples of 13 to the date of Christ's estimated death and ascension on the Gregorian calen... actually, it turns out that his system is really boring. But suffice it to say that the first time he ran the numbers he came to the conclusion that the world would end on May 21, 1988. Problem was, by that point it was like 1990, and 1988 had already come and gone without incident. So Camping did what anyone would do when their pretend math problem turns out wrong: He ran some more numbers. And in 1992, he came to the conclusion that the world was almost certain to end on September 6, 1994. So certain was he that he even wrote a book about it: 1994?, which he followed up with Are You Ready? Much More Evidence that 1994 Could be the End of the World.

While he acknowledged the generally accepted biblical adage that "no one can know the day or the hour," Camping said he was nevertheless "surprised" when the world did not, in fact, end up ending. And so he went back to the drawing board. And this time around, he was "certain beyond a shadow of a doubt" that May 21, 2011 was going to be the day. When it didn't happen, he was "flabbergasted." But even though he was evidently wrong about the Rapture on May 21, he still told reporters in the days after that he would not be giving his followers' money back. "We've still got five months," he noted. "We're still in business."

Until today, anyway. Third time's the charm?

We'll see, but if it doesn't all end before 7 p.m. tonight, don't miss the premiere of Ivan Suvanjieff and Dawn Engle's Camping-inspired Jesus vs. Bono, shot May 21 during the last non-pocalypse, at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. If Bono could save us last time, just maybe he will again.

Related content: Doomsday countdown, day one Doomsday countdown, day two Doomsday countdown, day three Doomsday countdown, day four

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