While followers of Harold Camping and Family Radio prepare for the a giant quake that will signal the beginning of the end of the world, nonbelievers are preparing for what will happen to followers when the Rapture doesn’t come.
Suicide prevention hotlines have been set up because experts fear despondent followers who are depressed that the expected event did not appear on May 21.
Suicides after failed predictions have before. When Camping made a false Rapture prediction in 1994, a man committed suicide in New Jersey. When the world didn’t end in 1997 as Heaven’s Gate thought it would, 39 members of the cult took their lives.
Other followers may face financial woes. The New York Times reported that some Family Radio adherents have stopped making their house payments or saving up for their children to go to college. Again, there is a precedent for this. Thousands of Millerites who thought the world would end in 1844 were left penniless after they sold or gave their posessions away because they assumed they would not be needed.
Mark Vrankovich, director of the Christian group Cultwatch, whose aim is to warn people about cults, told the New Zealand Herald he worries that some followers might break off relationships when the Rapture doesn’t come.
“You invest a lot of your emotional energy or put money into it. So no matter what the evidence you want to keep on believing,” he told the Herald. “The alternative is that you've wasted your time and money, you've wasted friendships and burned bridges - people don't want to face up to that.”
Still others may be left pet-less. A man in Sonoma, Calif. has alarmed neighbors with the announcement that he will be euthanizing his animals before the end of the world.
Gawker snidely suggested that followers might beat up Harold Camping when they realize May 21 isn’t the Rapture, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Head of the Millerite movement William Miller was publicly taunted and nearly assaulted for his mistake.
But if Camping isn’t publicly shamed, there’s always another option — Presidency.
He’d only be following in the footsteps of earlier televangelist Pat Robertson, who was so unfazed about his failed prediction for the world to end in 1982 that he ran for President just six years later.
That kind of ploy, however, would likely do little to help assauge the disappointment and shame Camping’s followers will feel if the Rapture does not come this Saturday.