Judgment Day Approaches... Again

by Charity Carney

This past weekend my husband and I took a much-needed respite before the onslaught of finals week to see a WILCO show (a rockin’ one I might add) in Denton, TX. We drove four hours through the Piney Woods of East Texas up into the DFW area for a little taste of civilization before spending the bulk of our summer cooped up in tiny Nacogdoches. As >we approached the metroplex, I saw evidence of the new apocalyptic fad that has thrown their millenarian lot and quite a few bucks in with Harold Camping, who has predicted that the Rapture will occur next Saturday (May 21). On the side of the road with about a dozen ads of Fergie selling Cherry Dr. Pepper (apparently it’s” smooth,” like her), the group has peppered in its own billboards declaring that the world will end this Saturday and urging passersby to prepare for Judgment Day. There is an excellent user friendly Salon article on the group and its beliefs (anti-orthodoxy/organized religion and End Times theology), which is especially good at describing the principle beliefs behind the Rapture and the way in which Camping has determined the date:

Camping and his affiliates present at least three explanations -- what he refers to as "infallible, absolute proofs" -- for May 21 being the day.

  • It's the anniversary of Noah's Flood: A great deal of effort has been made by biblical literalists over the years to identify the exact chronology of the events dictated in the Old Testament. Some scholars, including Camping, adhere to the theory that the Biblical Flood took place on May 21 in the year 4,990 B.C. Then, in Genesis, God told Noah seven days before the Flood to warn people of the impending cataclysm. And Camping posits that this figure, seven days, holds greater significance than meets the eye. According to the biblical passage 2 Peter 3:8, "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Therefore, argues Camping, Rapture should occur 7,000 years after the Flood. And the 7,000th anniversary of the biblical deluge, by his math, falls on May 21, 2011.
  • It's the anniversary of Creation ... sort of: Another piece of evidence -- explained by Family Radio affiliate eBibleFellowship -- suggests that the world began in 11,013 B.C., and its 13,000th anniversary came and went in 1988. During that year, apparently on May 21, the end of the "church age" came to pass. Then, a 23-year time of "tribulation" began, during which Satan claimed dominion over all the world's churches. (Camping also supports this notion. He claims that the number "23" -- far from just being a poorly received Jim Carrey film -- also represents "destruction" in biblical symbology.) The end of this particular period of cosmological strife is said to fall on May 21, 2011.
  • Divine Numerology: This elaborate line of reasoning first argues that Jesus Christ was killed on April 1 in the year 33 A.D. Using that date, the crucifixion would have occurred exactly 1,978 years and 51 days -- or 722,500 days -- before May 21, 2011. It turns out that 722,500 is also the product of an equation -- (5 x 10 x 17)^2 -- that includes three different numbers of significance, according to Camping. Five means "atonement." Ten indicates "completeness."And 17 signifies "heaven." Thus: Armageddon.

What happens if this Saturday passes with no major supernatural incident? Well, I guess they’ll just have to follow the Millerite example and do some recalculating…

But what’s really interesting about the group is that it taps into some of the themes recently discussed on this blog by writers like Kelly Baker, Paul Harvey, and Randall Stephens. That is, this group like many others has turned to commodification and mass marketing in order to advance their beliefs. While they are tapped into American religious traditions in many ways (disavowing denominationalism, promoting prophecies) they also demonstrate the continued modernization and progression of those traditions--plunging their message into the mainstream with expensive advertising campaigns and widely broadcast shows declaring their steadfast belief in the impending Judgment Day. While American religious groups have certainly evangelized through the air waves and have utilized the market before (Sister Aimee, Billy Sunday, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham….) we seem to have reached a new era in which proselytizing has become even more secularized/reliant on secular media to reach potential converts.

Fortunately for my husband, the hyper-analysis of the billboards only lasted for a couple of hours before I was distracted by pyrotechnics and awesome guitar riffs. And if the Rapture does come next Saturday, at least I can say that the two of us went out with a bang.


nath99 said…
Did anyone see the picture of the controversial billboard that was recently put up by another spiritual group near Family Radio’s headquarters? It directly challenges them about May 21. Here is a picture of it: