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Theological doomsayers have been trying to convince innocent pedestrians for years that the end of the world is nigh. A new theory that Judgment Day is coming this Saturday has certainly generated lots of media attention, but done little to convince many Americans, including most evangelical Christians.
Some of those skeptical of the prophecy are planning on celebrating Saturday with tongue-in-cheek "rapture parties," LiveScience reports. Tacoma, Wash., non-believer Paul Case told the Seattle Times that he wants to celebrate on Saturday because if the Rapture does happen, and all Christians are lifted to heaven, "we know as atheists, we're not going."
The theory that the "Rapture"--or Judgment Day--will occur on May 21 appears to have originated with the 89-year-old leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, Harold Camping, who earlier predicted the end of days as Sept. 6, 1994. He went back to the drawing board and says his calculations are now correct. (The Daily Beast's Bryan Curtis profiles Robert Fitzpatrick, one of Camping's most ardent followers, who gave up his life savings to spread the word about the coming day of reckoning. "For Fitzpatrick, the calculation's outlandishness confirms its rightness," Curtis writes. " 'A genius could not understand this,' he says, 'because God has to open your mind to allow you to understand this.' ")
Camping--an uncredentialed evangelical minister in California whose radio show is broadcast on 66 stations--took out an ad in Reader's Digest magazine proclaiming: "The Bible guarantees the end of the world will begin with Judgment Day May 21, 2011." He's also plastered the message on 2,200 billboards around the country, according to Reuters, and his followers have traveled around in caravans to spread the word. After a big earthquake on Saturday, true believers will be swept up to heaven while everyone else descends into hell before the world is officially over, he says.
Camping's full-on PR campaign for the apocalypse seems to be working. At Yahoo!, searches for "May 21 2011 Rapture" spiked 30 percent to 11,500 searches on May 17 compared to the day earlier. "May 21 2011 End of World" and other related search terms have also spiked.
A bevy of entrepreuners hope to capitalize on believers' fear. A website called "Eternal Earth-Bound Pets" is offering to care for believers' furry friends after their masters have been Raptured and can no longer care for them--for a fee, of course. (The site, which claims to be the brainchild of a group of pet-loving atheists, claims it's not a joke, but we're not so sure.) There's also You've Been Left Behind, a kind of high-tech concierge service for the chosen, which will send their digital records to un-Raptured friends or loved ones for the low, low price of $14.95. NPR has rounded up an array of jokes the prediction has sparked on Twitter and other social media sites.
Of course, the joke will be on all of the Rapture-obsessed pranksters if the Apocalypse happens this Saturday. But Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Bothell, Wash., told the Seattle Times that he puts no stock in the prophesying of Camping and his followers. "Unfortunately they have overlooked the obvious words of Jesus: 'You do not know the day or the hour' of such events," he said.
That's how things stand right now. Keep in mind that any subject can change over time, so be sure you keep up with the latest news.