An Autumn Date for the Apocalypse

The New York Times/May 24, 2011

By Jesse McKinley

Oakland, California - Here we go again. A California religious radio impresario who predicted - wrongly - that the end of the world would begin on May 21 revised his prophesy on Monday, saying now that the end is due in October.

In a rambling, 90-minute speech, broadcast both online and on his stations, Harold Camping, whose Family Radio network paid millions of dollars to promote his prediction, said that he was stunned when the rapture did not happen on Saturday.

"I can tell you very candidly that when May 21 came and went it was a very difficult time for me, a very difficult time," said Mr. Camping, 89, a former civil engineer. "I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all of the promises God has made, all of the proofs, all of the signs and everything was fitting perfectly, so what in the world happened? I really was praying and praying and praying, oh Lord, what happened?"

What he decided, apparently, was that May 21 had been "an invisible judgment day," of the spiritual variety, rather than his original vision of earthquakes and other disasters leading to five months of hell on earth, culminating in a spectacular doomsday on Oct. 21 - something he had repeatedly guaranteed. On Monday, however, Mr. Camping seemed satisfied with his new interpretation, which apparently spared humankind its months of torture for a single day of destruction.

But his shifting soothsaying led to a barrage of questions from reporters, something Mr. Camping seemed to wave off with a wan smile and occasional flashes of emotion.

"The world has been warned," said Mr. Camping, who said this would be his last interview. He added that his company - which had bought billboard space nationwide to promote the May 21 date - would not promote his new prediction, Oct. 21.

"We don't have to talk about this anymore," he said.

Mr. Camping's campaign - his second prophetic failure, coming on the heels of another doomsday prediction in 1994 - had been widely derided by the mainstream Christian groups and openly mocked in the other quarters.

At the same time, it raised concerns that some believers might do themselves harm rather than face Mr. Camping's promised apocalypse, something he refused to take responsibility for on Monday. "I am not the authority," he said.

But Mr. Camping said his company - which is a nonprofit - would also not return donations given by his followers in advance of the May 21 prediction. "We're not at the end," he said, "Why would we return it?"

Mr. Camping also said he had no plans to fold his company in advance his new doomsday date. "If it's the end of the world, God will dissolve it," he said.

Pressed by reporters, Mr. Camping did offer a measured apology - "If people want me to apologize, I can apologize" - before adding that the missed prediction had somewhat humbled him. "I'm not a genius," he said. "I pray all the time for wisdom."

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