Followers of rapture evangelist lost millions

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It looks like they'll have to make those credit card payments after all.

Followers of Harold Camping, a fringe evangelical radio minister, believed him when he said that the Rapture would begin May 21. According to Christian theology (the fringe kind), during the Rapture, Jesus will take the best Christians (Camping's followers all assumed they were part of this group) to Heaven, while the rest of the world begins a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters, and then goes on to be destroyed sometime in October.

Unfortunately for them, and luckily for those of us who are less righteous, May 21 came and went without a terrible cataclysm, the return of Jesus or the disappearance of a few million believers (at least not that anyone noticed).

Camping today feigned surprise that he was wrong about his prediction, telling Reuters that he was "flabbergasted" by the continued existence of the Earth.

Still, it can't be that big of a deal for Camping. First, he's been wrong before. This is his second prediction of the Rapture: the first was in the 1990s, which, just like this one, failed to materialize. Even then, before the rise of the Internet, he was able to get his message far and wide via his Family Radio network, and the remnants of fliers announcing the first failed Rapture still adorn street posts in cities across America.

In addition, while Camping was wrong spiritually, he is stilling doing well in the material world. After all, Rapture prediction is big business, at least for Camping, and his organization reportedly raked in more $80 million in the three years preceding the most recent May 21. This is on top of the millions the group received in the lead up to the 1992 non-Rapture and the tens of millions of dollars they raised since Camping founded the radio network in the 1950s.

"I find myself irritated by the light-hearted, jocular way in which these matters are treated by the media," biologist Richard Dawkins wrote on his website, referring to a clip from CBS. "If I were an American journalist, I would be out for blood: at very least I would be campaigning to strip these charlatans of their tax-exempt status. Yet the media treat it as a bit of jolly fun."

Indeed, as silly as Camping's story is, there is a dark side. His supporters did not fare so well as he did.

The Daily Mail reported on a New York City transit employee who spent his entire life's savings - $140,000 - advertising Camping's message. What will he do now?

NPR reported before the failed Rapture on 27-year-old Adrienne Martinez and her husband Joel. She had been planning on medical school, but, since the world was set to end, she quit her medical school plans; the couple both quit their jobs. They moved their infant daughter to a rented house in Orlando, and spent all their time - and savings - up to May 21 giving out Biblical tracts.

What the Martinezes are doing now is anyone's guess.

The millions of dollars Family Radio received came from Camping's devoted followers, many of whom put their life's savings into donations. While the charlatan evangelist is checking his equations - he claimed in 1994 that he made a mathematical error in determining when the Rapture would occur; no doubt he'll claim the same this time - while living a life of luxury, his followers awoke May 22 to find that they had distanced themselves from their friends, spent their life's savings, quit medical school, or done other such things - only to find that they now have to figure out how to navigate a world that is still here but, at least in their eyes, much less understandable.

And while the less charitable may be inclined to say that their circumstances are their own fault, surely the same can't be said of their children: A California mother tried to kill her 11- and 14-year-old daughters, so that they wouldn't have to deal with the end of the world. Luckily, her friends showed up and stopped her. While it's not clear that she was acting only at the behest of Camping, the timing of the attempted murders - May 20 - is hard to dismiss.

If there is a God of justice, it seems unlikely that He would look favorably on Camping. Perhaps the federal government shouldn't either.

Image: whatleydude // CC 2.0

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  • How can it be that the Camping fraud can go unpunished? True, the people that threw their hard-earned money away were awfully gullible, but it is yet another example of how religious right-wing figures continue to rob people tax-free, living lives of great luxury, and corrupting politicians. The working class suffers greatly from this charade. This is the kind of thing that thrives under the capitalist system. I hope I live to see the day when snake oil salesmen like Camping spend their end days in a cell. Now that would truly be "rapturous."

    John

    Posted by John Lombardo, 05/28/2011 3:52pm (3 years ago)

  • "Rev." Camping obviously miscalculated once again. According to the Bible, the Anti-Christ will reign for 3.5 yrs. before the End and, since I am betting that most of Camping's followers believe that Barack Obama is the A.C., 3.5 yrs. will fall exactly on July 20, 2012. Therefore, I am predicting December 21 2012 for the Rapture, just when the Mayan Calender runs out! You heard it here first. Now send all your $$ to me, the good ol' "Rev." John Whiskey. I promise to spend it only on top shelf booze and top o' the line "escorts".

    Posted by John Whiskey, 05/24/2011 5:25pm (3 years ago)

  • The man is supposed to a preacher, but he doesn't even know the Bible. It says in the Bible that no man will know will know when Christ will return. I guess he thinks he is not a man. In addition the Bible says even the angels in heaven don't know. The man doesn't have a clue what he is talking about to begin with.

    Posted by David Bruce, 05/24/2011 4:44pm (3 years ago)

  • Nice going Dan!

    One would likely take the enders lightly, but as you point out, real people and real events some tragic do happen. What to do is anyone's guess. But perhaps I can offer a suggestion; support public education. Let's teach our children about the world in a scientific way.
    Separation of church and state let's strengthen it!

    peace

    Posted by Gabriel Falsetta, 05/24/2011 4:38pm (3 years ago)

  • I don't understand how many so called "Christians" would believe something like this. We have a clear guide the Bible and it specifically mentions that no one, nor the Angels, nor the Son knows the day. Let's just be assure that we are living according to His Word. There's no fear when you know who you are in Christ. God bless you all! : ))

    Posted by Nilda Aponte, 05/24/2011 1:09pm (3 years ago)

  • I feel absoultly no sympathy whatsoever for anyone dumb enough to spend there entire life saveings on the whim based on the word of some evangelical nutjob who thinks the world is going to end.

    Even if I believed him which I did not. Common sense tells me that I shouldn't spend all my saveings on a week in las vegas in prepreation for an event that has been the subject of many such con-men for centuries.

    Posted by Anonymous, 05/24/2011 8:35am (3 years ago)

  • This is a great article. It shows how stupid people can be to beleive this. Just like when all the Hollywood actors came out to ask for donations and pledges to help rebuid the World Trade Centers in NYC when 911 happened. Even President Bush vowed to rebuild the Towers. The American Red Cross were donated millions of dollars. Soon After receiving the mega funds, The Red Cross relocated (ran away with the money). What's at Ground Zero Today? Where's that New World Trade Center that was promised? and the important part is where did all that money go ? Yes this another important lesson to all that you can be fooled buy a US President, fooled by a Hollywood Actor, fooled by a Disaster relief Organization, and in this case, even fooled by a Christian.

    Posted by david and goliath, 05/23/2011 11:11pm (3 years ago)

  • How does Ms.Martinez think she can get into medical school with her gross lack of critical thinking skills? There's another thing she shouldn't hold her breath for.

    Posted by K, 05/23/2011 7:59pm (3 years ago)

  • There are no gods. There is zero evidence. Children are indoctrinated by their parents, who where indoctrinated by theirs and so on. It's time for humanity to put aside silly superstitions.

    BTW, Americans - tax-exempts status for churches is unconstitutional. The establishment clause forbids Congress from making any law that respects an establishment of religion. Allowing churches to forgo paying taxes on donations and income is 'respecting an establishment of religion.'

    Posted by ExFundy, 05/23/2011 5:29pm (3 years ago)

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