In a comfortable office, Bible placed firmly atop his lap, 89-year-old Harold Camping is preaching with utter certainty about the end of the world. "May 21, 2011, is the day of judgment," he says with conviction, in a YouTube video posted last year. "It is the day that ends all gospel salvation activity ... It is the most important day by a billion times than any other day the world has ever known." On that day, Camping estimates roughly 207 million people, or about 3% of the world's population, will be plucked from the earth. What will follow is five months of earthquakes and other calamities until the world officially ends on Oct. 21 of this year.
Like all who proselytize the end the world, Camping has spread his message using a small army of followers; in his case, they're supported by a substantial budget that by some estimates is more than $100 million. There have been stories in the media of families selling their homes, quitting their jobs and budgeting their finances such that by May 21 they will be left with nothing. After all, they won't need it, right?
Throughout history, movements like these have sprung up, especially in times of war or economic and political instability. "When you think your world is going to hell in a handbasket, it's comforting to say, 'The world is bad, but God will take me out of this,'" says Doug Weaver, an associate professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who teaches the history of Christianity.
So what does the Bible say about preparing for the end? Basically, be on your guard: "Ye know not on what day your Lord will come," as Matthew 24: 42 puts it. "The Bible teaches followers to wait expectantly," says Kathy Maxwell, assistant professor of biblical and theological studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. "We're not supposed to be quitting our jobs, selling our stuff and moving onto compounds to wait, we're supposed to be taking care of people and contributing to society."
As for Weaver, when asked what he expects to be doing on May 22, he said he plans to go to church in the morning and jump on a trampoline with his grandson in the afternoon. Later in the day he plans to watch the Yankees game, which if they continue playing poorly, he says, will be the only way he will suffer that day.