The world is going to end on Saturday. Maybe. O.K., probably not.
Harold Camping, an 89-year-old radio evangelist, says May 21, 2011, is the final, official, biblical Judgment Day, when "all true believers are to be raptured to be forever with Christ" and nonbelievers are left on earth to suffer through the end of the world. I hope he's wrong, because otherwise this weekend is really going to suck.
This is Camping's second attempt to pin down the rapture. His previous prediction of when the world would end, September 1994 of which Camping said he was "99.9% certain" arrived not with rivers of blood but with preliminary hearings in the O.J. Simpson trial. Camping attributed his error to a mathematical miscalculation. This time, he says, May 21 is definitely accurate.
"It's amazing to me that people would follow this guy," says Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling Left Behind book series, a campy, action-packed rendition of the rapture in which the righteous are airlifted to heaven like a scene from a Twilight Zone episode, leaving behind their possessions and unmanned vehicles, which then conveniently crash into those operated by atheists and agnostics. Both LaHaye and co-author Jerry Jenkins are ardent believers in an impending Judgment Day, but they say there's no way to know when it will happen. "Those of us who truly believe that the rapture will come don't need people like Camping spouting off inaccuracies," says Jenkins. "We look kooky enough as it is."
But what if the folks at Family Radio are right? Bart Centre, co-owner of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, a company staffed by atheists who for $135 promise to take care of Christians' household pets in the event of the rapture, says he has seen a 27% increase in business because of Camping's predictions. (So far, 259 thoughtful pet owners have registered with the site.) Centre says he has an actual rescue plan in place but admits that should Camping's forecast for five months of world-shattering earthquakes prove accurate, it might be difficult to put into action. "We can't predict if there'll be any cracks in the earth or if lava will flow everywhere," Centre says. But if it does, he'll do his best to save your dog or cat anyway.
The fact that people like Centre are taking this seriously enough not to make Eternal Earth-Bound Pets a massive waste of money has me thinking, What if the rapture really does occur tomorrow? If this is my last day on earth, I should probably spend it doing something more interesting than writing this article.
I called Tim Roberts, editor of the forthcoming book 1,000 Things to Do Before You Die, who suggested I travel to Africa to see wild chimpanzees. "Wait, but you only have one day," he remembered. "You probably don't have time to see chimpanzees."
Roberts is right: there isn't time to travel to Africa. I could eat a lot of food, I suppose. That might be fun. Or go to church. But I don't think Camping and his followers would consider me sufficiently religious for their specific type of salvation.
I asked friends, family, Facebook acquaintances and the hundreds of strangers who follow me on Twitter what they would do if they somehow found out that this whole May 21 thing were real. Here's what they said:
I would go to a really fancy museum and touch everything
I'd buy the most expensive bottle of scotch I could get my hands on (like $1,000) and drink it. Oh, and I'd buy a cigar to go with it
Feel the emotions of exposing myself on public transportation
Punch my boss
Finally tell all those kids with the saggy pants to pull their pants up
Bust dogs out of the shelter and gorillas out of the zoo
Eat pies and cheese and stuff
I'd have my girlfriend come over and just lay in bed with me wearing our finest formalwear like the elderly couple in Titanic
Buy expensive crystal wine glasses and smash them against a wall
I'd probably just start asking random really hot girls if they want to sleep with me
Well, I'd definitely stop folding laundry
Eat nothing but $2 Taco Bell meals
Watch Party of Five on Netflix
Challenge Michael Jordan to a one on one
I'm going to do exactly what I did on September 6, 1994: listen to Ace of Base
The May 21 rapture is supposed to start with a giant earthquake at 6 p.m. New Zealand time and then spread around the world, hitting every time zone at exactly 6 p.m. If I wake up on Saturday morning to reports of a crumbling earth and absolute chaos unfolding around the world, I guess I'll call up Centre, give my dog some extra food (just in case), loot a museum and eat a pie. If there's time left, I'll practice jumping across lava.