It's been five months since radio broadcaster and author Harold Camping warned the end was nigh. He now says the spiritual Rapture has already occurred. And on Friday, Oct. 21, Earth was supposed to experience its physical destruction.
Move along, said Rebecca Denova, visiting lecturer in religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. There's nothing to see here.
"This is not unusual," said Denova. "Every time things look bad, somebody comes along and proclaims the end is beginning."
Catastrophic events have led to end-time warnings for thousands of years. The world's end is described by belief systems other than Christianity, including Judaism and Islam.
In fact, Camping has predicted the world's end more than once. He previously set an apocalyptic date of May 21, then revised his view when doomsday did not arrive.
For many in 2011, the future appears grim. Climate change, economic and natural disasters, wars and environmental calamities are causing even non-religious people to imagine the world is wheezing toward its last gasps.
"Happy people don't write apocalypses," said Denova. "That's why this guy is doing this now. They never show up when things are going well. There's always this last-ditch answer to solve problems — let God handle it. The assumption is the world has become so wicked and evil, it will take an act of God to (sort it out)."
Could that explain why Camping's predictions caused such a stir in the media? Or why some folks were willing to donate their savings to fund his national ad campaign or his ministry?
It's an age-old phenomenon, agreed Pastor Mark Franklin of Hardingville Bible Church in Elk Township, N.J.
"I think as people's personal lives become complex and difficult, they come to a place of saying, 'When is the world going to end?' There's always been an apocalyptic interest in the minds of people," Franklin said. "Men for centuries have made mistakes and said, 'Hey, let's go up on the mountaintop and wait for Jesus.' That kind of fanaticism really needs to be quelled."
Perhaps, but Camping won't be the last doomsayer. Apocalypticism is part of our cultural heritage, said Lorenzo DiTommaso, religion professor at Concordia University in Montreal.
"Over the past few centuries, it has spread across the globe and even acquired a secular dimension," said DiTommaso, who studies global apocalypticism.
"It's a very persistent and pervasive way of understanding the universe and our place in it."
Indeed, a Public Religion Research Institute poll earlier this year found 44 percent of Americans say recent natural disasters are evidence of the biblical "end times."
But the Bible states no one knows the day or the hour, said Franklin.
"There will be an end, " said Franklin, "and when that happens, be ready."
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