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Apocalypse Later: How Mainstream Christians Agree with Family Radio More than They'd Like to Admit


Well, it didn’t happen. Again.

Harold Camping of Family Radio’s  prediction that Jesus would return today and usher in the End of Days can be tossed on to history’s pile of failed prophecies. There was no major earthquake. No zombies. No locust plague. While I’d like to believe that his cult will be so disillusioned that they’d turn on this man and walk away, that sadly isn’t how it normally works out.

End of the world cults, whether they’re based on Christianity or UFOs, tend to hold onto most of their followers after the promised day arrives without incident. In fact, the failure and the backpedaling that follows tends to only strengthen and reaffirm their faith. Whether they believe their piousness saved the world from destruction or that they’d simply forgotten to carry a two in their calculations, people nearly always find a way to avoid the painful reality of it all.

Some churches that still exist today, like the Seventh Day Adventists, came out of Second Never-Comings. The Seventh Day Adventists came out of the Great Disappointment, where preacher William Miller, the leader of the Millerite movement, proclaimed that Jesus would return and end the world in 1844.

(Spoiler alert: the world did not end.)

The Countdown to Backpedaling has been a part of our show for months. We’ve both laughed and raged at this man who has preached his followers into financial disaster by persuading them that today was the last page of human history.

And some of you have completely missed the point.

We never said that Camping represented all of Christianity or that Christianity would be universally discredited by the ravings of a single man. That would be ridiculous. Christianity has had spokesmen far more embarrassing and popular than Harold Camping and survived them.

We will say something for the dozens of people who’ve emailed or commented to tell us that while Camping’s prediction was a false one, that Jesus’ Armageddon Circus would eventually return, but at an unnamed date in the future. To these folks and the other believers who come to this site, I want to tell you something you probably won’t like:

The only thing separating Harold Camping from most American Christians is that he put a specific date on his Armageddonist beliefs.

Now I caution you to slow down and note that I said “most,” not “all.”

According to a Pew Research poll, 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will probably or definitely return within the next forty years. Now that’s more than four out of every ten Americans, not four out of every ten Christians.

That remaining 59% isn’t all Christian either. According to Pew, all other religions in the United States — that’s Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Scientologists combined — make up about 4.7% of the American population.  Atheists and agnostics and nonaffiliated types like us account for about 16% of Americans. So slice about 20% off that “No” majority and your blood might feel a wee bit chillier.

So if I’m interpreting this right, a clear majority of American Christians think the end is within spitting distance, albeit always twenty minutes in the future, like Max Headroom.

While I’d like to believe that these are a tiny fringe group of angry believers like the Westboro Baptist Church, Christian Armageddonists are political powerful, connected and often count influential political figures among their friends and allies.

John Hagee, a megachurch pastor, wrote a 2006 book entitled, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, where he claims that the eminent Second Coming will come when Russia and Islamic states invade Israel, and that the Antichrist will be the head of the European Union.

His programming is broadcasted on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations, and eight networks. His ministry’s annual revenue tops ten million dollars and he’s been courted by presidential candidates like 2008 Republican nominee John McCain and 2012 candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Another prominent end times prophet is Hal Lindsey, who famously predicted that the Jesus would return in 1988. Lindsay was not the fringe sideshow that Camping is currently viewed as. His book, the Late Great Planet Earth sold millions of copies and he even had the ear of then-president Ronald Reagan. Reagan, according to Time magazine, even included him as a consultant to the Pentagon on Middle East affairs.

Yeah. It scares me, too.

But look on the bright side:

We are going to party tonight and you’re all invited!

Please do stop by Dorky’s Arcade in Tacoma tonight for some great sandwiches, live music and retro arcade games! Let’s tick down those last few hours of May 21, 2011. The world is still spinning, folks! Let’s enjoy it before the world truly ends in 2012.


About the Author: Mike Gillis

Mike Gillis is co-creator, and co-host of Ask an Atheist. He hosts the Radio vs. the Martians! and Mike and Pól Save the Universe! podcasts. He also enjoys comic books, the Planet of the Apes, and the band Queen.

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“Sadwiches” is the most apropos typo ever for Countdown to Backpedaling.

Mike N.

Listened to the short podcast today with you being interviewed by Ken Schram. It was sad/funny how he didn’t realize that Catholics don’t get to be raptured.

“The only thing separating Harold Camping from most American Christians is that he put a specific date on his Armageddonist beliefs.” — made that point on Facebook myself. Take the specific time and date stamp away from Harold Camping and you have Mike Huckabee.

[…] to spend their life savings in the cause of his Iron Age fairy tales. We also pointed out how the only real difference between Camping’s credulous mob and the majority of American Christians is that Camping put a specific date on Jesus’ return. Hell, we actually garnered a fair deal […]

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