Contrary to the predictions of Harold Camping, May 21st has come and gone with no sign of people disappearing or earthquakes happening. Meanwhile, atheists and several non-Christians used the opportunity as a way to mock the Christian devotees. Various parties were planned across the US. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, the local chapter of the American Humanist Association held a party last night to celebrate the Earth’s survival and planned a music concert. The American Atheists held “rapture parties” in places such as Wichita, Kansas, Fort Lauderdale in Florida and even just a few miles from Family Radio itself at a conference centre in Oakland. New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg used a press conference to assure citizens that post-Rapture his administration would not pursue parking tickets or late library books.
But other non-believers and cynics saw an opportunity to make money rather than jokes. There has been a mini-boom in firms and individuals offering to look after the pets of those who believed they were about to be raptured. Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, set up by New Hampshire atheist Bart Centre, has about 250 clients who paid $135 (£83) for insurance policies that guarantee Centre and others will care for their animals when they ascend. Others paid out to sign up with websites that would send out farewell letters to friends and relations left behind.
But what made this prediction different was the lavish spending that accompanied it. Camping and his followers spent more than $100m worldwide on billboards and posters, financed by the sale and swap of radio stations. Advertising popped up across America and the globe from Iraq to Lebanon to Israel to Jordan, the Philippines to Vietnam, where thousands of the Hmong ethnic hill tribe gathered together on the Thai border in anticipation of the event. The campaign was backed up by Camping’s radio show, which can be heard worldwide, and a website that featured, naturally, a countdown clock. Yesterday that clock was at zero underneath the banner headline: “Judgment Day: the Bible guarantees it.”
Camping himself admitted he had pretty much staked everything on his fervently held belief. “There is no plan B,” he told Reuters late last week. Which is a shame. As the day progressed in California last night with no global mega-quake in sight, he and his followers needed one. Many experts have worried about the psychological impact on his followers who are suddenly confronted with the collapse of their belief system. Some Christian pastors planned to gather outside Family Radio to counsel any distraught members who showed up wondering why they – and the world – were still there.