While there has been no shortage of jokes surrounding Harold Camping's rapture prediction, at least one group is calling for a serious investigation for fraud.
"Now that we're seeing ... one suicide, we see attempted murder, suicide ... I’m taking about the aftermath of Harold Camping's shenanigans, people who are now destitute; ... we are seeing problems and we're simply asking for accountability," said Bob Seidensticker of Seattle Atheists, on Sunday.
Though a call for an investigation into Family Radio, which Camping is president of, by atheists may come as no surprise, Christians have not downplayed the seriousness of the issue either.
"Stories of fallout after Camping's failed prophecies are very sad. False doctrine more serious than some think," Jerry Vines, a Baptist pastor for over 50 years, tweeted earlier.
Camping had predicted that May 21 would be the day true believers are raptured to heaven while the rest of the world suffers the beginning of Judgment Day – which would include unimaginable earthquakes. The date passed with no rapture and no apocalyptic type of events.
But some of those who believed Camping's "guaranteed" forecast were left with an empty bank account and no employment as they had expected to be taken up to heaven. Suicides were also recorded in Russia and California ahead of May 21.
When made aware of the altered lives of many of his followers, Camping refused to accept responsibility for anyone's life. And even after the rapture dud, he continues to set a date for the end times. October 21 will be the day the rapture and the end of the world happen, he now says.
The group Seattle Atheists wants to know whether Family Radio, based in Oakland, Calif., benefited from the Judgment Day campaign. While soliciting donations, Family Radio spent millions of dollars on advertisements around the country to get the word out about May 21.
"How much of their income has been due to this false rapture campaign?" Seattle Atheists asks.
The organization says current laws do not make it possible to find out such facts as the total amount of contributions received by a religious organization and how the money was spent. It is thus calling on Congress to implement new rules so that all nonprofits, including religious groups, are required to open their books to the public and show how they've been spending their money.
The radio network’s financial documents have been made public and show that it received $80 million in contributions between 2005 and 2009. But it is still unknown how much money went into the doomsday ad campaigns. Camping said he didn't know the cost of the campaigns and saw no need to refund contributions, insisting that the money was given to spread the Gospel. A longtime employee with Family Radio, Matt Tuter, who serves as international projects manager, estimated that around $100 million was spent on the campaigns and said most of the money came from the sale of property. The Christian Post could not confirm that.
Nevertheless, Seidensticker maintained, “There must be consequences. For this radio network to be financially healthy when they have caused many of their listeners to be destitute or distraught – that’s wrong. We want a way for those injured by this prediction to come forward so they can be compensated by Family Radio.”
While some have protested the atheist group's call for an investigation as infringing on First Amendment rights, Sam Mulvey of Seattle Atheists pushed back, "There are some limitations on speech.
"You can't incite to riot, you can't shout fire in the crowded theater. How what Harold Camping is doing isn't equated to shouting fire in a crowded theater is beyond me. He incited thousands of people to spend everything they got and ruin their entire lives."
Seidensticker added, "This guy's song and dance has just gone on for long enough."
Camping has made numerous predictions about the rapture and the end of the world over the past few decades. Other than May 21, he has also predicted that the rapture would occur in 1994, among other dates.