*This could be one of the last things you read, ever. I know it’s a downer, but according to one Harold Camping, May 21, 2011, will be the end of the world.
You may have seen billboards advertising–I mean, announcing — this event. Camping, the 89 year-old head of Family Radio, the Oakland, California-based Christian broadcasting network, insists that according to his meticulous study of certain Biblical scriptures, in a few days life as we know it will be over.
I don’t have details of how he says it will happen–I didn’t read that far–but as Camping puts it, on May 21st the first country where it becomes 6:00 P.M. will be the first to experience an earthquake that makes the recent Japanese quake seem like a raucous house party given by your neighbors.
Chaos and death will ensue and, according to Camping, globally the masses will be glued to the TV news and the Internet until it becomes 6:00 PM in their respective regions and the same thing happens to them. I don’t know how the time zone thing figures in a case like this. On Camping’s time sheet, by the climax of the holy process, in October of 2011, earth will cease to exist.
He maintains those who believe in his prediction are busy saying good-bye to family and friends and emptying their bank accounts and spending their money like, well, like there’s no tomorrow.
I have my suspicions regarding Camping’s forecast, and not simply because the last time he predicted The End, in 1994, it didn’t happen. I am suspect because a hallmark of the story of the rapture is that no one knows when the end will come but God.
Depending on how you were raised, for much of your life you’ve lived with the notion that one day the world is going to end. I remember being nine or ten and quizzing Mary Minnis, the churchgoing, God-fearing mother of my best friend Don Minnis, for the date of the fateful day. “No one knows the hour,” was her delicate, plaintive response. To me, that sounded even more ominous than the idea of The End itself. For the rest of day I couldn’t really play without revisiting in my mind her somber, spooky words.
As I got older, I came to understand that not knowing when the world will end is what makes the idea tolerable. Most of us don’t think we’ll be around “then.” Indeed, the only good thing about the end of the world is that no human is supposed to knows when it’s going down. (Speaking strictly for myself, a heavy-duty sign that the end is near came weeks ago, when Major League Baseball began discussing the takeover of day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
So, for some wise guy to come along–as they have every few years for centuries–and put an actual date on the thing is just a real drag. But then, Camping sounds like the kind of guy who’d tell you the ending to a movie you just told him you were planning to see, or matter-of-factly inform a kid there is no Santa Claus. He doesn’t mean any harm. He just can’t help himself.
Thus, no matter how much Camping tells the press he’s sharing his dramatic news for the good of mankind, you get the distinct impression he wants to go down in history as the guy who successfully predicted to the world its sell-by date, even though, if he’s correct, there will be no more history in which to go down.
It would be just my luck for the world to end now. Right now, just when I’m getting the hang of living this life? Now, when I’m learning the importance of saying what I mean and meaning what I say? Now that I promised myself I’d take my car in this week for an oil change? Now that I absolutely love the idea of loving me? Just as summer is coming? Before knowing whether the Oklahoma Thunder can take it all?
Just when I wrap my head around the concept of living every day as if it were my last, someone is saying the last day is here. It’s not fair.
To be sure, should L.A. start quaking on the evening of May 21, one of my biggest regrets will be not having had the chance to grow old basking in the patience and wisdom I’d have acquired while living a long and adventurous existence, enriched by my willingness to embrace the answers to life’s big questions.
And when you’re older, society often gives you a pass. I’d like the opportunity to relish the privilege of people making excuses for my behavior as they did for Dionne Warwick during “Celebrity Apprentice.” No matter how cantankerous the singer became, the show’s other players could only sigh that you can’t tell a 70 year-old pop icon what to do.
However, respectfully, Harold Camping is an old man who needs to go somewhere and sit down. He’s making me nervous. The world can’t end just yet. Not before our truly concerted effort to make it a better place. And certainly not before the finale of this season’s “American Idol.”
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected].