Every day it was him and his Bible. Years bled into each other, with old listeners coming back into the fold, new ones dropping by the dial and staying. Camping continued beseeching God, calculating, promising his listeners he was getting closer. About six years ago, it all began coming together. He realized that 7,000 years needed to pass between the Great Flood—whose year he calculated as 4990 B.C.—and the end. Which led him to 2011. He then applied to his equations “special” numbers rife with symbolism—5=atonement; 10=completeness; 17=Heaven; 23=destruction—uncovering “marvelous proofs.”
“The atonement or redemption demonstrated by Christ’s suffering and death on April 1, 33 A.D. (the number 5) is 100% completed on May 21, 2011 (the number 10) when all the true believers are raptured into Heaven (the number 17),” he explained. Multiplying those numbers, and squaring them to show His emphasis, gives you 722,500, an “enormously significant” sum equal to the exact number of days between the two dates. He could go further: The Church Age had begun on the day of Pentecost in 33 A.D. and lasted 1,955 years (another “spiritually significant” number, based on its integer components), until the Pentecost of May 21, 1988 (the year he left the church); his recalculated Tribulation period was to last the duration of the special number of 23 years, bringing us once again to May 21, 2011. “Dear reader,” he concluded in one of his analyses, “we should be absolutely astonished by what we have just learned.” This time, he said, there was no question mark, no equivocation; the mathematics were God’s.
The proof, after all, was everywhere. Setting aside the unending stream of everyday disasters—war in the Middle East, starvation in Africa, earthquakes in Asia—in his mind, all the Bible’s specific prophecies were being met. A reborn Israel was celebrating 40 years of re-existence without accepting Jesus Christ. The Christian churches had descended into the so-called charismatic movement under Satan’s occupation, embracing Christian rock and personal salvation and the ordination of women. Society had condoned divorce, birth control, and abortion. Worst of all, there was the appalling ascendancy of gays. Four thousand years ago, Camping noted, God had used homosexuality as one of the foremost signs the end was near—in that case for the city of Sodom, where the men had become so perverted that they’d demanded to have sex even with the male angels sent to warn Sodom’s one true believer.
“At no point in the history of the world has mankind ever been more wicked,” said the voice on the radio, in English, and translated into Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Nepalese, Portuguese, Urdu, French, Hindi, Korean, Swahili, Farsi, Arabic …
“Judgment Day,” it said haltingly, “is almost here.”
Though he tried to put forth a smiling face, the days after May 21, 2011, took a terrible toll on Camping. The reaction was furious. The lead-up to May 21 had given rise to one of the most successful worldwide media campaigns in recent history; now the story demanded a follow-up. The days that followed brought one rapture-related fallout after another. There were news reports that a 14-year-old Russia girl had hanged herself, and that a 25-year-old had drowned in the dark in a vast Bay Area reservoir while speaking incoherently about God’s return. The adjudication was instant: But for Camping, these people might not have done what they did.
Even Camping’s listeners were outraged—devastated that the world had not ended, that their lives on Earth had continued. One after the other, callers berated him, quoting the same false-prophet verses—Jeremiah 14:14; Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of Heaven, but the Father only.” Often they misstated chapter and verse and Camping corrected them, turning immediately to the appropriate quotation before challenging them on their logic.
Several individuals and groups filed complaints with the FCC to try to have his broadcasts shut down. The media continued to hound him. Threats were made against him, and a station in Sacramento was severely vandalized. Camping increased security for Family Radio staff. Some mainstream Christians were among the most aggressive, calling Camping the Antichrist himself; the Christian Post wondered whether God might exact vengeance upon him for all the damage he’d wrought.
Every night, Camping sat down among the plastic plants in his radio-TV studio. “Wel-come to ‘Open Forum!’ ” he said. He insisted that the Earth did quake in its own way on May 21, that human beings were made of the dust of the Earth, and “My, how the world shook!” One caller pounced: “God is not directing you! Satan’s directing you!” Camping attempted to interrupt him—“Ex-cuse me”—but the man was insistent: “You, Mr. Camping, is a false prophet!”