It ain’t easy being a doomsday prophet

May 18, 2011

Forget crab fishermen, firefighters or garbage collectors. One of the hardest jobs in the world has got to be doomsday prophet. They spend their life waiting for it to end. And when they’re wrong, we all point and laugh.

Take 89-year-old Harold Camping. No, don’t take him camping, that’s his name.

A retired engineer from California who runs the religious broadcasting network Family Radio, Camping has carefully scrutinized the Bible for decades. Now, once again, he says he’s developed a mathematical system to interpret the dark prophecies hidden inside its passages. One night a few years ago, Camping inhaled a few too many paint fumes, crunched the numbers and was stunned at what he’d discovered: The world will end this Saturday, May 21.

You might want to change your weekend plans. Because he really means it this time. Not like that last time Camping made a bold prediction about so-called Judgment Day.

On Sept. 6, 1994, dozens of Camping’s believers gathered inside the Veterans Memorial Building in Alameda, California to await the return of their saviour—something Camping had promised for two years. Followers dressed their kids in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Awkwardly, the world did not end. The believers went home, and disappointedly kept on living. Then Camping realized what went wrong—he’d made an error in his math! Phew. Maybe he forgot to carry the one? At any rate, he spent the next decade working out new calculations, and overseeing a media company that produces content in some 40 languages.

This time, his followers genuinely believe he’s got his math right. They’ve put up billboards, driven around in doomsday RVs and handed out flyers. Some of them have even burned through all their savings, so convinced are they the world is going to end on Saturday.

But none of them seem to be asking these important questions: What are the qualifications required for a doomsday prophet? And how do you even get into that kind of work? I can’t imagine what the interview process would be. Can you come in for an interview next Wednesday? “Why bother—the world’s going to end.” By George, you’ve got the job!

Unlike meteorologists with their banks of fancy software equipment and long-range radars, doomsday prophets have to work with less tangible evidence to predict the future. Camping’s latest revelation, he claims, comes simply from a close reading of the Bible. Really, really close.

People have long peered into the Bible, especially the Book of Revelation, for hidden signs that the Apocalypse is coming. Blame some guy named Daniel the Prophet. Apparently, it all came to him in a dream.

And I know a thing or two about how reliable dreams are for predicting the future: My fiancée dreamt last week she was driving around in a van with Charlie Sheen, looking for a place to party. I’m no prophet, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in real life. At least I hope it won’t.

Still, you’ve got to feel for poor old Camping—if the world doesn’t end this Saturday, he goes back to being a laughingstock. If it does, we’re all dead. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation.

If the planet doesn’t collapse in a giant earthquake, as he predicts, does his radio station have any programming planned for Sunday? And how will the world simultaneously implode if it will all happen at 6 p.m., in every time zone?

It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin. Still, I’ve got a feeling I’ll be seeing you next week.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at, and past columns can be read at


Guelph Mercury, May 18, 2011

One Response to It ain’t easy being a doomsday prophet

  1. Mike on May 18, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Ha ha. Damn, I got a concert to go to on the 23rd. I wonder if they’ll give out refunds?
    If your wife does happen to meet up with Charlie, ask if you can tag along, i’m sure he’ll find an epic party you’ll be able to write a story on.

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