If faithful listeners of the Christian broadcasting network Family Radio are to be believed, then the organizers of the Skokie Festival of Cultures picked the wrong date to kickstart the festivities on Saturday.
On that day, May 21, 2011, the world will come to an end, according to the Christian group Project Caravan, which has been crisscrossing the U.S., including the Chicago area, to spread its message. It is a claim widely received with skepticism if not outright dismissal from other religious and scientific communities.
"The end of the world is almost here," Project Caravan proclaims on its radio station, its billboards, its leaflets and its website. "The bible guarantees it."
Five months of natural disaster will commence on May 21, and earthquakes will cause widespread death among nonbelievers, while the believers will be saved from damnation and punishment.
According to the Oakland-based group headed by preacher Harold Camping, only about 200 million people or 3 percent of the world's current population will be saved and "will be caught up [ruptured] into heaven."
Amer Olson is the director of the Skokie-based Jews For Jesus. He told Skokie Patch that setting a definite date for the world to end "seems foolish and contrary to the scriptures."
Olson notes there have been many claims of doomsday scenarios that "have not come to pass."
Jews For Jesus, a missionary group, believes that only God can determine when the exact Judgment Day will come.
"His return is imminent. That means it could be in the next five seconds, it could be 500 years or anywhere in between," Olson said.
"I will not pack my bags and sell all my possessions on May 20," Olson said. "But if the Messiah does return that's great. He's gonna return any day."
Such predictions "doesn't have any meaning" in Islam either, said Arshi Mujtaba of the Muslim Community Center in Morton Grove.
"In the Islamic perspective, we don't believe that there's a certain date given to us," she said.
Mujtaba also said while the Muslim holy book, the Quran, states that the world will eventually end, God alone--and not any human being--can decide to punish or extend forgiveness for mankind's offenses and shortcomings.
Mujtaba also said that her religion does not profess that only Muslims can be saved either.
Camping, the Christian preacher, based his May 21 end-of-the-world prediction on his analysis of the biblical texts. He arrived at the 7,000-year time frame by juxtaposing biblical passages and calculating the exact date using his own mathematical formula.
The first passage comes from the Book of Genesis that states:
"And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened."
Using a second biblical passage from Peter, Camping theorized that each of the seven days mentioned in Genesis is equivalent to 1,000 years.
The preacher further explained that since the great biblical flood, which prompted Noah to build the Ark occurred in 4990 B.C., the 7,000-year mark is the year 2011. He did not explain his method for reaching the date of 4990 B.C.
"Amazingly, May 21, 2011, is the 17th day of the second month of the biblical calendar of our day. Remember, the flood waters also began on the 17th day of the second month, in the year 4990 B.C," Camping explained.
Professor Emile Okal, a leading scientist at Northwestern University's Department of Geological Sciences, told Skokie Patch that Camping's prediction "has absolutely no scientific value."
"You can always predict that there will be an earthquake tomorrow. But if you don't tell me where and how big, it's tantamount to saying, 'It's going to rain somewhere tomorrow,' " said Okal, who has published 200 journals about seismology, volcanic activities and tsunami among other subjects.
Despite many years of studies, the professor said that the scientific community has not yet discovered a reliable and consistent method or instrument to predict earthquakes.
"If in the past they have predicted the end of the world, and the end of the world hasn't arrive since we are still talking today, it sounds like this prediction have absolutely no scientific value," Okal said.
If an earthquake occurs on May 21, it will merely be a coincidence, he said.
Citing astronomer Galileo, whose studies about the Earth and the Sun were dismissed by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, Okal said many religious beliefs have been proven to be scientifically unfounded.
Turning philosophical, he said, "I would venture to say that a successful religion has to be Darwinian." The author added that a "smart religion" can survive by embracing a society that is "progressing scientifically."
"I will talk to you next week after the end of the world. How about that?" Okal said.