A new group of Christian millennarians led by fundamentalist Harold Camping is proclaiming that the world will end on 21 May 2011, when true believers will be “raptured.” The Washington Post reports on Camping and his millennialist movement in an online story.
This movement taps into a powerful current of millennial belief in American popular culture. The Pew Research Center recently polled Americans on their religious beliefs, finding that an astounding 41% of Americans believe that Jesus Christ’s Second Coming will occur before 2050.
For early modern historians, such millennial expectations seem unremarkable and even routine aspects of Christian practice. Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, and many other Reformation leaders believed that the Last Judgment would occur during their own lifetimes. Jan Matthijs famously led millennialist Anabaptist followers to their deaths at the siege of Münster in 1534.
There is a long history of millennial thought and prognostication in Christianity. A good starting point for considering apocalyptic belief and millennarianism is Andrew Cunningham and Ole Peter Grell’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse: Religion, War, Famine and Death in Reformation Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).