Rapture Returns: 8 Questions About the New End of the World Event

The mega-event is rescheduled for Friday. David A. Graham answers eight questions—such as "What should I do?"

Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Photo

Hold on, we’re talking about the Rapture again? Didn’t we deal with this in May?

Yes, but they have a new album out since then. Just kidding! Yeah, it’s the same old show again. Back in May, longtime Christian Radio figure Harold Camping told the world that he had discovered that the world was coming to an end soon. Using various obtuse and generally illogical numerological formulae, he predicted that the Rapture would be on May 21—all the chosen people would be saved by God. The rest of them would be left behind for a period of tribulation that was going to end five months later—on October 21, 2011. That day would mark the actual end of the world. If you absolutely must jog your memory on all the details, you can check out handy FAQ from the spring.

But that didn’t happen, right?

Shockingly, no. That left the small but fervid legion of believers who had dropped everything feeling upset and sheepish. No one, apparently, was more shocked than Camping. He reportedly was “bewildered,” that neither he nor his followers nor anyone else (for that matter) had been taken. But he quickly revised his prediction and announced that the end of the world was now scheduled in one mega-event, slated for Friday.

How will this time be different?

Apparently we’re going to get both the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of the world simultaneously, rather than in two discrete events. Here’s what Camping’s Family Radio says this time: “What really happened this past May 21? What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what He wanted to happen. That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished on that day. For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment. To accomplish this goal God withheld from the true believers the way in which two phrases were to be understood. Had He not done so, the world would never have been shaken in fear as it was.” That’s not how we’d read it, but fine. The timing remains elusive, too: last time around, Camping offered only vague statements about whether the Rapture would take place at once or move around the globe, one time zone at a time. One expects that if the world is going to end, it will do so at once.

Why does anyone believe this?

We are a news organization, not mind readers. But it seems to us the last time ought to have depressed credulity. There’s a reason there’s less buzz this time.

Is Camping sure this time at least?

Nope. Apparently he’s been chastened somewhat by his last misfire—he now says the world will “probably” end on Friday. “We’ve learned that there’s a lot of things we didn’t have quite right,” he told his followers. The man has had a rough few months, though. Not only did his prediction fall flat in dramatic fashion, with the mocking eyes of the world watching, but he also suffered a stroke in June. We wish him a swift recovery, working under the assumption that the world will not end and he’ll have more time to recuperate after Friday. He says he still has a long way to go—an odd statement for a guy who doesn’t expect the world to last beyond the weekend.

Is there any evidence to suggest this time might be different?

Why, yes. But no, not really.

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What should I do?

Last time around, we recommended that you hedge your bets and find the safest place you could, assuming you wouldn’t be saved. That involved avoiding low-lying areas, buildings, and fault lines, or anywhere else that would be dangerous in the earthquake that was predicted. Our advice this time: don’t worry about it—for two reasons. First, if Camping is right, resistance is futile. Comfortingly, he says, “There will no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God.” You’ll either be saved or else the world will end, and there won’t be the five months of tribulation that originally were supposed to follow the Rapture, so you might as well kick back with the beverage of your choice and some good friends. Second, Camping is almost certainly not right, so you might as well kick back with the beverage of your choice and some good friends—T.G.I.F., after all!

So can I relax?

You haven’t been paying attention to the world economy recently, have you? It’s almost bad enough to make you wish the world really was ending. Now that’s really scary.