It's not like we haven't gone through this before, right? If you've been alive any amount of time at all, surely you can recall passing signs plastered on lampposts, etc, warning you that you'd better get your shit together, because the end of the world was nigh, which, near as I can tell, means RIGHT FREAKING NOW!
So Harold Camping is just another in a long line of folks throwing a date for the End of the World out there, just to see if it sticks. Of course, the world is not going to end, just like it didn't the other four times he predicted it. I feel sort of bad for the guy. It obviously means a lot to him, and at age 89, you have to figure he's running out of chances.
But here's the thing: There is nothing new about people warning everyone else the world is about to end. Sure, in this age of instant communication, those doomsday pronouncers might be able to make a bigger splash a lot quicker than they could before, but it's been going on just about forever.
For example, around the year 90 AD Saint Clement 1 predicted the world would end basically at any moment. He was wrong, obviously, but his miscue didn't stop him from achieving sainthood, so what the hell did he care?
In the year 365, some guy named Hilary of Poitiers, no relation to Sidney Poitier as far as we know, got a wild hair and decided the world would end sometime in that year. Sorry, Hilary. You'd think the guy would have kept a low profile with a name as girlie as Hilary, but some people have no shame.
Both Sextus Julius Africanus and Hippolytus predicted the world would end in the year 500, presumably because of the roundness of the number. There was no Internet, no television and no Angry Birds, so these people had little else to do than sit around trying to outdo one another in their apocalyptic predictions, apparently.
An eclipse was spotted in the year 968 and interpreted by German Emperor Otto II as presaging the end of the world. There must have been other eclipses - I'm only 51 and I've lived through lots of eclipses - but for some reason this one freaked out Otto enough to lose all sense of perspective. See my above theory regarding the Internet, TV and Angry Birds.
In the year 992, reports out of Germany that three suns and three moons were fighting above the earth led many to believe the end of times was upon them. Obviously, someone was smoking something mighty powerful in Germany between 968 and 992.
In 1179, John of Toledo analyzed the planetary alignments and determined the end was to come in 1186. I've never been to Toledo, but I'm guessing this must have seemed an eternity to poor John.
Pope Innocent III added 666 years to the date of the founding of Islam, leading him to the conclusion the world would end in 1284, and leading everyone else to the conclusion that he should maybe have picked a different name.
Melchior Hoffman predicted Jesus would return a millenium and a half after his execution, which of course would be in the year 1533. No explanation why he would pick a millenium and a half, other than it was during his lifetime. Unfortunately for Melchior, lots of people took exception to his prediction and he was placed under arrest, where he died in a German jail. There's that German connection again.
In Russia, a group called the "Old Believers" were convinced the world would end in 1669. 20,000 of them burned themselves to death between 1669 and 1690 to protect themselves from the antichrist. The rest should have died of embarrassment - if I had made it through 1669 okay, I would have been celebrating, not setting myself on fire.
William Miller, founder of the Millerite movement, initially predicted Jesus' return on March 21, 1843. When William was left hanging, he did some quick recalculating and determined the real date of the return would be October 22, 1844. He was once again disappointed, as were all the people who had sold all their property and quit their jobs in preparation for the second coming.
Mother Shipton, an 18th century mystic, unleashed on the world the following poetical gem: "The world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred and eighty-one." She would have made a lousy rapper, and was apparently no better as a mystic.
Jehovah's Witnesses named 1914 as the start of Armageddon. When the year came and went with no discernible changes, they decided 1914 was the year Jesus began his rule invisibly. Which, if you're a believer, is already the case, isn't it?
In 1919, meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that six planets would align in such a way as to make a magnetic current which would force the sun to explode, engulfing the earth in flames on December 17. I'm guessing Albert was a lot of fun at parties. Also, he probably did his Christmas shopping late that year.
This is by no means a complete list of all the end times predicitions we've had to suffer through; adding all of Harold Camping's alone to this list would take a while. And I don't mean to poke fun at anyone's beliefs; if you're bound and determined that six o'clock tonight will mark the beginning of the end, have at it.
Just don't come back to me next year with a new, updated prediction.