After the Rapture

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.—1 Thessalonians 16-18

In the end, they believed, on Saturday, May 21, 2011, 13,023 years after His breath first blew across the vastness of the space and time He was simultaneously creating, separating light from darkness, the Earth from the firmament above, producing creatures of every kind, and fashioning in His own image His beloved children, children who would promptly forsake him, thus condemning to death themselves and all generations to come—on that day this May, they believed, they knew, He would return to fulfill His promise and at long last begin the systematic destruction of it all.

“The Bible is perfect—the literal word of God—infallible and utterly precise,” 89-year-old Harold Camping reminded them each weeknight, his slow, sonorous voice spilling from radios across the world. The end, the five-month period of God’s judgment, whose dates he’d ascertained from a lifetime of intense scriptural study, was to begin at 6 p.m. east of New Zealand and spread across the globe as that hour dawned on each time zone. Deep beneath the South Pacific, two tectonic plates were to press and finally slip past each other, releasing incalculable concentrations of energy. As walls of ocean drowned the islands of the Pacific, the Earth’s crust would continue ripping, destroying entire villages and cities. Fires would tear across the forests of Asia and Europe, en route to America, volcanoes erupting and nuclear reactors exploding and airplanes falling from the sky. Finally, the sun and the moon darkened by smoke, trumpets would roar from the heavens, and those still alive would gather in the streets to do all they could do, which was to look up and plead for His mercy.

They had been warned. Over the course of years of herculean effort, Camping and his listeners had spread his—and His—word far and wide: $100 million raised to finance 5,000 billboards across the U.S. and 30 countries; millions of copies of free books and pamphlets distributed; 24-hour Bible instruction translated into 75 languages, available to millions via Family Radio’s network of radio stations and its website. Added to this, the extraordinary media attention: from the New York Times to the BBC to Al-Jazeera to the Kenya Daily Nation. Every day as May 21 approached, hundreds of stories ran in media outlets around the world—an informational saturation “only God could have orchestrated,” as Camping noted.

“Wel-come to the ‘Open Forum!’ ” Camping began on the evening of Thursday, May 19, as he had every weeknight for the past 50 years, his voice emanating from the satellite dishes and low-rise radio tower behind his well-worn but expansive Family Radio world headquarters, a quarter of a mile from the Oakland airport. The 90 minutes passed fairly typically—callers challenged him once again to explain why, if he was so certain of the world’s ending, he hadn’t given away all his money, and his answer was the same: After Saturday there will be no use for money—and after thanking his listeners for their decades together, he signed off for what was supposed to have been the last time, standing to shake hands with his cameramen and producers, reminding them, including one who was Jewish, that they’d never see each other again. He had ordered the offices closed Friday and had taped to its windows computer-printed notes—SORRY WE MISSED YOU! To avoid the media swarm at his home in Alameda, he spirited off to a hotel with Shirley, his wife of almost 70 years. There, they watched the news and prayed for the 98 percent of the world’s population who he estimated were hours away from terrible suffering.

Around the globe, some unknowable number of people were waiting and praying with them. Over the past several months, most had carried on dutifully; others, the media reported, had become hysterical, quitting their jobs, racking up credit-card debt, marrying capriciously. In March, a Los Angeles County mother had purportedly stabbed her daughters in Rapture hysteria, fearing they would be rendered apocalyptic “slaves.” But now there was only anticipation. Shortly before 6 p.m. on Long Island, a man pleaded with the teenager on the phone to rush his pizza before the world started ending. At any minute, he was sure, trumpets would sound as Jesus Christ, flocked by angels, surfed the billowing clouds. First, the quaking would throw open the tombs of loved ones as they burst up through the ground. Then they’d all be lifted, too, so that high above the madness unfolding below, all of them would be caught up, together with Christ.

Camping preparing to tape "Open Forum" on May 23, 2011.Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

And so six o’clock dawned on the South Pacific.

And there was nothing.

Reached on his doorstep the following morning, Camping was, he said, “flabbergasted.” He was visibly shaken. “It has been a really tough weekend,” he acknowledged. He said he was “looking for answers.” And so in the hours that followed he pulled the drapes, doing all he could do, which was diving back into the Bible, reading, calculating, praying, reading, calculating, praying.

By Monday, in a development he could not have previously fathomed, Camping found himself sitting back in his chair in his wood-paneled studio before a scrum of television cameras. His rail-thin body was clad in an old JCPenney suit, and in his lap he held a massive leather-bound Bible. Though ancient-looking, Camping came across surprisingly confident. After calling “this last weekend a very interesting weekend,” he cut to the chase: “And so, the first question is, ‘Camping, what about you? Are you ready to shoot yourself, or are you ready to go on a booze trip, or whatever?’ ” he asked rhetorically. “Well, I can tell you very candidly that when May 21 came and went, it was a very difficult time for me.”

As God had it, an answer began forming and was furthered along via some ideas in a letter he’d received that very morning from a listener. He realized, he explained, he’d been taking some of the end-time verses in the Bible too literally. “Suddenly it dawned on me, Oh, I see what happened,” he said. God had indeed returned to Earth on May 21, he explained, but His return—and the earthquakes and terror that were to accompany it—was for now spiritual, not physical. It was, Camping said, necessary for it to be this way; if God had let Camping realize there would be no fire and brimstone, then his warnings might have been less vigorous. Most important, the timeline he’d parsed from the Bible was no less accurate. The Final Judgment was already occurring. It would last for five months—153 days—and we were already two days in.

“And it will continue right up until October 21, 2011, and at that time the whole world will be destroyed,” Camping said calmly. “This is why we don’t have to talk about this anymore. The world is under judgment. We are not going to be passing out any more tracts; all billboards are coming down. Our work is done. The world has been warned. My! How they have been warned.

And then it was time for questions.

With accents from around the world, the reporters struck a collective tone of righteous indignation. They seemed appalled, personally aggrieved. One by one, they chided him: Was he prepared to apologize to the world? Would Family Radio return the money of those who’d donated? What about those his message had driven to madness?

“If you listen to Family Radio,” Camping insisted, “I have said it so many times, I am not the authority; the Bible is the authority. I will simply show you where to look in the Bible.

“All I am,” he said, “is a humble teacher.”

Harold Camping is ferociously in love with every one of the 788,258 words of the Bible, a “wonderful, authoritative, majestic” work that is 100 percent accurate, scientifically and historically. It is “God-breathed,” “from the mouth of God! God! God!” Camping believes in the principle of inerrancy, whereby God has taken pains to control His word exactly, through every disciple, apostle, transcriber, and translator, starting with an everyday shepherd named Moses who was summoned to Mount Sinai 3,320 years ago. And so Camping trusts implicitly every word—and, as important, every number—of his King James Version of the Bible. One evening on his radio show, a caller had suggested he put together a draft of the Bible in which corresponding verses were positioned beside each other, for easier scriptural comparison.

Camping: Well, now, I don’t think you’re really serious about that because that of course—

Caller: Of course I am because—

Camping: Excuse me. Ex-cuse me. That’s an impossibility. We don’t rewrite the Bible. The Bible was written by God … We tremble before the word of God … My, my! Just think of it. The Bible has come from the infinite mind of God. And who are we?

Camping was born into the Christian Reformed Church—a Dutch denomination rooted in staunch Calvinism—one of five brothers raised by Dutch immigrants in Southern California. He was a shy child and slow to develop socially, but he had an obvious affinity for numbers; he went on to earn a degree in civil engineering at Berkeley, and within a few years of graduation, he acquired his own construction company and began amassing a small fortune. It was during college that he began worshipping at the Christian Reformed Church in nearby Alameda, where he met his future wife, Shirley. He became increasingly religious, and by the time he was 35, he’d shifted his professional duties to part time and devoted himself to the Bible, studying it for eight or more hours a day, scanning it for its meaning and the hidden codes that underlay it.

Illustration by Dienstelle 75Photo: Splash News

“He approached the Bible as an engineer, like it was one massive equation that needed to be worked,” says Dr. Robert Godfrey, the president of Westminster Seminary in Southern California, who became a Christian as a teenager in the sixties attending the Bible classes Camping had volunteered to teach every Sunday night.

In 1958, Camping made the acquaintance of a sacred-record salesman named Richard Palmquist, who bemoaned the dearth of Christian radio stations across the country, with none in San Francisco. Camping helped secure the funding to purchase the struggling ­classical-music station KEAR, under the flag of the nonprofit Family Stations Inc. (tagline: “For a Change in Your Life”). At first, Palmquist filled the programming mostly with sacred music, but he then added some Bible-studies talk, including a nightly call-in show he hosted, which he named “Open Forum.” KEAR was an instant success, and Family Radio expanded, first to Sacramento, then through California and eastward. Soon, with Camping cutting a higher profile at the studio, Palmquist was farmed out to a satellite office in Palo Alto. Around the same time, he was driving home from work one evening with the radio on. “Wel-come to ‘Open Forum,’ ” the voice of Harold Camping called out.

“In all my life I’ve never met anyone more dedicated, or with greater integrity, than Harold,” Palmquist, 80, recalls. “He has such integrity that he can be called bullheaded—what is right for him is right, and nobody’s going to tell him anything, and he will live by it with all of his heart, mind, and soul.”

Eventually, Camping sold his construction company for a large enough sum that he could move full time into the management of Family Radio. The network added more than 70 stations, including some of the most valuable airwaves in America. Every continent was targeted: As the China market grew, for example, Camping constructed off its shores two massive AM radio transmitters, capable of broadcasting across Asia (the signal has been picked up as far away as Norway). The nonprofit’s assets ballooned to more than $100 million. Throughout it all, Camping took no salary.

“It has been a really tough weekend,” Camping acknowledged the next day.

Camping’s radio audience spilled over into his Bible study classes in Alameda. This—as well as his increasingly idiosycratic theology—caused friction between Camping and church leaders, who in 1988 asked him to suspend his teaching. Camping soon left the church, all but gutting its congregation, and began meeting his followers weekly for Bible study and “fellowship” in Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Building. By now, he considered his Biblical scholarship unimpeachable. Dr. Godfrey recalls sitting at Camping’s kitchen table, long after he’d graduated from seminary school and was earning a Ph.D. from Stanford, when Camping brought up Isaiah 45:7—“God formed the light and created the darkness”—arguing for more than two hours “that that clearly teaches that light is not created and darkness is created.” Camping was relentless. “Any of my discussion of Hebrew or Parallelism or whatever just made absolutely no difference to him,” Godfrey says. “That he couldn’t speak Hebrew or Greek didn’t matter one iota. It was just this hyperliteralism.”

But it was precisely this literalism that attracted many of his listeners: Camping’s ability to make Scripture living and current—indeed, relevant to this very instant. And what he was beginning to see within the Bible’s 31,102 verses was nothing short of astonishing: dates, proofs, patterns, and codes that could elucidate a total and minutely accurate timeline of the universe’s history, up to and including the hour of its appointed end.

On September 10, 1992, Harold Camping announced on “Open Forum” the culmination of a lifetime of intense study: His calculations had revealed the date of the Rapture, the opening salvo of Judgment Day and the End of Times. It was to commence on September 6, 1994. He painstakingly detailed his calculations in a 500-plus-page book, 1994?, which sold a reported $1 million worth of copies within four weeks (all proceeds returning to Family Radio). There was significant media interest, and Camping became famous. Hunched over, in his suspenders and huge owl glasses, Larry King asked him on CNN how confident he was of the date. Acknowledging the question mark at the end of the title of his book, Camping replied: “At least 9.”

Many predicted the mistake would destroy Family Radio. But Camping was out front, explaining after September 6 that he’d erred on the side of the greatest caution—at issue was the world’s annihilation, after all. He’d not had the time to work sufficiently through the Books of Jeremiah and Matthew, and now that he had, he learned that what occurred on September 6 was in fact the beginning of the Great Tribulation, the necessary precursor to the Rapture and Judgment Day. Those dates, he promised, he was getting closer to ascertaining. Many in Family Radio were embarrassed and wished him to stop with his calculations, including at least one of his sons-in-law, whose employment at Family Radio ended around the same time. Camping was unmoved.

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!”

Another caller, a middle-aged woman with a trembling voice, asked for reassurance.

Caller: I’m having such a hard time because I don’t know how to interact with my family members. They’re taking me to doctors and thinking I’m out of my mind … They think that because I’m older, that I have Alzheimer’s or something.

Camping: Well, first of all, you must remember that God knows all about this; God predicted that this would happen … The Bible indicated that this would be the case that we would be shamed—

Caller: And alone. And, alone.

Camping: So—

Caller: But that doesn’t matter to me.

Camping: That’s right, because you and I—

Caller: It doesn’t matter—

Camping: Remember, you and I are only answering to God.

The evening of June 10, Camping signed off, clutching his giant Bible, and teetered, sticklike, to his eighties Toyota Camry. He drove out the Family Radio parking lot, past the sign on the sidewalk for “clairvoyance” at the psychic shop a few doors down, and towards Alameda. His house is large and attractive, though showing its age; Shirley would certainly have replaced the fraying curtains in the living room had her husband not convinced her of the profound mootness of doing so. At the dinner table, they bowed their heads; Camping had long disparaged the need for any formal mealtime prayer, opting instead for the simple “Dear Lord, thank you for this food.” Then he picked up his fork.

As Camping was eating, God entered his body—for it would have to have been this way, there was no other possibility—coalescing several cells into a tiny clot of lipids that traveled through his bloodstream by the beating of his heart to a narrow bend in a tiny vessel in his brain. As Shirley stood by him in the dining room, the ambulance en route, inside his skull, God began suffocating Camping’s brain cells.

In the emergency room, his family prayed; were Camping able to communicate with them at that moment, he undoubtedly would have instructed them of the appropriate prayer, which was not for his survival but for His will to be done. Camping’s doctor appeared before them with the results of the CT scan. Camping had suffered a stroke. His prognosis was unclear.

It seemed possible that Harold Camping would not make it to the end.

On a recent Sunday morning, I drove to Veterans Memorial Building in Alameda. The events of May 21, followed by Camping’s stroke, had left a deep void inside the fellowship as well as inside Family Radio, and for a while it was not clear whether either would survive. There had been, apparently, tremendous debate within the company over whether to continue publicizing the October 21 deadline, with a sizable contingent opposed; over time, however, especially as Camping had held on, the official Family Radio position became that the date stood, that Family Radio’s mission was accomplished, that there was no more salvation to be wrung after May 21, and so there would be no more discussion. As far as “Open Forum” was concerned, rebroadcasts would give way to new programming: Camping was retired.

And while most in the fellowship—and presumably most in his worldwide followers—had found themselves profoundly lost after May 21, unsure of whom to believe or what to do, the most faithful among them were steadily returning to the flock. These included the few dozen sipping coffee from paper cups in folding metal chairs inside Veterans Memorial Building—different ages and races, some alone and others with family, all of them well dressed and smiling. A mustachioed man rose to offer the Bible lesson. He was short and cartoonish, wearing a suit ripped from a seventies exhibit at the Smithsonian, and he grinned absurdly as he talked, with a slight Mexican accent, about Noah and the 7,000 years, about what it meant that “we are still here,” about the illusion that “things are A-OK” and the reality that “we’re on track, everything is moving according to God’s plan” for October 21, when “He will destroy all this, it will all be done, the verdict for them will be guilty.” I looked around the hall as he spoke: Two young girls in floral-print dresses were drawing pictures with markers; a boy of about 9 sat next to his goateed father, dressed in jeans and a hunting T-shirt, the two of them pinching each other and stealing quiet giggles. When it came time to pray—for “the meek who shall inherit the earth” and “our loved ones that are not saved, who will die forever”—both abruptly looked down solemnly, covering their faces with their fingers.

By now the fellowship was cautious of outsiders. After the service, I approached the woman who’d been playing the piano as they’d sung hymns earlier. She hesitated to acknowledge that she was Camping’s daughter, Sue Espinoza; it was her first time back at the fellowship since before May 21. Her father, she told me, was weak but recovering better than expected—just a few days earlier, he’d returned home, in fact, for continued physical therapy. He’d told his family that God had “used him to spread His message and he’d done that—he’d warned the world—and so his work was done and God silenced him.” She said he remained utterly convinced of the October 21 deadline, as did she, but as she parroted her father’s language—the spiritual Rapture had commenced, God was merciful, the end was coming—I got the impression that, like the Bible study I’d just listened to, much of it was perfunctory.

Indeed, over the time I spent in the Bay Area, it became increasingly clear that many of those closest to Camping had had their doubts about his prognostications, not just inside Family Radio but also inside the Camping family, including, evidently, Sue’s five siblings and all of his 28 grandchildren, such as Sue’s long-haired, skateboard-riding son, who, answering their front door one afternoon, called me “man” and “bro.” One person close to the family speculated that even Shirley, a model of devotion, may have harbored doubts; she betrayed them subtly, the friend said, such as in her tendency, in telephone conversations, to refer to their Sunday-morning fellowships as “church”—a characterization her husband abhorred.

Despite a world now days away from annihilation, the media has largely ignored Camping’s October 21 prediction. There is none of the joking and condescension, the gleeful alarm, the attempts to tie loose strands of human despair into a story of Camping-induced hysteria. Over the summer, in fact, reports in Russia suggested the 14-year-old who hanged herself had already battled depression for years, and had motivations far more complicated than Harold Camping. In the case of the California mother reported to have stabbed her daughters in Rapture-induced hysteria, lawyers on both sides told me there was no indication that she knew Camping’s name (for the record, each girl received about ten stitches before being released into the custody of the state, which is now prosecuting her for attempted murder). The Contra Loma detective who investigated the case of the young man who’d drowned in a reservoir told me that the reporter who’d interviewed her had pressed repeatedly about Camping; she said there was no evidence the man had followed him and felt “misquoted” when she read the subsequent story explicitly linking them, picked up by the AP and distributed around the world.

It’s clear that many of those closest to Camping had had their doubts­—even his wife.

Whether Camping is aware of any of this remains unclear. He recently turned 90. Earlier this month, holed up in his house and still undergoing rehabilitation, he recorded what was to have been his last last message to his listeners. In a six-minute “Greeting from Mr. Camping” posted on, he acknowledged, in a slurred voice even slower than usual, his “long ways away from being healed,” but said how grateful he was to God for his recovery so far, especially to be living “again with my dear wife at home, and that has been very, very comforting, and very happy for me.” It all seemed superfluous, if not paradoxical—that he even cared about a future, given the closeness of the end.

“I do believe that we’re getting very near the very end,” he said, repeating that “we’ve learned that there’s a lot of things we didn’t have quite right, and that’s God’s good provision.” He asserted once again that Judgment Day had nevertheless begun spiritually, that God had kept them in the dark in order to “bring about the tremendous event that occurred on May 21 of this year, and which …”

And then Harold Camping did something heretofore unimaginable.

“… And which probably will be finished out on October 21, this coming very shortly, that looks like it will be, at this point, it looks like it will be the final end of everything.”

He used the word probably. He hedged.

As Sue and I were talking in Veterans Memorial Building, a lumbering man in a tie-dyed T-shirt hovered around us. His name was Mark, and he told me he had a feeling when he saw me. He said he needed to tell me his life story. On my last day in California, we met at a Denny’s in Contra Costa.

Mark is 55 and from the Bay Area. In the summer of 1969, when he was in sixth grade, he’d smoked his first joint, followed by LSD, and then methamphetamine. He worked as a mechanic, joined the Bay Area motorcycle gang the Flying Fuckin’ A’s. He and his friends took meth-fueled runs up the coast, holding court in filthy bars where they drugged women and took turns having sex with them. It went on like this for years, all around him: extortion, murder, cooking and dealing meth. One afternoon in 1979, he and his best friend, up for days on end, were speeding home from Lake Tahoe, Mark driving and taking bumps for reassurance. He fell asleep, and when he woke up outside the truck a few seconds later, he saw his friend’s brains in the road.

Things got worse. He was sitting at home one night, wasted, when a commercial came on the radio station he was listening to, and he flipped the dial. “Wel-come to ‘Open Forum,’ ” Harold Camping called out. “What the fuck is this?” Mark said to himself. But for some reason, he kept listening.

He listened that night, and the next, and the one after. And one day—high and still facing a manslaughter charge—he drove his motorcycle to Oakland, where he asked if he could speak with Camping. He was greeted warmly and invited to Bible-study classes. At first Mark felt ridiculous—“like, what the fuck is going on here? What’s up with these people?”—but they were generous. He confided he was trying to escape a life of sadness and sin. They invited him to potlucks and told him he might be among God’s elect.

And then it happened: The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came into Mark’s heart. All at once, he threw himself at the mercy of God and repented. He gave up drugs. He began taking psychiatric medication. He joined Camping’s church and followed his teachings, and as 1994 approached, he grew feverish in his anticipation. He was, he said, utterly convinced of Camping’s calculations that the world would end.

When it didn’t, he struggled for many months to figure out what had happened. For the most part, he cut ties with Camping. But earlier this year, when he’d seen the billboards on the highway, he’d found himself careering back toward believing, so much so that he’d spent the evening of May 21 off his medication and nearly hysterical. Afterward, his confusion returned. Again, he distanced himself from Camping. He concluded Camping had become lost in his Bible and surrounded by enablers. But none of that could change what Camping had done for Mark and untold others around the world.

“Harold Camping saved us,” Mark said. “Harold Camping saved me.”

Surely, though, I said, he did not take October 21 seriously, after having lived through 1994 and May 21. He paused. He smiled. When six o’clock rolls around the world this Friday, Mark told me, he will almost certainly be “watching and praying”—watching and praying for any sign of the earth opening beneath him, of the sky darkening, the trumpets roaring, the graves bursting open, for his life to end and his body to be abruptly lifted and caught up in the clouds.

He said, “You never know.”

After the Rapture