Tricky reality for preacher after world fails to end

 

It's fair to surmise that today did not go entirely according to plan for Mr Harold Camping. For starters, he woke up.

The rolling news channels he’d promised to spend the weekend watching, in between reading the Bible and praying with his wife, Shirley, will have then brought some distressing news: Planet Earth was still spinning stubbornly on its axis.

Camping, who had hoped to be “raptured” to heaven along with a couple of hundred thousand faithful souls, at exactly 6pm on yesterday, is now facing an awkward reality: for the second time in recent years, his attempt to call the apocalypse has ended in failure.

The 89-year-old radio preacher, whose brand of Biblical literalism has built a $120m empire which owns 160 radio stations in 49 countries, staked his credibility, along with tens of millions of dollars of his fortune, on the prediction that the world would end on May 21st.

Quite how he now feels at joining the likes of Nostradamus and Chicken Little among history’s great punchlines is unknown. The question of whether he will be apologising to the followers who quit their jobs and in some cases spent their life savings spreading his doomsday message is for now un-answered.

No-one came to the door of Camping’s family home, on a leafy street in Alameda, California, when The Independent called this morning. The blinds were drawn, and two old cars parked in the driveway. Neighbours said he’d last been seen leaving in a white SUV at 10am on Saturday. Rumour had it that he’d hot-footed it to either Hawaii, or his childhood home of Boulder, Colorado.

A trickle of listeners to stations owned by his broadcasting firm, Family Radio, came by to seek answers, or let off some steam. One of their number, who declined to give his name, threatened to assault this newspaper’s reporter for intruding on Mr Camping’s lawn.

Another listener, Chilin Tom, arrived bearing a gift of green tea from his native China. He has donated thousands of dollars to Mr Camping over the years and despite everything is keeping the faith.

“I’m not disappointed,” he said. “I thought the world would end this weekend. That hasn’t happened. But I still believe it is coming soon. Apart from the May 21st thing, everything else that Mr Camping told us is probably still true. It has to be, because it is taken directly from the Bible of which he’s a great scholar.”

Chris Andrus, a minister from the local Presbyterian Church, arrived bearing a sympathy card. “My heart goes out to him. He’s not doing this for fame, or riches. Look at his house and you can see that. I just think he has lost his way.” Mr Camping had also, wrongly, predicted that the world would end in 1994, he noted.

The sombre atmosphere prevailed after a surreal 24 hours in which both supporters and opponents of Mr Camping gathered in a variety of locations to celebrate the arrival of an apocalypse he claimed to have divined mathematic clues hidden in the Bible.

In New York’s Times Square, Robert Fitzpatrick, a Family Radio Listener who spent his life savings of $140,000 on billboards advertising the May 21st prophesy told the Associated Press that he was “surprised” to still be standing there at 6.01pm. “I can’t tell you how I feel right now,” he said.

Outside the offices of Family Radio, on an Oakland industrial estate, truck driver Keith Bauer, who had driven his family 3,000 miles from Maryland, was more philosophical. “I had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God,” he said.

In the background a crowd of 100 atheists and gay rights activists greeted the supposed moment of “rapture” by playing disco music and releasing helium-filled sex dolls into the air.

“I’m here to make the point that all religious organisations are mistaken,” said the organiser, Arthur Adams. “I believe in science, and that people should stop worrying about some made-up God and just get on with enjoying life.”

Some of Mr Camping’s congregation will find that easier than others. Several Family Radio listeners have given up their jobs and spent their savings to help spread his false prophesy via thousands of expensive billboards.

Meanwhile in California’s Antelope Valley, a 47-year-old mother of two, Lyn Benedetto was recently arrested for attempted murder-suicide after slitting the throat and wrists of her two daughters, because she was convinced that the world is ending.

They are unlikely to be the last victims of pre-apocalypse hysteria in coming months. A billboard near Oakland airport was today erected touting a Mayan prophesy, which suggests the world will in fact now end some time in 2012.

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