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Friday, May 20, 2011

Will Saturday be the end of the world? Evangelicals party like there's no tomorrow

By David Gardner

-Saturday is last day on earth, claims evangelical Christian
-Harold Camping, 89, wrongly predicted 'the rapture' date once before in 1994
-God's chosen few ascend to heaven, sinners left behind to face earthquakes
-Atheists hold parties to celebrate 'inevitable embarrassment'
-Christian author calls Camping's prediction 'flat-out wrong'

The source: Harold Camping, 89, from Oakland, California, is certain that Saturday is Judgment Day

The world will end at 6pm tomorrow according to the followers of an evangelical Christian minister, who claims he calculated the date and time of 'The Rapture' by adding up numbers in the Bible.

Harold Camping, 89, is the leader of Family Radio, an independent ministry which spreads its word via a network on 66 radio stations and online broadcasts.

Camping has previously written a book called '1994?', in which he wrongly predicted the end of the world in that year, and was later forced to apologise for a mathematical error.

Watch the videos below...

The End: Christian followers of Camping have taken to the streets to spread God's word about the impending end of days

The Rapture is supposedly the time when God's chosen people ascend to heaven and the rest are left behind to face apocalyptic scenes of earthquakes and fire.

A period of 'trial' on earth for non-believers is forecast to follow and could last six months, but by October 21 all those who have not been saved will be dead, goes the prophecy.

The concept of Judgment Day is a long-standing one, but the idea of the Rapture is more modern, having first appeared in Christian teaching in the 19th century.

However, this predicted date is entirely the work of Camping and his followers, who have spent decades studying the bible for coded messages.

So certain is he of his revised date, following on from his 1994 embarrassment, that he and his followers have spent millions of dollars on billboards across America that have been warning for weeks: 'Judgment Day is coming May 21st, 2011 – The Bible guarantees it!'

Most Christians barely pay the 'prophecy' a second thought but Camping, from Oakland, California, stands by his latest Doomsday warning.

'We know without any shadow of a doubt it is going to happen,' said Camping.

'There’s going to be a huge earthquake that’s going to make the big earthquake in Japan seem like a Sunday School picnic.'

Camping, a civil engineer who once ran his own construction business, plans to spend the day with his wife in Alameda, in northern California, and watch doomsday unfold on television.

'I'll probably try to be very near a TV or a radio or something,' he said.

'I'll be interested in what's happening on the other side of the world as this begins.'

His prediction has been dismissed as 'flat-out wrong' by one leading Christian author, who has accused Camping of abusing the current climate of fear rendered by natural disasters to make money.

'Nobody knows the exact day when these things are going to happen,' Steve Wohlberg, who has written more than two dozen books about the End of Days, told the New York Daily News.

Abroad church: Filipino-American Joel Abalos, 48, spreads the word of Family Radio on the streets of Manila

Save the date: Camping and his various radio stations have spent millions of dollars on advertising the apocalypse on billboards such as this one in Los Angeles

'They're looking at all of these disasters and everything that's going on in the planet, and this is creating a climate of deep interest in Biblical prophecy.

'In my mind, Harold Camping has quite an account to render with God when judgment day comes.'

However, just in case the prediction is right, some Americans are making the most of their time left with 'Rapture Parties' across the country, some serious, some not.

In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the American Humanist Association is organizing a two-day anti-Rapture extravaganza.

There will be a party on Saturday and a concert on Sunday - with the tongue in cheek proviso that Sunday's fun could be cancelled due to a natural catastrophe of some sort.

Workings: Camping is basing his prediction on decades of studying the Bible and his belief that the Noah's Ark flood happened in the year 4990 BC

Not keeping it under his hat: This New Yorker hands out leaflets warning of the coming apocalypse while, right, Julie Baker advertises her beliefs on a T-shirt in the same city

Camping's prediction has been publicised in almost every country, said Chris McCann, who works with one of the groups spreading the message, eBible Fellowship.

McCann plans to spend Saturday with his family, reading the Bible and praying. His fellowship met for the last time on Monday.

'We had a final lunch and everyone said goodbye,' he said.

'We don't actually know who's saved and who isn't, but we won't gather as a fellowship again.'

The publicity has had some effect outside North America. In Vietnam, a crowd of around 5,000 members of the Hmong ethnic minority gathered near the border with Laos to await the biblical event, but they were soon dispersed by the government.

However, the Rapture - the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on earth that precedes the end of time - is a divisive belief even among Christians.

Most don't believe in it, and some are actively against it because they feel it makes them look foolish.

'People like this man are over-literalising certain passages that are not meant to be taken in such a strictly literal sense and they're trying to build strict chronologies by piecing together different Bible verses that were never intended to be interpreted in such a fashion,' said Dr. Don Howell, professor of New Testament at Columbia International University.

In an attempt to talk to Camping on his own literal terms, Dr Howell also points to Matthew 24, which says no one but the Father knows when the end will come, not even Jesus or the angels.

The Rapture is often mocked by non-believers in popular culture - the comic strip 'Doonesbury' has tackled the subject - while a Facebook page called 'Post Rapture Looting' has won huge support.

More than 175,000 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as: 'When everyone is gone and God’s not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansions we’re going to squat in.'

Underground movement: A commuter on the New York subway stop at Times Square reads an advertisement for the apocalypse by Family Radio

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