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Failed Doomsday Prophecies

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

For thousands of years, people have been forecasting the Apocalypse. In 1806, a hen in Leeds, England was believed to have predicted the end times. The chicken’s skill at prophecy proved to be as highly tuned as that of all the other doomsayers.

The Mayan Calendar

Probably, the oldest prediction of the world’s end was believed to be contained in the Mayan calendar. More than 2,000 years ago, the Indians of Central America carved a calendar on stone. It projected, with amazing accuracy, into the future and ended with the winter solstice of 2012.

Rumours started to spread that this must mean an apocalyptic event would occur on December 21, 2012―12-21-12 seemed to have some sort of numerical symmetry to it.

No it didn’t. The Mayan calendar works the same way as the one in your kitchen that you get from a real estate agent or your dentist. It runs out on December 31st, when you take it down and put up a new one. It’s the same with the Mayan calendar; when it runs out you go back to the beginning and start again.

According to The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, “The Mayan connection ‘was a misconception from the very beginning,’ says Dr. John Carlson, director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy. ‘The Maya calendar did not end on Dec. 21, 2012, and there were no Maya prophecies foretelling the end of the world on that date.’ ”

The Aliens Are Coming

Dorothy Martin of Oak Park, Illinois was in touch with sources from the planet Clarion. In 1955, these extraterrestrials told Ms. Martin “There will be much loss of life, practically all of it, in 1955 . . . It is an actual fact that the world is in a mess. But the Supreme Being is going to clean house by sinking all of the land masses as we know them now and raising the land masses from under the sea.”

A small group of followers latched onto the prophetic warning and believed they would be whisked up from Earth by spacemen in flying saucers. In this way, they would escape the outbreak of volcanoes and earthquakes that would destroy everything. They called themselves “Seekers,” but they didn’t know they had moles in their ranks.

Leon Festinger was a social psychologist at the University of Minnesota. He and a few colleagues infiltrated the Seekers to study why some people grab onto such cockamamie ideas that prove to be false. From his examination of Seekers, Festinger developed the concept of what he called “cognitive dissonance.”

Those who were fringe members of the group largely shrugged when the flying saucers failed to show up, put it down to a learning experience, and moved on with their lives. But, what about those who were heavily invested? Journalist Dan Gardner explains (Psychology Today) that “Their commitment was massive. If cognitive dissonance theory were correct, these people would rationalize like mad, become even more convinced of the truth of the prophecy, and seek validation of their beliefs by stepping up efforts to convert others.

“Which is precisely what happened.”

Harold Camping: The Doomsday Pastor

Family Radio started broadcasting in 1959. The Christian network was the creation of Harold Camping. The network grew to more than 200 stations and received millions of dollars in donations from listeners.

Camping would hold forth in his broadcasts about the End Times. They were coming; on September 6, 1994. He calculated the date from “evidence” in the Bible and said it was “99.9% certain.”

On September 7th, people noticed that the world had not been incinerated. Harold allowed that maybe his sums were wrong; perhaps, there was a minus sign where a plus sign should be. Undaunted, he went back to his arithmetic and now came up with March 31, 1995 as the date of the Rapture. Inconveniently for Camping, April Fool’s Day arrived without a cataclysm.

He carried on like this for a few years, but really caught the public’s attention in 2011. May 21st was to be Judgement Day followed by months of really, really nasty things happening before everything came to a grinding halt in the fall.

Family Radio, awash in donations from its faithful, paid for billboards around the world warning everybody to get ready for the catastrophe (maybe, pack an extra toothbrush?).

An astonishing $100 million was spent in the run-up to May 21, 2011, enough to persuade some people to quit their jobs, sell their houses, and give away their savings. On May 22nd, these folk woke up poorer but wiser.

In total, Harold Camping made 13 failed predictions but, apparently, did not foresee his own personal end time, which came on December 15, 2015 at the age of 92. There are still people in the doomsday prediction racket and there are still some folk unschooled in the art of tomfoolery who believe it.

The Next Doomsdays

Despite its stellar failures, the doomsday industry keeps chugging along.

First up we’ve got the late Dr. F. Kenton Beshore of the Mariners Church in Irvine, California. His reading of the Scriptures said Jesus would return in 1988; the second coming being the prerequisite for Armageddon and the end of the world. Before he shuffled off this mortal coil in 2016, he rejigged his numbers, saying 2021 is to be start of some horrible things. He won’t be around to apologize for getting that wrong as well.

Mark your calendars for 2026. Messiah Foundation International is a mash-up of Islam, Christianity, Hindu, and Jewish belief that tells us Earth is going to conked into oblivion by an asteroid. No specific date seems to have been figured out yet.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

Matthew 24:36, quoting Jesus

Kent Hovind is an odd combination of a tax protester and a Christian evangelist in America. He’s a young Earth creationist who pours scorn on science. He hedges his bets a bit by saying the Rapture is “most likely” to occur in 2028.

Looking into a future that will concern none of us we have Said Nursi, a Muslim theologian, who has picked 2129 for Doomsday. However, like Kent Hovind, he played it safe by saying “Nobody knows the time of doom in a strict manner.”

It’s all a bit like the Prophet Hen of Leeds really.

Here comes the Apocalypse.

Here comes the Apocalypse.

Bonus Factoids

  • Just in case, Atlas Survival Shelters will sell you a top-of-the-line bunker for a tad over $5 million. The LSS-80 model at just under ten grand doesn’t seem like a wise purchase in the context of the Apocalypse; it’s inflatable.
  • There was a bit of a panic in Europe in the Middle Ages as the year 1666 loomed large. The numbers 666 were known to be the mark of the Beast, although it might have been misinterpreted and should be 616. When the Great Fire of London broke out in that year many thought it was the end of the world, although the blaze went no farther than the English capital.
  • In 2008, so-called psychic Sylvia Brown wrote “In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.” Hmmmm.

Sources

  • “The Best Apocalypses in History.” Konstantin Bikos, Timeanddate.com, undated.
  • “Beyond 2012: Why the World Didn’t End.” NASA, September 20, 2017.
  • “Apocalypse Oak Park: Dorothy Martin, the Chicagoan Who Predicted the End of the World and Inspired the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.” Whet Moser, The Chicagoan, May 20, 2011.
  • “The End of the World. Again.” Dan Gardner, Psychology Today, January 7, 2011.
  • “Doomsday Minister Harold Camping Dead at 92.”Associated Press, December 18, 2013.
  • “What Happened to Doomsday Prophet Harold Camping after the World Didn’t End?” Rick Paulas, Vice, November 7, 2014.
  • “List of Date Predicted for Apocalyptic Events.” Mariaonline, undated.
  • “Coronavirus Is Bringing a Plague of Dangerous Doomsday Predictions.” John Blake, CNN, March 23, 2020.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 15, 2020:

God have mercy upon on us.