Doomsday prophet: End of the world is on schedule
It had been a few months since I dropped in on Harold Camping, the Oakland minister who believes the world will end May 21.
I was happy to see that Camping, a more frail 89 years than I had remembered, had at least maintained his apocalyptic sense of humor.
"I thought you were dead!" he said as we sat down in his office.
"Only a few more months," I responded.
Camping wagged a finger at me. "One hundred twenty one days."
Since our last visit, Camping's lights-out prediction had gone global -- much to his enjoyment. As the final date approaches, he's been swamped with media requests. He wedged our meeting among interviews with the Times of London, a score of bloggers, television producers and a Philadelphia morning zoo radio show.
"My life is not my own these days," he said. "I have no time for fun or pleasure. It's all about the interviews."
It was a good time to talk Armageddon. In the past few weeks, flocks of birds had fallen from the skies, persuading those unconvinced by the laws of science that it was, in fact, a sign of The End of Times.
"I didn't read anything in the Bible that talks of birds dying off as a sign," Camping said. "That's mankind doing the talking, not the Bible."
Director George Lucas had also reportedly given his blessing to the notion that the Mayan calendar's 2012 doomsday prediction was on target.
Camping offered what sounded like a practiced sound bite to respond to the Lucas report. "Phooey," he said. "Like a lot of people, he grabs at 2012 because he needs something to believe in. But it's all speculation."
What remains unquestioned, in Camping's mind, is that the world will come to an end in a matter of weeks. Each time I've met with him I've asked him if this makes him sad. Or angry. Or anything else but delighted.
"I gotta admit," he said, "that I do find myself thinking more and more about how short the time is. And how it goes by so quick. It's as if the mind is not capable of comprehending this."
Outside his office, Camping's employees were busy hand-washing a new fleet of RVs emblazoned with Bible verse and the proclamation, "May 21, 2011: Judgment is Coming!"
Above the passenger side door on each RV, one of of those red anti-circles was painted over "2012." The popular 2012 myth, as Camping dismissed it, at least served as an entry point for his followers to discuss the true Armageddon with the curious.
The five-vehicle caravan was headed to Florida the following week. Along the way they'd stop in small towns and big cities to share Camping's proofs and try to save as many souls as possible.
According to Camping's reading of the Bible, only those who are saved will enter heaven May 21.
"You better start pleading with God now," Camping warned. "He doesn't save people who are egotistical."JUSTIN BERTON is a general assignment reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/justinberton
February 02 2011 at 11:20 AM|