Why do people believe Harold Camping's apocalyptic prophecies? It is a joint effect of a charismatic, convincing personality and a form of internal need to perceive the Bible as a code, Glenn Shuck, Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., told The Christian Post Thursday.
Shuck could not believe that Camping, who promotes his teachings through his Family Radio broadcasts, still had any remaining followers. In 1992, Camping also predicted that the world would end in 1994. Not only that, he even wrote a book, aptly titled, 1994?
"It surprises me that he was able to continue this for this long," Shuck told CP.
However, the scholar, who focuses on new religious movements in the United States, admitted that Camping has a sort of charisma about him that is almost hard to resist.
"I've listened to his radio [broadcasts]. He sounds like a very nice guy. Very calm," he said, adding that the end times preacher definitely manages to, at least superficially, appear believable.
Is that why people believe him?
"I think there's an enduring temptation among Christians to look at the Scripture as a code, despite the warnings," Shuck said.
He added that Christians feel tempted to try to draw a specific time for when Christ will fulfill the promises of bringing His kingdom to earth. It has been a temptation ever since the first generation of Christians, Shuck said. They were actually expecting that Christ would come back during their lifetime.
"This has been going on since the beginning of Christianity," he added. Shuck, author Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity, suggested that, for those who believe Camping, doing some "complicated math" makes it possible to find any answer in the Bible.
Most recently, Camping predicted an apocalypse on May 21, 2011. After no rapture occurred that day, the Bible teacher rescheduled the event for Oct. 21, announcing that the May judgment was only "spiritual." Many who remember the May event feel skeptical about the new prophecy, which will involve a "physical" judgment, according to Camping.
However, according to Shuck, "prophets" like Camping will always have their faithful following. To this day, it is not certain how many people sold their homes, quit their jobs or gave away their life's savings in anticipation of the May 21 rapture.
Among the few people who did share their stories publicly, one thing was for certain – they believed his predictions were the real deal. Undoubtedly, there may still be a few, like Camping himself, who believe Christ will return and the world as we know it will come to an end in only a matter of weeks.