May 21, 2011 was a day like any other. The sun came up, the birds chirped, and the lawn sprinklers watered lawns across the country. But for Alameda's Harold Camping, it was the disappointment of his life. The radio preacher, who died today at 92, had famously predicted that date to be the time of the Rapture, when the true believers ascend to heaven and Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead. The end of the world. The apocalypse. The time's up beep from the universe's microwave.
According to Camping, on May 21st, Jesus would return to Earth, true believers would ascend to heaven, and the world would begin to be destroyed by fire and brimstone, with the process finally culminating on October 21st of the same year.
Camping had built himself a dedicated base of believers through his sermons on his station, the Family Radio Network carried locally on 106.9 FM and which reached as far as Taiwan and Ghana, and through billboards. According to the Washington Post, he spent millions of dollars—much of it donated from his followers—to spread his message, which was amplified through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
2011 wasn't the first time that Camping predicted that trumpet would sound. Way back in 1994, he said he was "99.9%" sure that the Rapture was due to come on September 6th of that year. It didn't, but Camping soldiered on. After the failure of his 2011 prediction, Camping first pushed his calculation back to the fall of 2011. When that date also came and went his flock (and its donations) collapsed, and he reportedly did an about face on the business of predictions, citing his previous attempts as sinful and pointing to Matthew 28:36, which says that "about that day or hour no one knows." Camping suffered a stroke the following June. He reportedly died of complications relating to a fall at home.
As of press time, the Son of God had not returned to judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom, nor was He returning numerous requests for comment.