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Preacher’s doomsday forecast fizzles out … again

Harold CampingOnce again, the world failed to end, despite a high-profile prediction from a radio preacher in California.

Harold Camping, the 90-year-old leader of Family Radio International, stirred a global frenzy when he predicted that the Rapture would take 200 million Christians to heaven on May 21. When the Rapture didn’t occur, Camping said he got his Bible-based calculations wrong and revised his prophecy to set the world’s end on Friday, Oct. 21.

But as Friday morphed into Saturday around the world, there was no sign that doomsday had come. A typical Twitter refrain: “Dear Harold Camping, Worst. Apocalypse. Ever.”

Millions of dollars had been spent by Family Radio and its followers to get the world out about May’s date with doomsday. Some quit their jobs, or donated retirement savings or college funds for the more than 5,000 billboards and 20 RVs that were plastered with Judgment Day messages.

This time around, Camping took a lower profile — perhaps because he was chastened by the mockery he suffered in May, or perhaps because of his health.

Camping suffered a mild stroke in June. His daily radio program, “Open Forum,” is no longer aired on the Family Radio syndication network, which includes more than 60 U.S. radio stations.

Contacted by telephone on Thursday, Family spokesman Tom Evans declined to comment on Camping or his prophecies — except to say that he had “retired” as a radio host but remained chairman of the board of Family Stations Inc.

‘Nothing to report’
Camping himself had little to say when he answered the door of his home in Alameda, wearing a bathrobe and leaning on a walker. “We’re not having a conversation,” he told a Reuters reporter, shaking his head with a chuckle. “There’s nothing to report here.”

Municipal records show that a Sunday prayer group led by Camping, the Alameda Bible Fellowship, has continued to meet on a weekly basis in a large ground-floor room of the Veterans Memorial Building leased by the city Recreation and Parks Department.

Marcia Tsang, a facilities coordinator for the department, said receipts show that Camping’s group has been renting that space since at least 1996, paying the standard fee of $45 an hour. The room remains assigned to his fellowship under an evergreen reservation that extends beyond this week, she said.

Local American Legion officer Ron Parshall, 70, part of a veterans group that meets at the same building in an adjacent room one Sunday a month, said he has seen Camping leading his Bible services there regularly.

He said Camping’s congregation has dwindled since the failed prophecy in May — down to about 25 attendees on a typical Sunday, plus about 20 youngsters who attend Sunday school classes in conjunction with the prayer group.

Parshall said he thought Camping was “a nice man.”

“He was just too radical for me,” he said. “Anyone who claims to be that close to God, I take it with a grain of salt.”

Calculating the endtime
Most Christian interpreters of the Bible — even those who believe the end is truly near — say the precise date for Judgment Day cannot be predicted. They generally point to a passage in the Book of Matthew in which Jesus says “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen.”

Camping, however, based his prophecies on an idiosyncratic calculation of the number of years since the Noah’s Ark flood and the number of days since Jesus’ crucifixion, plus a healthy dose of numerology. If it weren’t for the multimillion-dollar publicity campaign, his prediction might have attracted little notice in May.

In a message on the Family Radio website, Camping tried to explain his revised math. He said that God’s judgment and salvation were actually completed on May 21, but that a reinterpretation of the dates in the Bible pointed to an Oct. 21 doomsday.

“Thus we can be sure that the whole world, with the exception of those who are presently saved (the elect), are under the judgment of God, and will be annihilated together with the whole physical world on Oct. 21,” he said on the website.

Camping said he didn’t think doomsday would be marked by natural disasters or blasts of hellfire. “I really am beginning to think as I’ve restudied these matters that there’s going to be no big display of any kind,” he said. “The end is going to come very, very quietly.”

Camping, a retired civil engineer, also prophesied that the Apocalypse would come in 1994, but he said later that didn’t happen because of a mathematical error.

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