Harold Camping
In a screenshot from a video of the "Open Forum" radio program posted on the FamilyRadio.com website, host Harold Camping is seen taking calls from listeners on May 17, 2011. The Christian radio host has predicted that the biblical judgment day will take place on May 21, 2011 and that the end of the world will take place on October 21. Camping previously predicted that judgment day would come on September 6, 1994. FamilyRadio.com

So the end of the world is tomorrow? That's a pity because I was rather hoping to spend the day making cakes and reading a good book. Seems I might not get the chance if Harold Camping, the leader of an obscure religious sect in the U.S., is right in his prediction.

Quite how Mr Camping, who once predicted the world would end in 1994, came to discover this seems to revolve around a rather arcane process of studying the Bible, a process I do not care much to examine.

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What is much more interesting is the way this man's prediction has all of a sudden become headline news in much of the world. True his followers did conduct an advertising campaign in New York, but that does not make something the top headline of certain major world newspapers.

Christopher Hitchens, the well known atheist (or anti-theist as he likes to call himself) has often said that (in America particularly) you can get away with almost anything and be taken seriously as long as you can get people to call you "Reverend".

While Mr Hitchens' hatred of all religion does sometimes verge on the irrational, (although nowhere near as much as with the less talented but sadly better known Professor Richard Dawkins) he did have something of a point there.

The baffling thing about this "story" is that it is a story at all. Similarly the worldwide fuss (which resulted in numerous deaths) about Pastor Terry Jones and his plan to burn a Koran on what he had called "International Burn a Koran Day".

Where do these people come from? Why do the media take them seriously? Why do we care what these crackpot's think? If I received into my inbox a press release from a pastor I'd never heard of proclaiming the end of the world or "International Burn a Koran Day", I think I'd quickly be pressing the delete button, yet somewhere someone thought "No this is real news which our network should be covering". No it really is not.

Must we have an international crisis every time some goon calling themselves a pastor or reverend wants to burn a Koran or proclaim the end of the world? One imagines that if anyone else tried that they would be ignored as a lunatic, yet it becomes news if it's a reverend, usually of a minor church that no one has ever heard of.

Now if the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope came out with something like that it would justifiably be called news, as their pronouncements might be taken seriously by their millions of worldwide followers (although it seems unlikely). The same cannot be said of pastors Jones and Camping whose following is somewhat smaller.

While this "end of the world" business might be a bit of harmless fun, this strange tendency of the media to put a microphone in front of obscure religious cranks can be dangerous and deadly, as was seen in the case of Terry Jones, when Islamists even worse than he was started killing innocent people in reaction to his little media stunt.