It’s been a year since the date on which Harold Camping predicted the apocalypse would come, Jesus Christ would return, and true believers would be saved. What happened to these believers? Where are they now? Tom Bartlett has written an amazing article exploring this issue.
He began research for this article in the months leading up to last year’s non-apocalypse. At that time, he got to know a few dozen of Harold Camping’s approximately 1,000,000 followers. One was an engineer who left his job at a Fortune 500 company a few months before May 21st with a simple email:
With less than three months to the day of Christ’s return, I desire to spend more time studying the Bible and sounding the trumpet warning of this imminent judgment.
Another engineer quit his job and cashed in his retirement to spend over a half million dollars on full-page newspaper ads warning of the impending apocalypse. There was also the couple who quit their jobs, cashed in their savings, and drove around the country in a doomsday RV with their two children to preach about the end times.
In each interview, these individuals were absolutely sure that the world would end on May 21st. One follower said that this was a prophecy, not a prediction, because “predictions could be wrong”:
Even if it’s 99.9 percent, that extra .1 percent makes it not certain. It’s like the weather. If it’s 60 percent, it may or may not rain. But in this case we’re saying 100 percent it will come. God with a consuming fire is coming to bring judgment and destroy the world.
When (predictably) the world did not end, many believers rationalized it, saying that it wouldn’t happen until it was May 21st in all time zones. Then there was speculation that it would be a 3 days later. Then 40 days later. Then 5 months later. At last, it appeared that the end was in fact not coming.
At this point, Tom re-interviewed many of Harold Camping’s followers. Some had lost their faith. Some claimed that they had never been sure that it would happen, and were truly shocked at their own conviction when read transcripts from their first interviews. All were horrified at the damage they had done to their finances and personal relationships. One man apologized on Facebook to the friends he had tried to convert, saying, “You know what? I think I was part of a cult.”
It’s an interesting lesson on the dangers of faith and confirmation bias from the largest apocalyptic group in world history.