Al Allen believed the world would end in 1994. It didn't. He was disappointed.
This time, he's more certain that Judgment Day will arrive at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 21.
"There is so much more information in the Bible since 1994. This thing is a certainty. It's going to happen," said Allen, 68, a retired chemist. "The whole world is going to be scared out of its wits."
Allen is a follower of radio preacher Harold Camping, who miscalculated Judgment Day in 1994 but has recalibrated the end of the world to a precise day and time. The end, he claims, will come exactly 7,000 years since the flood and Noah's Ark — the last time God decided to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.
Camping comes from a long line of seers, sages, preachers and prophets — all of whom time has proven wrong. What makes Camping different is the precision of his prognostications — an exact date and time — which provides a reassuring sense of certainty in uncertain times.
"It's not a new thing. What is interesting about this is he thinks he has the exact time," said Doug Weaver, associate professor of religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. "The attraction is his certainty, the lack of ambiguity."
Camping's precise prediction of the Rapture feeds the very human desire to know the unknown, said Mark Koltko-Rivera, a New York-based psychology consultant. The human brain is wired to find patterns even among random data in its natural instinct to understand the world, he said.
Yet some things are meant to be forever mysterious, including the biblical end of the Earth.
"The New Testament does say in black and white that no man and no angel in heaven — only God — knows when this is going to happen," said Koltko-Rivera, who taught psychology of religion at the University of Central Florida before moving to New York. "It's very, very clear, yet people want to believe there is a specific time they can find out about."
The fact Camping claims to know something even Jesus said was unknowable strikes some religion scholars as presumptuous, at the very least.
"For someone to say they know when the world is going to end, that borders on claims of divinity. Only God knows that," said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
Allen contends that the Bible passage cited by religion scholars has been misinterpreted and that God does reveal his plans to man. He said his own study of the Bible verified Camping's prediction that the Rapture will arrive Saturday.
"It's not just Brother Camping. This time around I double-checked everything with my own studies," said Allen, of Winter Haven.
For some, Camping's prediction resonates in a time when a proliferation of popular books and movies depict the end of the world. It also corresponds with the Sunday sermons of many ministers, who preach to their congregations that the recent earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, nuclear meltdowns and wars are sure signs that these are the End Times.
"We have always been living in the End Times: the year 666, the year 1,000, the year 1666, the year 2000," De La Torre said. "Part of the Christian faith seems to have within it this motif of living in the End Times."
Camping's message of imminent doom is spreading through the Internet, but his proselytizing is decidedly old school: radio, billboards and pamphlets. The billboards, including one in Orlando, advertise his radio program and his website at FamilyRadio.com. His followers have spread across the country in vans, handing out fliers that proclaim: "The end of the world is almost here! HOLY GOD will bring on Judgment Day on May 21, 2011."
"He's 89," Weaver said. "He's going to use tried-and-true methods, but it's a mixture of old and new media."
Though it might be easy to dismiss Camping's followers as naive, misguided or delusional, those who are living, planning and praying like there is no tomorrow after Saturday are risking a future they don't believe exists.
"We can laugh at it or dismiss it or believe it, but there is a danger to this," De La Torre said. "How many people have disposed of all their possessions, quit their jobs they can't afford to quit or sent in their money to spend on more billboards to spread the message? It should not be taken lightly."
Allen said he is not selling his belongings or his home or emptying his bank account. He is spending his last days on Earth doing what the Bible says he should: warning others the end is near.
According to Camping, the end will come at 6 p.m. in every time zone, beginning in New Zealand. Allen says that means he will know by early Saturday morning whether Armageddon is under way.
If it isn't, he will be disappointed again but will be unfazed in his belief that the end is near — it's just the math that is off.
"If for some reason it does not happen, then we will be corrected," he said.
Religion scholars contend Camping and his followers have misinterpreted the meaning of Judgment Day. The idea, they say, is that the end is suppose to be a surprise, a shock, and because of that Christians should live their lives doing good works as if any day might be their last.
"The focus is on the wrong place. The sign of a well-lived life is you wouldn't do anything differently if the world was to end," De La Torre said. "We are all going to experience the end of the world as we know it. The question is: How do I live my life knowing I have limited time on this planet to live out the Gospel?"
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