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Commentary: Harold and me

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) California radio evangelist Harold Camping’s false prophecies about the Rapture and the end of the world, first in 1994 and now again in May 2011, are a bit of deja vu.

Harold and I, you see, have a history.

As a college student in the Bay Area in the late 1960s, I read the Gospels for the first time and saw the distinction between Jesus and the Christian religion. I heard about an unorthodox Bible teacher on a local radio station, where you could watch the show through a street-side window on San Bruno Avenue in Berkeley.

I went a couple of times, peering in the window to find an older-looking guy, Bible open, rambling on in a sonorous but resonant voice. It was Harold Camping.


I liked that Camping was a layperson and was self-taught, because like most of my peers in the 1960s, I was wary of anything institutional, especially religion.

Even back then, Camping approached the Bible as an engineer, looking for the logic and connections of every verse to every other verse. In his mind, the Bible should and could make sense if you studied it long enough and carefully enough.

Camping was a civil engineer, and to him the Bible was like a building that was designed and constructed to fit together, not literature to be understood literarily. Add to that his fascination with dates and numbers and you get an engineer and mystical mathematician imposing his talents on a text written in words, not equations.

Pretty early on I realized that the Bible is not a horoscope to be interpreted by secret knowledge and magic decoders. After my early encounter with Camping, I forgot all about him until 1994, when he convinced thousands of people that the world would come to an end.


At the time, Camping agreed to come on my nationally syndicated radio show in Chicago. When his predictions of a 1994 doomsday failed to materialize, he came back, trying to explain his miscalculations. He was shameless and unapologetic, seemingly undisturbed by his failure. The next time, he said, he would get it right.

After a return to his biblical drawing board, he reemerged again in 2011 with his new calculations. The Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. To be even more precise, at 6 p.m. in each time zone, he promised.

When that date came and went, Camping announced that — despite total evidence to the contrary — his prediction actually was fulfilled! May 21 was a spiritual, not physical, manifestation of God’s judgment, he said.


“The whole world is under Judgment Day and it will continue right up until Oct. 21, 2011,” he said, “and by that time the whole world will be destroyed.”

Many of his listener’s lives had already been devastated by Camping’s arrogant folly — they sold their homes, left their jobs and drained their children’s college funds. But Camping is unconcerned, saying these people made their decisions without his advice or counsel.

Some people resist comparing Camping to other failed cultish leaders because he’s sincere enough and means no harm. But Camping’s arrogance, errors and lack of concern for those he deceived are dangerous.

“God’s ways are higher than our ways, and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts,” the prophet Isaiah reminds us. To think otherwise is arrogance. “Pride goes before the fall,” cautions Proverbs.


Camping represents the law of unintended consequences when it comes to the Bible: the Reformation’s proclamation of biblical authority, and the availability of the Bible to the masses were not bad things. But biblical authority is misunderstood when applied to our individual interpretations. The Bible is authoritative; our interpretations are not.

Camping doesn’t agree with that.

Camping thinks he can solve the riddle, and he convinced thousands of people to organize their lives around the end of the world. Not just once, but twice. This has happened throughout history when trusting folks have fallen prey to convincing but false prophets.

Here’s what the Bible does teach: Yes, the world will come to an end. But Jesus also said no one knows the day or hour. Not even Harold Camping.

(Dick Staub is author of the just-released About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive and the host of The Kindlings Muse ( His blog can be read at

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment George

    Humanity needs to know the truth! Rapture and Judgment Day are still relevant. The man known as The Comforter in The End Times (John 14:16 and 14:26) has responded to Harold Camping’s failed prediction in this recording:

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Theresa

    actually… Harold Camping should not be taking all the heat for this… as 5/21/2011 @6:PM is actually Biblical… as the day of “completion”… looks like God was a no-show…


  • Danny Haszard

    Harold Camping sounds like he plagiarized Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Jehovah Witnesses are a spin-off of the second Adventist which all came from the Millerite movement.American war of 1812 army captain William Miller is ground zero for Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Yes,the “great disappointment” of Oct 22 1844 has never died out… it lives on in the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    The central CORE doctrine of the Watchtower,yes the reason the Watchtower came into existence was to declare Jesus second coming in 1914.When the prophecy (derived from William Miller of 1842) failed they said that he came “invisibly”.
    Watchtower reckless predictions of the (1914) (1975)….. second coming of Christ hardens skeptics in their unbelief and provides new fodder for cynics to mock the Christian faith.

    Danny Haszard been there

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ammes

    Harold Camping’s scare caused the death of a 14 year old girl

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    “The Bible is authoritative; our interpretations are not.”

    In other words, the Bible is right when it turns out to be right but if it turns out to be wrong it’s your fault. And given how rarely it turns out to be right it’s depressing that people still turn to it.

    Camping may have caused the death of that girl but what about preachers who demand you not go to doctors? They have, in total, killed a lot more people. And what about clerics who demand you not use condoms? There’ve been a variety of deaths due to that.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    could set the stage for the level of unbelief that would actually facilitate the actual event.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    So you and I are both hoping for more unbelief.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    nnmns you consistently demonstrate your ignorance of Christians with your attempts to speak for us. If you didn’t open your mouth no one would know how anxious you are to promote your religion. As much as I dislike you any Christian would celebrate if even you came to know Christ. One thing for sure if your contempt and disbelief for God is true just die and don’t worry, but you sound like a worried man when you dog the trail of believers and demand that God appear for your comfort and assurances. You and I could never as long as you remain who you are, hope for the same thing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    It was whimsical cknuck. And there probably are just a few things we’d both wish for. And I’m worried about this and that, but not about that.

    I don’t demand “God” appear, I just repeatedly point out that if it were a powerful god that really wanted us to believe in it that would be the best way to go about it.

    The fact it’s not showing up leads to some possible conclusions, none consistent with what you believe.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    nnmns you can hardly open your mouth without putting foot in it, once again when you speak for others you kinda leave yourself out there. you hardly know what is consistent when it comes to my relationship with Christ when you unfortunately don’t believe at all (so you claim). Because it remains a mystery to you lol don’t put words in my mouth.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    cknuck, just so you know, if I don’t answer you it’s not because I can’t. It’s probably because whatever you said isn’t worth answering.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    I also know that if you can’t answer you will respond with the previous response.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    We had a kid in the Tampa area arm himself, ready to face whatever happens in a combative mode, all because he took seriously Camping’s fortunetelling (it is nothing close to actual prophesy). Now the kid is behind bars and facing some serious and dire consequences. So anyone think Camping will do anything at all to assist this kid? Will any of his followers? Or will the kid and his family simply face this alone. Camping is as substantive as a hollow plastic lawn decoration with all the credibility of a Magic 8-Ball.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    his type will never take responsibility for their actions people are simply pawns to him.

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