A man panhandles in front of a billboard in San Francisco's SOMA district, posted by an atheist organization, based out of Oakland, was the cause of controversy when a rival christian group removed the sign. John H. Bird / staff photographer

Along Interstate 80 eastbound at Fifth and Harrison streets, a big yellow billboard with black letters screams “The Rapture: You KNOW it’s Nonsense, 2,000 Years of ‘Any Day Now.'”

The billboard is an American Atheist response to Harold Camping, a Christian Judgment Day advocate, and Family Radio Worldwide’s well-advertised prediction that the world will end May 21.

“The whole Rapture thing is to completely isolate themselves from the issue that we face today with our economics and social problems,” said Larry Hicok, California state director of American Atheists. “And to just totally focus on the supposed ‘life after death.’ We think there is something really wrong with that kind of perspective. Life is about living and not about dying.”

To that end, while people who believe in Camping’s prediction may be worried about May 21, the atheists will be holding a two-day conference on May 21 and 22, entitling it a ‘Rapture Party.’

American Atheists, one of the largest national groups for atheists, believes that Christians are attempting to dodge real problems in the nation and that the end times prediction highlights the problem with religions.

“Some people think we shouldn’t be so direct,” Hicok said. “There’s a decided opinion in this country that religion deserves a special place, that you cannot critique it logically and scientifically. You cannot expose the fact that the emperor has no clothes. You have to cater to this emotion which basically says, ‘If you say negative things about my religion, I’m going to drive a plane to World Trade Center.’”

The organization’s message is clear and strong, although Hicok is aware that it might be too much for some people.

“It’s a demonstration of expression but I do believe that it’s pretty misrepresentative of what many Christian groups like us stand for,” said John Calderon, a liberal studies major and a member of the Newman Club, a religious club on the SF State campus.

As atheists do not believe in God, they simply do not believe that Judgment Day exists.

“That’s OK, we can’t force someone to believe,” said Tom Evans, a spokesman for the Oakland-based Family Radio Worldwide. “What we can do is warn them that this is going to happen.”

Not all Christians, however, believe that May 21 will be Judgment Day. Camping’s mathematical approach to the Bible has caused many Christians to question his assertions.

In the past, Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1994, but has since said that the calculation was incorrect due to his misinterpretation of a part of the Bible where there is a potential of shortening of time of the Rapture in the book of Matthew.

Not all Bay Area Christians are concerned with Camping’s predictions.

“No one knows about the Judgment Day,” said Pastor Jerry Shaw, who has served the homeless community in the Bay Area for many years. “I am more concerned about getting more souls to the Kingdom than Judgment Day. Judgment Day will come anyway but nobody knows.”

Camping’s prediction of Judgment Day is seen by many Christians as playing God, but Evans said there are many instances in the Bible when God uses one person to convey his message to the world. Evans pointed out to examples such as Moses and the Apostle Paul.

When the day comes, Evans said, there will be a huge earthquake, far bigger than anything humans have ever experienced and then, the true believers will go to God’s side instead of suffering in the devastated world. This taking away of the believers is often referred to as The Rapture.

He said this message is not aimed at generating money or profit.

“We don’t need anything. We don’t need money,” Evans said. “We’re just simply trying to be obedient and tell as many people as we can that this is going to happen.”

Hicok noted that while the San Francisco billboard cost them a lot of money, it is a small effort compared to the 5,000 billboards put up by Family Radio Worldwide.

Evans said that this perhaps had something to do with their message.

“God has provided the money,” Evans said. “God provides very abundantly for us to do this.”

He also said that this time, they have the date right.

“The difference now – May 21, 2011 – there is no question mark,” Evans said. “This is the day. There is no Biblical alternative. It’s taken 18 years to learn more and more about the Bible and now we’re convinced. Absolutely, May 21, 2011 is the day of Christ returning and beginning of judgment.”

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Christine Tjandra

Christine Tjandra

  • shawn1200

    Does anyone know anything about the new billboard up on the Skyway near the Bay Bridge? It seems to be from a different group. I wrote down their website:

    http://www.merkaba.org

    They are saying that some athiests will be more prepared than conservative Christians on Judgement day.

  • Brutus

    This is so pointless