The Common Good

'Apocalypse Later:' Documentary Explores Harold Camping's End-Times Predictions

For thousands of years, select groups of Christians have thought their generation was Earth’s last. Even the Apostle Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime. But Paul didn’t have the audacity to pinpoint an exact date for what we call the Rapture. Harold Camping, on the other hand, did.

Photo courtesy Zeke Piestrup via Facebook
Photo courtesy Zeke Piestrup via Facebook

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Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World a new documentary that premiered June 8 — exposes wrongful and conflicting beliefs about Jesus’ return by sharing Camping’s concrete opinions of those who didn’t follow his beliefs of the apocalypse. Declaring their spot in hell, Camping was certain that those who didn’t follow his apocalyptic views would spend eternity in damnation.  

Apocalypse Later tells the story of Camping, a man who had to let go of his pride and face the reality of joining the dozens of others who have wrongly predicted the end of time.

In the documentary, historian and New Testament scholar Loren Stuckenbruck refers to the apocalypse as a “literary genre,” a “mode of thought,” and “a social movement.”

The film is emotional and shocking, contrasting the scary, more literal interpretations of fundamentalist Christians with the more nuanced hermeneutical approaches of academics like Struckenbruck. The juxtaposition reveals that the tensions and battles that Christians face might not be against those who will be “left behind,” but rather between Christians themselves.

Based out of a California church, the documentary gives its audience an in-depth look into the apocalyptic frenzy of 2011. Longtime Christian radio broadcaster and president of Family Radio, Camping is shown leading his people to believe the apocalypse was coming on May 21, 2011, and later — when that failed — on October 21, 2011. Using his power within the church, Camping stirred up a bundle of lies regarding the world’s end that people believed to be true but obviously discovered was wrong.

Director Zeke Piestrup was the only journalist to follow Camping on his campaign to prepare souls for the apocalypse. As such, he reveals the compelling lifestyles of those who followed the small-town preacher by exposing the countless contradictions with which Camping presented his followers.

Seducing the minds of the mass media and people across the county, Camping's so-called scientific evidence and biblical references were enough to put people around the world in a state of panic.

Preparing themselves for not only one, but two apocalypses, Camping’s followers gave up nearly all they had in order to support and spread the word of "doomsday." Traveling to various countries, donating money to fund commercials and billboards, and wearing clothes that marketed the apocalypse, people were highly encouraged to dedicate their final days spreading the word of God’s return.

Featuring raw footage, this documentary reveals a sense of hopelessness and sorrow as people from within Camping’s community bared a sense of grief for their last days on earth and as they prepared themselves to be “saved.” Convinced of God’s return on May 21 and later on October 21, the sight of believers crying in the front row of the church was painful to see. Fear and sadness painted the faces of those who believed they were upon their final days as they gave thanks to the Lord.

May 21, 2011 was the original date that Camping predicted the world to end.

"It's going to happen," Camping said. 

But Matthew 24:36 reads,

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

In this documentary, Camping’s ignorance was blatantly clear, and his predictions were repeatedly proven wrong. His misunderstandings of the word of God were presented throughout the film, revealing the fallacies people of our time face when it comes to understanding the Rapture and the differences between fundamentalist interpretations of scripture and the study-driven approach of academia. Following the failure of a second proclaimed apocalypse, Camping admitted to his wrongful predictions, proclaiming them as sinful. Surrendering to the unknown, Camping confessed his faults and repented for his sins by acknowledging no man knows the date or time of Judgment Day.

“I absolutely don’t know,” Camping said, as Piestrup asked him the ultimate question — do you know when God will return?

Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World is a fascinating documentary. It is bound to enlighten and guide viewers through some of the more literal beliefs about the apocalypse, and how society continues to view the end times as a way of expressing themselves through philosophy and social movements.

Katie Anderson is a summer Web Assistant for Sojourners.

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