If It’s Armageddon, Do I Have To Do My Homework?

My son, Mattias, was in a religious school in town for a while for preschool. We knew going in that their beliefs did not align in a lot of ways with ours, but there are limited options in a town the size of Pueblo. I’ll admit it was pretty funny the day we got a call from the principal, telling us that Mattias had engaged the pastor in a rather vocal and public debate about the Lord’s Prayer, right in the middle of a school chapel service.

Apparently the pastor didn’t use the “right” words. And anyone who knows Mattias probably isn’t surprised by his boldness.

But they neither threw him out nor condemned him to hell for his heresy, so we laughed it off and had a little talk about confronting adults with matters of philosophical difference. Everything went smoothly for a while. That is, until they told him the world was coming to an end.

Actually, they didn’t tell him that technically. It was a family friend’s second-grade son who they told the world would end. Then the older kids shared news of the pending apocalypse over lunch.

“Taylor’s teacher said the world might end tonight,” Mattias said as he wiggled into his car seat.

I guess we’ll dispense with the after-school small talk today.

“Oh really,” I said. “Any particular reason why?”

“She said they’re starting up the super-collider in France, and that it might make a black hole that sucks the earth up in it.” Quite a mouthful for a four-year-old, but no one has ever accused Mattias of being short on verbiage. I could have used him in college. Never would have had to take notes.

“Interesting,” I could feel those little tingles creeping up the back of my neck that I get when I have the urge to strangle someone. “So do you have any homework for tonight?”

“A little bit,” he said, “just some coloring.”

“Wonder if Taylor’s going to do his tonight.”

“What dad?”

“Never mind.”

The world has never been short on doomsday prophets, intent on predicting the end of days. And it has reached fetishist proportions this year with the end of the Mayan calendar.

See, that’s why I never buy paper calendars. They always end, and I don’t want to be the one responsible for Armageddon.

But the Mayans and their Johnny-come-lately adherents aren’t the only ones. Harold Camping has predicted the end a few times, most of which haven’t worked out so well. But each time he adds a little footnote as to why he was a little off, but that the next prediction REALLY is the big one, so be ready.

I’m not entirely sure why we’re so obsessed with trying to know when everything will come to a grinding halt. Christians in particular have been warned by Jesus himself not to occupy our hearts and minds with such things. So how come we can’t seem to stop trying to figure it out?

It’s not like the one who is finally right will have much of an audience around to say, “See, I told you so!” to. Doomsday prophesy really is a dead-end gig, if there ever was one. Of course there’s the profit motive of those who use such predictions to bilk followers out of money. But most predictions, like those of Camping and most who believe in the Mayan calendar thingy, don’t seem to benefit much from their claims, if at all.

So why bother?

I’ve decided that it ultimately comes down to human ego. People love to be able to say that they were at X, Y or Z important event. Whether it’s a tragic accident, a huge party, a celebrity sighting or a historic sporting event, there’s something very attractive about being able to say, “I was there. I saw it first-hand.” It’s as if we become somehow more important by association, having been a part of the moment, even if only as a passive observer.

Again, it’s not like we’ll have anyone to brag about if we’re in fact the ones to witness the end of it all, but there’s some morbid appeal to the notion that we were the last ones on earth; we saw it happen. And what’s more, we knew it would happen before anyone else.

Everyone wants to be a headline. Nobody dreams of being a minor footnote. And we’ve fostered this kind of egomaniacal self-centeredness both in our children and through media that reinforces the idea that we can custom-make our own reality. We surround ourselves with like-minded information that, rather than informing or challenging us, assures us that we’re right.

Just imagine what a big head Narcissus might have had if, instead of a reflective pool to gaze into, he had an iPhone that reflected back to him an entire universe of his own invention.

So yeah, why not assume we can – or even should – predict the end of days? Sure, it assumes a lot about our agency in the universe, or at least about our wisdom and understanding of it. But there’s little to dissuade us of such a perspective, really. In fact, a large chunk of our global economy now depends on the presumption that each one of us believes we’re actually “that special.”

As Jon Stewart likes to quote his mom as saying to him while growing up, “You’re not so special.”

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Only in the context of a culture in which there are three-hundred-million-plus centers of human existence in the United States alone. And yes, I will readily concede the irony of discussing this issue on a blog that I assume is relevant enough for people to take time to read.

But see, I’m different. My mom always told me I was special. And she’s never, ever wrong. So there.

None of us wants to be unremarkable. Something about it feels like less than our divinely-endowed right as human beings. But remarkability in the sense that the world deems valuable isn’t really what we’re called to. In fact, Jesus redirected attention, time and again, away from himself. He didn’t hide himself from people, nor did he silence his voice when he had something he believed needed to be said. But he did remind people that it wasn’t all about him, but rather the One who sent him.

Why, then, do we seem to insist on being the exception to that central claim of the Christian faith?

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • http://lifebeforethebucket.blogspot.com/ Adrian Waller

    I recently took a personality inventory that mentioned I was driven by significance. I think that, like you point out here, I’m often too focused on my own meaning, though, and not nearly enough on making sure that Jesus is significant in and through my life.

  • Tammi Mansolf

    We are never as important as we think we are. Neither are we as insignificant as we fear we are. If we really think about those two ideas honestly, what a wonderful blessing they both are. We don’t really have the entirety of the world on our little shoulders, but we do still have worth. Freedom to just be who we are.

    • http://www.christianpiatt.com/ Christian Piatt

       couldn’t agree more. Thanks Tammi.

  • Tom

    Martin Luther: If I knew for certain that the world would end tomorrow I would plant an apple tree today.

    • Christian Piatt

      That, to me, is the audacity of hope, to coin a phrase :-)

  • http://www.LifeAfterCaregiving.WordPress.com/ Linda Brendle

    I think another big factor in the end-of-times mania is fear. If I can predict it, I can somehow control it or avoid it. And remember, Mom’s never, ever wrong.

    • http://www.facebook.com/seeker775 Timothy Keene

      LOL!  I caught that you two…  But obviously, Christian, your mother wasn’t wrong.  You are very special, and we’re glad she brought you around to bless the rest of us.

      I agree Linda…fear.  If the controllers can keep us anxious, fearful, and  present a chaos scenario — then we easily herd like sheep.  And that keeps our minds off the important things like peacefulness, stillness, communion with God and nature, and…getting in touch each day with our center — our blessed assurance.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/seeker775 Timothy Keene

    BTW…the Maya have never claimed the end of their calendar was synonymous with the end-of-the-world, but rather the beginning of a new world, age, eon, etc.  It’s our Hollywood spinners that take us for a ride.  And those desiring to profit from others’ fears.

    I do wish I could have been there to hear Mattias set the record straight in the chapel service.  And his ability to process the whole e-o-t-w scenario presented to him is quite impressive too.  Better watch out — he’ll be critiquing your copy any day now!  LOL!


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