Wednesday, May 11, 2011

May 21, Judgment Day, Chicago Code: Hot Trends

If the signs are to be believed, the end of the world as we know it starts on May 21.

Billboards are popping up around the globe, including in major Canadian cities, proclaiming May 21 as Judgment Day. "Cry mightily unto GOD for HIS mercy," says one of the mounted signs from Family Radio, a California-based sectarian Christian group that is sending one of its four travelling caravans of believers into Vancouver and Calgary within the next 10 days.

Family Radio's website is blunt in its prediction of Judgment Day and the rolling earthquake that will mark the beginning of the end. "The Bible guarantees it!" the site proclaims, under a passage from the book of Ezekiel, which says "blow the trumpet … warn the people."

Richard Ascough, a professor in the School of Religion at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., has been watching Family Radio's campaign, and fully expects life as we know it to continue on May 22.

He has seen other apocalyptic predictions come and go, but Family Radio's differs in a notable way: it isn't accompanied by a bold, up-front request for money. And that's worrisome, in his mind.

"I think they really believe it's going to happen," Ascough said in an interview Tuesday.
What if Judgment Day doesn't come?

When groups such as this ask for a lot of money up front, it's possible to think they're "charlatans," Ascough said.

"When they're not doing that so blatantly, it worries me more, because I think they really do believe it and they can convince people who may end up in fact doing things like … quitting their jobs, selling their house, not necessarily to give the money to this group, but simply to divest themselves in light of Judgment Day."

And then that predicted Judgment Day doesn't come.

"We've seen that happen in groups before, and then people are just wiped out, not just emotionally because it didn't happen, but financially," said Ascough. "Some people, it's led to them taking their own lives when they realize what they have done."

Family Radio identifies itself on its website as a "non-profit, non-commercial, Christian radio network" set up in 1958 with one FM station in the San Francisco Bay area. From that station bought by Harold Camping and two others "with the sole intent of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ," it has grown to a network of 66 stations through the U.S. It also broadcasts its programming internationally.

Some published estimates have put its net worth at $120 million or more.

"To have that kind of revenue base, if that's correct, suggests there must be quite a few listeners," said Ascough.

He said it is "hard to get a read" on the sectarian Christian group.

"Their theology is fundamentalist and yet still generally within the bounds of Christianity, until one gets to this date-setting business."


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