It won't be long now

Don't say I didn't warn you. I first posted on the impending end of the world back in early January, bidding farewell to life as we know it and voicing a few concerns about an Associated Press story.

I posted again on the same subject in March, showering an apocalyptic level of adoration on CNN’s “Road trip to the end of the world." The CNN story is still the best I've read on this subject.

Alas, Doomsday is May 21 -- only two weeks away. And we all know that many journalists work best on deadline. So we can probably expect more media reports before, well, you know, the end.

The Washington Post and NPR both covered the story this week. I liked the NPR report. As for the Post piece? Not so much.

Here's the lede from the Post:

The unexpected and potentially rotten news that the world will end on May 21 rolled into the District on Thursday morning, plastered on a caravan of five recreational vehicles that parked near the Washington Monument.

“Have you heard the awesome news?” the side of the RVs asked, in big bold letters. “The End of the World is Almost Here!”

As if the message weren’t scary enough, the dozen or so occupants of the RVs --vanguard of a national campaign funded by a fundamentalist Christian radio network and fueled by bus ads and Internet buzz -- wore highlighter-bright yellow shirts that said “Earthquake So Mighty, So Great.” They offered pedestrians handouts saying there was “ marvelous proof” that “Holy God will bring judgment day on May 21, 2011.”

The Rapture, they warned, is upon us.

The Post pretty much brushes aside the end-of-world folks as crazies. We get quotes like this from those rolling into D.C. in the RV caravan:

Tony Moise, a 47-year-old insurance underwriter from Silver Spring, quit his job to prepare. “It will be hell on Earth,” he said, taking a break from handing out material. “You won’t want to be around on May 22. There will be no electricity, no power, no water.”

What we don't get is any serious exploration of what these people believe -- or who they really are. That kind of fair treatment, even amid the seemingly preposterous claims, set the earlier CNN story apart.

It's easy to write a story making fun of the end-of-worlders. It's harder to write one that makes people scratch their heads and say, "I still think they're crazy. But at least I have a little more insight into what makes them tick."

Contrast the Post story with NPR's coverage, which at least tries to tell the story from the perspective of the end-of-worlders, including Brian Haubert and Kevin Brown:

"I no longer think about 401(k)s and retirement," (Haubert) says. "I'm not stressed about losing my job, which a lot of other people are in this economy. I'm just a lot less stressed, and in a way I'm more carefree."

He's tried to warn his friends and family. They think he's crazy. And that saddens him.

"Oh, it's very hard," he says. "I worry about friends and family and loved ones. But I guess more recently, I'm just really looking forward to it."

Haubert is 33 and single. Brown is married with several young children, and none of them shares his beliefs. It's caused a rift with his wife -- but he says that, too, was predicted in the Bible.

"God says, 'Do you love husband or wife over me? Do you love son or daughter over me?' There is a test. There is a trial here that the believers are going through. It's a fiery trial."

As May 21 nears, Brown says he feels as if he's on a "roller coaster." What if he is raptured but his family is left behind?

"I'm crying over my loved ones one minute; I'm elated the next minute," he says. "It's all over the place."

The dilemma for reporters and editors is: Do you do a serious story about this movement? Or a sarcastic one? Or do you ignore them altogether? I'd love some insight from GetReligion readers on these questions. (Also, if you've seen any other coverage -- good or bad -- please provide links.)

While you ponder that (and prepare to comment), Godbeat pro Peter Smith of the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., this week offered one of the best, easiest-to-understand explanations of the May 21 date:

The argument goes something like this: One verse in the New Testament book of 2 Peter says that a thousand years are as a day in the eyes of God.

Camping contends that God warned Noah that global judgment would occur in seven days. From that he concludes that this refers not only to the Genesis account of the flood but also another day of judgment seven "days" (millennia) later. And to top it off, he concludes that this decree can be dated back exactly 7,000 years from May 21 (based on the Hebrew calendar.)

"The Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment," said his website.

Cheers. Enjoy the weekend. While you still can.

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