JAMAICAN clergymen and lay people alike are throwing cold water on the warnings of worldwide destruction predicted for this weekend.
According to Harold Camping, president of Christian radio network Family Stations Inc, Saturday, May 21, 2011 will be Judgement Day as per biblical prophecy and will be marked by a great earthquake and mass destruction.
"This earthquake will be so powerful, it will throw open all graves. The remains of all the believers who have ever lived will be instantly transformed into glorified spiritual bodies to be forever with God," Family Station Inc said on its website.
Fans of the station — started by the now 89-year-old Camping in the San Francisco Bay area in 1958 — also believe that the survivors of this earthquake "will exist in a world of horror and chaos beyond description". This period is expected to continue until God completely destroys the Earth on October 21, 2011.
But the proclamations, broadcast to many Jamaicans via text messages and e-mail or splashed on billboards across the island, are for the most part, being ignored.
President of the Jamaica Council of Churches and of the Moravian Church in Jamaica, Reverend Dr Paul Gardner, described the warnings as "rubbish" and said those who believed it were gullible.
"I think people are prone to be led astray easily by fanciful theological positions and what people have to say. This is not going to be the first time that people have claimed to know about the second coming of the Lord, or Judgement Day, and certainly I don't expect it to be the last," he said.
"I don't believe that it is true. I believe in what the Bible talks about that no one knoweth the day or the hour when the son of man shall appear, but I believe that in a real sense every day is Judgement Day. You never know when we shall depart this Earth," Dr Gardner said.
President of the Pentecostal Union Bishop Colville Webb agreed.
"Men in the past have calculated and the date has passed and they concluded that they came up with wrong date. Now, where the Scripture is concerned, it says no man knows and so I hold on to that," he said.
"At whatever time He comes, we should be ready to go. I am not looking at May 21. I am looking at the fact that His coming is imminent and it can be any day now. We are just to prepare ourselves, that when He comes, we are ready to go," the bishop said.
Discussions about the supposed Judgement Day were heightened after the airing of Ian Boyne's Religious Hardtalk on Television Jamaica Tuesday night and yesterday morning. Boyne told the Observer he was overwhelmed by the responses from viewers to the fact his guest Michael Lewis shared Camping's belief in the apocalypse predicted for this weekend.
"There is a kind of a mass hysteria over it. A lot of people dismissed it of course, but there is curiosity," said Boyne, who described the programme as one of his most successful in his television journalism career.
Some people with whom the Observer spoke on Tuesday expressed wariness of 'false prophets', while others cited scriptures suggesting that nobody can predict when Christ will return.
"Nobody knows the time when Jesus is coming, the Bible tells you that. No man knoweth the hour when He shall appear," said Pat Maragh who said her daughter showed her Camping's messages after receiving them on her cell phone.
"They might (be able to) predict an earthquake or a hurricane, but not the coming of the Lord," she insisted.
Environment health specialist Terry Barnaby was also sceptical of the declarations.
"A lot of people believe it was the year 2000 that He was coming and we are 11 years past that now," he said with a shrug.
But there were others who, pointing to the earthquakes the island has been experiencing in the past few weeks, appear to have taken the warning seriously. On Monday, sections of the island were shaken by a 5.0-magnitude earthquake and two weeks ago another one measuring 4.0 hit.
"There could be a truth to it," said one security guard when asked his views on Camping's theory.
"I am making preparations to be safe. I am making sure that my house is in good order in terms of structure, and taking the necessary precautions," explained the man who said he was not a Christian and might therefore be left behind on Saturday.
This isn't the first time Camping is predicting the second coming of Christ. He did so in 1994, but this time around he and his followers are certain it will come to pass, having analysed the Bible over the past 50 years.
There have also been similar predictions in the past, including the 1980s tragedy when Jim Jones caused hundreds of his followers to ingest cyanide in Guyana, and the Great Disappointment of 1844, when William Miller and his followers waited in vain for Christ's return. That was the movement which gave rise to the Seventh-day Adventist church.