What do people believe will happen today?
An earthquake unlike any we've ever seen. It's supposed to start on the other side of the world, near the longitude of New Zealand, roll west and get here, to the Eastern time zone, around 6 in the evening.
Who believes the world will end today?
It's unclear how many people believe in what is commonly known as "the Rapture." Many of the believers listen to a conservative Christian national radio network based in Oakland, Calif., called Family Radio. The local affiliate is 91.7 FM. The man who owns Family Radio and has hosted the show Open Forum for 50 years is Harold Camping. He's 89. He predicted the end before, on Sept. 6, 1994. When that didn't happen, he recalculated and came up with a new date, and that date is today.
Do the believers go to church?
No. They believe the "church age" is over, because, according to Camping, every single church in the world preaches something other than the truth. The truth, they believe, can be found only in the word of the Lord in the Bible.
What is "the Rapture"? Where does the term come from?
The etymology of the word is Greek and is a reference to "being caught up" or "taken away." Believers cite a passage in 1 Thessalonians concerning the expected resurrection of Christ: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air …"
Why do they believe today is the day? What passages in the Bible do they cite?
Camping believes it's in Genesis, if you know where and how to look, and what numbers to crunch. He says, start with when Noah loaded animals onto the ark — he puts that at 4990 B.C. — and then go to 2 Peter and read that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is one day." So the seven days Noah spent loading the ark were really 7,000 years, he says. Add 7,000 to 4990 B.C., and add one more year because, Camping says, there is no Year 1 in the Bible. That puts you in 2011. Genesis says the flood began on the "17th day of the second month." According to the Jewish calendar, which is what God uses, Camping says, that's today.
What is supposed to happen to those who do not believe?
Five months of incomprehensible awfulness — fire, plagues, corpses in the streets — until Oct. 21 when the world will end in utter annihilation. Believers see recent natural disasters — the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the tornadoes and flooding in this country — as mere preludes to the end.
Do unbelievers have a chance to change their minds after it begins?
No. Once the earthquake starts, Camping says and the believers believe, the door is shut. You're in or you're out. You're part of God's "elect" or you're not.
What have believers been doing as the date has approached?
Quitting their jobs. Dropping out of college. Spending their savings on putting up billboards spreading the word. Passing out pamphlets everywhere from street corners to state fairs to grocery store deli counters. Their chosen term: "sounding the trumpets."
If it doesn't happen, do believers have a ready explanation?
It's not a conversation believers are willing to have. They believe there's no possibility that today's not the day.
Are there other predictions out there?
People have been predicting the Rapture and the end of the world for a long time. Many believe Dec. 21, 2012, is the actual date. That's the end of the calendar of the ancient Mayans.
Why do people continue to predict the end of the world when it never seems to come true?
"A lot of times these prophecies gain traction when difficulties are happening in society," Catherine Wessinger, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and an expert in apocalyptic beliefs, told the Associated Press earlier this year. "Right now, there's a lot of insecurity, and this is a promise that says it's not all random, it's part of God's plan."