'Rapture' Apocalypse Prediction by Evangelicals Inspires Atheists to Host Mocking Celebrations
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US atheists are to hold parties in response to an evangelical broadcaster's prediction that Saturday will be "judgment day."
The Rapture After Party in North Carolina - "the best damned party in NC" - is among the planned events.
Harold Camping, 89, predicts that Jesus Christ will return to earth on Saturday and true believers will be swept up, or "raptured," to heaven.
He has used broadcasts and billboards to publicize his ideas.
He says biblical texts indicate that a giant earthquake on Saturday will mark the start of the world's destruction, and that by 21 October all non-believers will be dead.
Mr Camping has predicted an apocalypse once before, in 1994, though followers now say that only referred to an intermediary stage.
"We learn from the Bible that Holy God plans to rescue about 200 million people," says a text on the website of Mr Camping's network, Family Radio Worldwide.
"On the first day of the Day of Judgment (May 21, 2011) they will be caught up (raptured) into Heaven because God had great mercy for them."
'Countdown to back-pedalling'
The Rapture After Party in Fayetteville, North Carolina, is a two-day event organised by the Central North Carolina Atheists and Humanists.
"Though the absurdity of this claim is obvious to the majority of the world, it's a great opportunity to highlight some of the most bizarre beliefs often put forth by religious fundamentalists and raise awareness of the need for reason," said a posting about the party on the group's website.
Atheists in Tacoma, Washington, have headed their celebration "countdown to back-pedalling".
Events are also planned in Houston, Florida and California.
An atheist and entrepreneur from North Hampshire, Bart Centre, is enjoying a boost in business for Eternal Earth-bound Pets, which he set up to look after the pets of those who believe they will be raptured.
He has more than 250 clients who are paying up to $135 (£83) to have their pets picked up and cared for after the rapture.
They would be disappointed twice, he told the Wall Street Journal. "Once because they weren't raptured and again because I don't do refunds."
'No Plan B'
Meanwhile Mr Camping, who has been criticised by more mainstream Christians, says he knows "without any shadow of a doubt" that "judgment day" is arriving.
He says he will spend Saturday with his wife, close to a TV or radio.
"I'll be interested in what's happening on the other side of the world as this begins," he told Reuters.
There is no "Plan B", he says.
His campaign has been unusually widely promoted - both in the US, and overseas, including in the Middle East.
In Vietnam, thousands of members of the Hmong ethnic minority gathered near the border with Laos earlier this month to await the 21 May event, the Associated Press reported.
Chris McCann of eBible Fellowship, one of the groups helping to spread the message, said it had been publicised in almost every country.
"The only countries I don't feel too good about are the "stans" - you know, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, those countries in Central Asia," he said.