Christian group predicts apocalypse
A loosely organised Christian movement has spread the word around the globe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth on Saturday to gather the faithful into heaven.
While the Christian mainstream is not buying the theory, many sceptics are milking it.
A Facebook page titled "Post rapture looting" offers this invitation: "When everyone is gone and god's not looking, we need to pick up some sweet stereo equipment and maybe some new furniture for the mansion we're going to squat in."
The prediction is mocked in the comic strip Doonesbury and has inspired "rapture parties" to celebrate what hosts expect will be the failure of the world to come to an end.
In the Army town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the local chapter of the American Humanist Association has turned the event into a two-day extravaganza, with a Saturday night party followed by a day-after concert. "It's not meant to be insulting, but come on," said organiser Geri Weaver. "Christians are openly scoffing at this."
The prediction originates with Harold Camping, an 89-year-old retired civil engineer from Oakland, California, who founded Family Radio Worldwide, an independent ministry that has broadcast his prediction around the world.
The Rapture - the belief that Christ will bring the faithful into paradise prior to a period of tribulation on Earth that precedes the end of time - is a relatively new notion compared to Christianity itself. Mr Camping's prophecy comes from numerological calculations based on his reading of the Bible, and he says global events such as the 1948 founding of Israel confirm his sums.
He has been derided for an earlier apocalyptic prediction in 1994, but his followers say that merely referred to the end of "the church age", a time when human beings in Christian churches could be saved. Now, they say, only those outside what they regard as irredeemably corrupt churches can expect to ascend to heaven.
Mr Camping is not hedging this time: "Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment," he said in January.
No one will know for sure whether Mr Camping's prediction is correct until Sunday morning dawns, or fails to dawn.