You would have thought that, having predicted the end of the world several times, and been wrong each one, because of the general embarrassment of anyone who gave him even the slightest credence, he would be buried and forgotten, except as a caricature of religious nuttiness. And a scam artist.
But no, Camping continues his malice, even after death, like a modern-day Jacob Marley dragging his chains with him. This week, a post by Rick Paulus on Vice.com reminded us that Camping’s undead zombie continues to infect the gullible through the radio.
I’ve written about Camping and his malevolent lunacy in the past; two posts, one in late May, 2012 and before that on March 8, 2012. Camping is perhaps the worst recent example of a religious predator preying on his flock. True, the flock proved mindless, easily-fleeced lambs happily led to Camping’s slaughter, but that doesn’t excuse Camping’s voracious depredations.
His defenders called him a sincere believer and praised his Biblical scholarship. Claptrap. Camping was an immoral con artist; an unprincipled huckster who sold his own wacky interpretations of faith.*
And I mean sold. He conned millions from his followers ($18 million was donated to his cause in 2009 alone). The directors (he was one of the three-person board) and programmers at Family Radio did not step in to stop him or halt his broadcasts, even after his prophesies failed to come true. Like Camping, they have never been criminally prosecuted. But they did sell off a lot of their assets after Camping died.
Camping was an evil man, as evil as any terrorist religious leader like Osama bin Laden. His terrorism was psychological and economic, but no less deliberately malevolent than bin Laden’s.
A quick bio of Camping care of Wikipedia reveals him as a con man who reaped his profits from the uncritical beliefs of the gullible:
…an American Christian radio broadcaster, author and evangelist. Beginning in 1958, he served as president of Family Radio, a California-based radio station group that broadcasts to more than 150 markets in the United States. In October 2011, he retired from active broadcasting following a stroke, but still maintained a role at Family Radio until his death. Camping is notable for issuing multiple failed predictions of dates for the End Times, which temporarily gained him a global following and millions of dollars of donations.
Camping was a numerologist who ran a crazy number scheme based on a translation of the Bible – not the actual Bible, of course, which is in Hebrew and Greek; just his preferred English version. As Cultwatch described it:
Harold Camping’s numerology and rather liberal view of the laws of mathematics is the crux of their reasoning. Here is one example of many, from the Bible in John 21:1-14 the disciples are about 200 cubits out from the shore on the Sea of Galilee. Harold Camping has taken that figure of 200 cubits and decided that it actually means 2000 years between the first and second coming of Christ. Not only has Harold Camping inserted his own meaning into a minor detail in the Bible, he has changed the number from 200 to 2000 and the units from cubits to years. With “reasoning” like this it is amazing that anyone has taken Harold Camping seriously.
Through this superstitious nonsense he came up with various dates for the end of the world, which involved natural disasters, the Second Coming and the Rapture. May 21, 2011 was the big one, the one on all the billboards. Get saved or go to Hell. And while you’re at it, send money to help pay for the advertising.
Camping predicted that Jesus Christ would return to Earth on May 21, 2011, whereupon the saved would be taken up to heaven in the rapture, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011, with the final destruction of the world. He had previously predicted that Judgment Day would occur on or about September 6, 1994.
His prediction for May 21, 2011, was widely reported, in part because of a large-scale publicity campaign by Family Radio, and it prompted ridicule from atheist organizations and rebuttals from Christian organizations. After May 21 passed without the predicted incidents, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the final destruction of the universe by God. Except for one press appearance on May 23, 2011, Camping largely avoided press interviews after May 21, particularly after he suffered a stroke in June 2011. October 21, 2011, passed without the predicted apocalypse, leading to comments that Camping’s ministry would collapse after the false prophecy.
The Rapture is itself a nebulously defined event in one minor book of the Bible, that, since the late 18th century, has been increasingly mythologized into a whole fundamentalist culture well outside Biblical references. But apparently it’s a good money maker.
End-of-the-world prophecies have been around for millennia. It’s been predicted for 1533, 1934, 1635, 1981, 1889, 1891, 1763, 1975 and others. Many dates have also been proposed for the Second Coming and for other apocalyptic events. All have fallen flat. Doesn’t matter to the prophets: they continue to predict events and, perhaps coincidentally, rake in the cash from believers. The faithful continue their cognitive dissonance and open their wallets.
In the 1830s, William Miller predicted the Second Coming of Christ on October 22nd, 1844 and made it the focus of a national campaign. That failure became known in American history as ‘The Great Disappointment.‘ Camping’s failure should go down as ‘The Great Scam.’ (Cultwatch called it a ‘epic fail.’) **
Meanwhile in the USA in particular, Camping’s fantasies were gaining traction and causing strife among families and friends. The New York Times noted:
Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months.
With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain…
Kevin Brown, a Family Radio representative, said conflict with other family members was part of the test of whether a person truly believed. “They’re going through the fiery trial each day,” he said.
Gary Daniels, 27, said he planned to spend Saturday like other believers, “glued to our TV sets, waiting for the Resurrection and earthquake from nation to nation.” But he acknowledged that his family was not entirely behind him.
Camping spun his first whopper about the end of the world in 1993, with a book that predicted the end (rapture) would come in 1994. That Doomsday deadline came and went without incident – as do all such predictions. That didn’t deter Camping, who continued to scheme and cook up his numbers to rake in more believers and, of course, their money. He decided on a new date, in spring 2011.
Family Radio pumped $100 million into expanding Camping’s cult following by advertising the date. The money poured in from naive believers, no doubt expecting to buy their way into Heaven. Imagine what good a church could do with $100 million. Imagine spending it on cancer research, homelessness, poverty, medical care for the elderly, clothing and meals for street people, on education or even animal welfare.
Nope: Family Radio spent it all on advertising. That alone speaks volumes about their brand of Christianity. As Paulus writes:
So when the time was right—in this case May 21, 2011—Camping and his puppet board of directors blanketed the world with their warnings. Park bench ads were purchased around the country. Over 3,000 billboards were installed around the world. And a five-car caravan toured America and Canada, handing out pamphlets that prepped unbelievers for the end. “We had a pool of about $100 million dollars,” said Tuter, “and he spent it like no tomorrow.”
So, just who spent their time and money for this nonsense? One oft-quoted report told of a New York transportation agency worker who donated $150,000 of his savings to Camping’s doomsday cause.
The second date came and went without incident (although Camping tried to bluff his followers by pretending something had happened, which, of course, was so insignificant no one else noticed). Camping then told his followers, oops, I got my numbers mixed up and it’s really coming October 21. That came and went, also without incident. No surprises there.
Camping later apologized for being wrong – but not for ruining so many lives by his Judgement-Day-shell-game. Nor did he return any of the money he took from them. The only judgment that took place was on the gullibility of his followers.
In a missive posted on his independent ministry’s site on Thursday, 90-year-old Harold Camping said he has no evidence the end of the world will come anytime soon. The preacher, who lives in Alameda, also said he isn’t interested in considering future dates.
“Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken,” reads Camping’s statement.
Camping’s Family Radio International spent millions of dollars in the last few years putting up thousands of billboards plastered with the Judgment Day message.
By the time of his death in December, 2013, Camping had made 13 failed predictions. Even up until the end, he still had followers, although much fewer. The number of people he deluded and conned is in the hundreds of thousands. The money they donated to his cause or lost giving away or selling their things to wait for the apocalypse was in the millions.
Camping retired from the board of Family Radio, although he still had influence. Without him, Family Radio started to wither and sold many of its assets, but surprisingly didn’t die. It’s still out there, as Paulus notes, and still broadcasting Camping’s older pieces, although likely not those about the end of the world.
If you live in the Bay Area, flip on 610 AM. If you’re in Buffalo, try 89.9 FM. Or just forgo terrestrial radio and stream online. But my suggestion is, if you find yourself driving through the middle of nowhere late at night, unplug your iPod and give the Scan button a push. If it’s around 6:30 on a weeknight, and your radio happens to pick up the right station, you might just hear the man’s voice… Listen for a few minutes, but do so hesitantly. This is the voice, after all, that tricked people into believing the world was coming to an end.
On their website, Family Radio praises the dead charlatan as if he did nothing wrong:
We are so grateful to God for Brother Camping’s dedication to Family Radio and for his lifetime of service to God. We are thankful to know that Family Radio is God’s ministry, and will continue to be in God’s care and keeping.
Please remember the Camping family in your prayers, in particular, Mrs. Camping, Mr. Camping’s wife of over seventy-one years. May God sustain her in her loss.
As RationalWiki pointed out, Camping was fortunate not to live in a theocracy where his actions would have been crimes that resulted in capital punishment:
Harold Camping escaped the death sentence commanded in the Old Testament for prophets whose predictions fail, see (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). The United States is not a theocracy so God has to do his own punishment.***
* Plus he was a creationist, but that alone doesn’t make him evil, just another ill-educated fundamentalist wingnut.
** From Wikipedia:
Followers of Camping claimed that around 200 million people (approximately 2.8% of the world’s 2011 population) would be raptured, and publicized the prediction in numerous countries… Camping emerged from his home on May 22, saying he was “flabbergasted” that the Rapture had not occurred. He stated that he was “looking for answers…” On May 23, 2011, in an appearance before the press, Camping stated he had reinterpreted his prophecy. In his revised claim, May 21 was a “spiritual” judgment day, and the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneously with the destruction of the world. Camping said his company would not return money donated by followers to publicize the failed May 21 prediction, stating: “We’re not at the end. Why would we return it?”
*** Deuteronomy 18:20: “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.”