What Happens When the World DOESN’T End on May 21, 2011?

Tom Bartlett, writing at “Religion Dispatches,” tells the story of people who believed that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011. What are they doing now?  What happens when prophecy fails?  Can we learn anything from the Millerites?

Bartlett writes:

But I wanted to know what happens next. If you’re absolutely sure the world is going to end on a specific day, and it doesn’t, what do you do? How do you explain it to yourself? What happens to your faith in God? Can you just scrape the bumper stickers off your car, throw away the t-shirts, and move on?

As Bartlett informs us, even engineers working for Fortune 500 companies believed the predictions about the end of the world made by Christian radio host Harold Camping were accurate.

May 21 believers couldn’t afford to doubt either. Whenever I met one, I would ask: Is there any chance you might be wrong? Could someone have miscalculated, misunderstood a verse, botched a symbol? Just maybe?

I asked this question of a believer in his mid-twenties. He started listening to Harold Camping’s radio show in college and immediately went out, bought a Bible, and immersed himself in it. 

After graduation, he took a job as an engineer at a Fortune 500 company, a job he loved and a job he quit because he thought the world was ending. He wrote the following in his resignation letter: “With less than three months to the day of Christ’s return, I desire to spend more time studying the Bible and sounding the trumpet warning of this imminent judgment.”

He would not entertain the possibility, even hypothetically, that the date could be off. “This isn’t a prediction because a prediction has a potential for failure,” he told me.

“Even if it’s 99.9 percent, that extra .1 percent makes it not certain. It’s like the weather. If it’s 60 percent, it may or may not rain. But in this case we’re saying 100 percent it will come. God with a consuming fire is coming to bring judgment and destroy the world.”

In the end, Bartlett found that few of Camping’s followers abandoned their Christian faith.  Many were embarrassed. Others conveniently “edited the past in order to avoid acknowledging that they had been mistaken.”  Most of them just returned to their normal lives.

Read the entire article here.