The world will end today ... or it won'tBy Jeff Kunerth • The Orlando Sentinel
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Al Allen believed the world would end in 1994. It didn't. He was disappointed.
This time, he's more certain that Judgment Day will arrive at 6 p.m. today.
"There is so much more information in the Bible since 1994. This thing is a certainty. It's going to happen," said Allen, 68, a retired chemist. "The whole world is going to be scared out of its wits."
Allen, of Winter Haven, Fla., is a follower of radio preacher Harold Camping, who miscalculated Judgment Day in 1994 but has recalibrated the end of the world to a precise day and time. The end, he claims, will come exactly 7,000 years since the flood and Noah's Ark, the last time God decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.
Camping comes from a long line of seers, sages, preachers and prophets — all of whom time has proved wrong. What makes Camping different is the precision of his prognostications — an exact date and time — which provides a reassuring sense of certainty in uncertain times.
Doug Weaver, associate professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said: "It's not a new thing. What is interesting about this is he thinks he has the exact time. The attraction is his certainty, the lack of ambiguity."
Camping's precise prediction of the Rapture feeds the very human desire to know the unknown, said Mark Koltko-Rivera, a New York-based psychology consultant. The human brain is wired to find patterns even among random data in its natural instinct to understand the world, he said.
Yet some things are meant to be forever mysterious, including the biblical end of the Earth.
"The New Testament does say in black and white that no man and no angel in heaven — only God — knows when this is going to happen," said Koltko-Rivera, who taught psychology of religion at the University of Central Florida before moving to New York. "It's very, very clear, yet people want to believe there is a specific time they can find out about."
Camping's message of imminent doom is spreading through the Internet, but his proselytizing is decidedly old school: radio, billboards and pamphlets. The billboards advertise his radio program and his website at FamilyRadio.com. His followers have spread across the country in vans, handing out fliers that proclaim: "The end of the world is almost here! HOLY GOD will bring on Judgment Day on May 21, 2011."
"He's 89," Weaver said. "He's going to use tried-and-true methods, but it's a mixture of old and new media."
Though it might be easy to dismiss Camping's followers as naive, misguided or delusional, those who are living, planning and praying like there is no tomorrow after Saturday are risking a future they don't believe exists.
"We can laugh at it or dismiss it or believe it, but there is a danger to this," said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. "How many people have disposed of all their possessions, quit their jobs they can't afford to quit or sent in their money to spend on more billboards to spread the message? It should not be taken lightly."
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