For some, it's Judgment Day. For others, it's party time.
A loosely organized Christian movement has spread the word around the globe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth on Saturday to gather the faithful into heaven.
The prediction originates with Harold Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer from Oakland, Calif., who founded Family Radio Worldwide, an evangelical ministry that has broadcast his prediction around the world.
Judgment Day has been fabulous for business. The nonprofit has raised more than $100 million over the past seven years, according to tax returns. It owns 66 radio stations across the globe and was worth more than $72 million in 2009, McClatchy Newspapers reported.
Camping has been derided for an earlier apocalyptic prediction in 1994, but his followers say that merely referred to the end of "the church age," a time when human beings in Christian churches could be saved. That time has passed, they say.
Camping is not hedging this time: "Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said in January.
Skeptics are having fun. More than 175,000 people indicated on a Facebook page that they would attend a "post rapture looting." The comic strip Doonesbury mocked the prediction, and "rapture parties" are being planned in many cities to celebrate the failure of the world to come to an end. In Fayetteville, N.C., the American Humanist Association plans a Saturday night party followed by a day-after concert.
The Christian mainstream isn't buying it, either. Many pastors around the country are planning Sunday sermons on the folly of trying to discern a date for the end of the world. The Rev. Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. couldn't wait: He preached on the topic last Sunday.
"I believe Christ could come today. I believe he could choose not to come for 1,000 years," he said. "That's in his hands, not mine."