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They Say the End Is Near—How Are Religious Leaders and Atheists Handling It?

Billboards around town say Judgment Day is coming Saturday. Local religious leaders and others respond to the predictions.

You might have seen the billboards that have popped up all over the San Fernando Valley, announcing the arrival of Judgment Day—which they say will happen May 21, 2011. That's Saturday, folks.

The warning is the handiwork of Harold Camping, a civil engineer and the president of Family Radio Christian Network. Camping claims to have used mathematically based algorithms and biblical prophecies to arrive at his prediction of the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.

It's not the first time Camping has predicted a doomsday date. Although he seems to have gone to great lengths to assign dates and values to events described in the Bible, he first predicted that the end of the world would take place in September 1994. In October 1994, he said he had made a mathematical error.

It will be the same this time around, said the Rev. Richard Poole, of , although he says some members of his congregation have faith in the prophecy.

One of several local religious leaders and others who were asked for their views of the billboards' message, Poole said in an e-mail to Patch: “As for me, and the majority of the church, it’s just another in a series of misleading predictions about the end of the world. Sadly, when May 21 rolls around and nothing happens, those who fervently believe something will [happen] are only going to say, oops, we miscalculated and will get back to you about the next date...”

The Rev. Joey McDonald, of , fears the prediction could be harmful to believers, who might despair at finding the prophecy unfulfilled.

“I don’t have a problem with somebody having a view, but when their view is affecting other people in a potentially dangerous manner, I find that aberrant and horrible,” McDonald said. “It’s fear-based religion as opposed to love-based religion. Holiness is rooted in one four-letter word, ‘love.’

“My concern is that people have taken their lives because they believe these people,” McDonald said. “When you’re telling people that if they’re not raptured then they’re not saved, well, that’s God’s job.”

Pastor Lynn E. Wiedmann, of in North Hollywood, also finds the prediction antithetical to traditional Christian doctrine.

“Jesus said that no one knows the day or the hour. That is why he taught his disciples to be always ready and always working,” Wiedmann wrote in an e-mail. “Once a certain date is announced, those who believe the date put their confidence only in that date. I wondered if they would be ready for Jesus' return (not the end of the human race by any means, but a much better home) on the 20th or 19th?”

Other critics of the prophecy have cited the Christian gospel of Matthew 24:36, “Of that day and hour knows no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my father only.”

Prophecy skeptics can be found on Facebook, where dozens of pages are satirically named “Post Rapture Looting.” Curt McClain posted this message on one of them:

To save a lot of trouble for us on the 22nd, i think it would be nice for anyone planning to be leaving us this Saturday to leave their doors unlocked and their keys in the ignition. I mean, like how many of us know how to hotwire a car?

Bobbie Kirkhart, president of Southern California’s , said her organization is keeping their responses “relatively low-key.” The group's latest e-mail blast mentions the May 21 date in its calendar listings:

We have been informed that this is the end of the world. This is not an Atheists United event and we do not recommend that our members and friends participate.

Rev. Daniel W. Blair May 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM
I am very sad for those who have been following this lie that the rapture will occur on May 21st. Even if they attempt to explain away “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), they cannot explain away that most every Christian, theologian, scholar, and prophet from the first Century until the Nineteenth Century all believed that the church would go through the Great Tribulation and not escape through some secret rapture that would leave the world paralyzed. I pray that they will take a moment and read my book, “Final Warning” because the hour of is His judgment has come. http://www.revelation-truth.org
Mike Szymanski May 20, 2011 at 03:45 PM
My very good friend, and former Studio City resident... USC Prof Steve O'Leary, wrote a piece today for the Wall Street Journal.... http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2011/05/19/the-day-after-the-day-after-tomorrow/?mod=google_news_blog
raptrd May 23, 2011 at 07:05 AM
That's nice atheists united took such a modest, wise approach as other atheists have made an ass out of themselves these last few days

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