May 21, 2011— -- A California preacher's prediction that the end of the world would begin today seems to have come to nothing.
When the appointed hour for the Rapture to begin in New York, the skies did darken a little -- but all that followed was a drizzling rain that soon passed.
Nothing like what Harold Camping and his followers said they believed would occur.
For those true believers in the apocalypse, the expectation was that starting today more than 200 million people would be swept up to heaven in the Rapture while the rest of humanity would suffer five months of unspeakable misery before the ultimate end of the world in October.
"I am utterly absolutely, absolutely convinced it's going to happen," said Harold Camping, the 89-year-old evangelist and president of Family Radio whose biblical calculations have ignited Rapture fever across America.
Camping pinpointed May 21, at about 5:59 p.m. ET, as the exact time when those chosen by God would ascend to heaven while cataclysmic earthquakes would begin to rock earth, and he spent big bucks on 5,000 billboards, posters, fliers and digital bus displays across the country.
Inevitably, many have mocked Camping's prognostications, but the recent series of devastating natural disasters -- the Japan earthquake, recent tornadoes and floods in America -- was evidence enough for some people to prepare for the worst.
Robert Fitzpatrick, a 60-year-old retiree from New York, spent his $140,000 life savings to have 3,000 posters put up in New York City's subway and bus system, warning of this impending End of Days.
"Judgment day will begin very shortly before midnight Jerusalem standard time. I think it's going to be instantaneous. Everything will be destroyed and God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth," he said.
"If you're not saved by the time these events begin tomorrow, then you'll be left here to face judgment day."
Today in New York's Times Square, as 6 p.m. came and went, a number of people were yelling and jeering him, but he just stood there quietly reading his Bible.
Leaders among mainstream Christian denominations have largely condemned date-setting, citing Bible verses that say no man can know the time of the Rapture.
"The people following his predictions are apocalyptic enthusiasts already looking for signs of the end times. They want to reinforce their idea that these are the last days," said Stephen O'Leary, an expert in religious communication at University of Southern California. "They are unable to face up to the reality of their mistakes and misplaced faith when the prophecy is wrong."
Camping himself has predicted the End of Days before: Sept. 6, 1994.
Camping had been "thrown off a correct calculation because of some verses in Matthew 24," a Family Radio spokesman told ABC News this month.
Gabe Lyons, author of "The Next Christians," points to a more troublesome aspect of doomsayers: distraction.
"It continues to put in front of Americans the idea that this is mainstream evangelicalism," he said on "Good Morning America."
"The bigger concern is we lose focus on our work here as faithful followers of Jesus while we're on this Earth," Lyons said. "That's a real problem."