The Rapture Is Not Saturday; It's Tonight

Doomsday prophet Harold Camping tells The Atlantic what to expect when the end of the world begins

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LOS ANGELES -- In his relentless study of the Bible, 89-year-old Oakland-based Harold Camping has seen the signs. You may have also seen them recently.

They read, "Judgment Day: May 21, 2011 -- Cry mightly onto God," followed by a bright yellow stamp that proclaims, "THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!"

The end is near ... very near, according to the billboards and Camping. Indeed, it's this weekend.

The end of the world will be at exactly 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, says Camping, who along with his organization, Family Radio, are behind those billboards across the country forecasting the Rapture this Saturday. The Rapture, the Last Days, Armageddon and the Final Days of Judgment are all interchangeable. It's when God will destroy the Earth to show his love for humanity.

Is that Eastern Standard or Pacific Standard Time?

Neither, says Camping, whom I interviewed recently for my online news show TYT Now. The Rapture is at 6 p.m. on May 21, 2011, where ever it's 6 p.m. first, with the "fantastically big" world-ending event taking place on a time zone by time zone basis.

That means we can expect the Rapture to start when it hits 6 p.m. at the International Dateline at 180 Longitude -- roughly the between Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Nuku'alofa, Tonga. We'll know it's Judgment Day because there will be an earthquake of previously unprecedented magnitude, Camping predicts.

So, according to these calculations, the Rapture will actually begin like a rolling brown out across the globe at 11 p.m. PST on Friday, May 20th. "Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they'll know in a few hours it'll come to their city," said Camping.

This also means that, if Camping is right, his signs littering California and in his current hometown of Oakland -- not to mention thousands of atheists throwing Rapture parties -- have the date wrong. It's Friday, Friday...gotta get down on Friday.

What are Camping's plans for Armageddon? "We're not planning anything at all," he told me. The secular world will have their cameras out there filming the destruction, he said, and "I'm sure our pre-occupation will be watching that come around.... It's going to be a horror story of tremendous proportion." And so, the nearly nonagenarian messenger of doom has decided his final day will be spent gleefully watching CNN's obligatory disaster porn.

After I had interviewed him, I stumbled upon Camping's listener supported radio station by accident. I was on "The 5" Freeway in the middle of the hours-long slaughterhouse-stench exactly halfway between LA and San Francisco. Family Radio is the strongest of all the signals in that area.

Camping's baritone bursts out of the speakers emphasizing his certitude. His End of Days prediction are all very obvious to him -- after all he's an end-all authority. Even though he'll tell you the bible is the authority, he's merely its humble teacher. He's spent several decades looking into it. "Time spent reading the Bible" is his main verification for everything he touts. He never wavers and even his caveats sound definitive.

Of course, Brother Camping, as his supporters call him -- a 1942 U.C. Berkeley grad originally from Boulder, Colo., with a civil engineer degree -- bucks traditional fundamentalist doctrine. It makes you lean in just a little closer to hear what he has to say. If you ask him, this belief that the world is 6,000 years old is just malarkey. To him, it's simply ridiculous if you look at the evidence. Which he, of course, has.

The Bible, he says, is his university. Take that Berkeley.

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This self-professed Christian man of science -- and current syndicated world wide call-in radio host -- has studied the Earth's age in depth. He took five years out of his life to just research it. He says he looked at tree rings and such and finally came upon the truth: Much to his surprise, 1988 was the 13,000 birthday of the world. Anyone who says any different is mistaken.

The thing to note about Camping is that, like all doomsday prophets who get a following, he's charming. There's something in his delivery which is very compelling to listen to, even if everything he says is purely fictional.

When I interviewed Camping he used the recent earthquake in Japan as an example of what the Rapture will be like. Judgment Day will make that, "look like a Sunday school picnic" he explained. By the time I caught him on the radio a month later, the Japanese earthquake had become proof of the end. It had been transformed into a sign.

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Tina Dupuy is a syndicated op-ed columnist at Cagle Cartoons.

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