The end is near! (again)

end-nighFor some, apocalyptic anxiety is in the air (along with a fall chill). Washington Post writer Joel Achenbach set out to explore the latest doom and gloom in “2012: Eh, It’s Not the End Of the World: Film & Internet Rumors Fuel Doomsday Babble.”

The world is coming to an end.

In, like, 4 or 5 billion years. The sun will get old and cranky and eventually immolate the entire planet.

The world, however, is not coming to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, contrary to the viral Internet rumor propounded by pseudo-scientists, hoaxers, Hollywood movie promoters and assorted void-between-the-ears people who wouldn’t recognize a scientific fact if it tried to abduct them.

Achenbach seems to have had fun talking to a NASA astrobiologist who has counted 200 books about 2012 and has received 1,000 e-mails from folks who fear our planet is in peril. Achenbach also explores rumors involving Mayan calendars and interviews an astronomer who says people are afflicted with “cosmophobia” before examining the role of Hollywood:

Ensuring that no bad idea goes unexploited, Sony Pictures has leaped into the mix with a $200 million blockbuster, “2012,” coming out on Friday the 13th of November. … Sony has set up a fake Web site for something called the Institute for Human Continuity — that’s — which uses scientific-sounding language to detail the upcoming shredding, torching and obliterating of the world from so many directions it makes your head spin (“large amounts of solar radiation will bombard the Earth and heat up the molten, semi-liquid layers beneath the lithosphere, thus allowing the crust to shift more easily”).

It’s a good story as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough for me. It fails to put this latest episode of apocalyptic anxiety into any kind of broader context. Not one word of the 1,000-word story indicates that anyone ever feared for the end before now. Nor does the piece probe the contemporary cultural psyche for insights into why one might expect a spike in cosmic fear and loathing at the present moment.

I had actually hoped the Mayan calendar rumors would pan out, if only to balance out decades in which evangelicals have dominated the field. Remember the visions of an approaching Obamageddon depicted in last year’s “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” (which can still be found at Focus on the Family Action’s CitizenLink site)? Or the “Left Behind” novels (sales of 65 million-plus)? Or Y2K (which generated more than 200 books and led to booming sales of water purification systems)? Or Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth (sales of 35 million and counting)?

Many people of faith believe there will come a time “when time shall be no more.” Until then, fears of our cataclysmic demise–including the latest rumors–will remain premature.

Meanwhile, I would be intrigued by a story describing those times in human history when there was no sign of “doomsday babble.” That would be news!

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  • Jerry

    I absolutely agree with you about the lack of context. People have been waiting for the Second Coming of Christ, Jewish Messiah, Kalki Avatar, Maitreya Buddha, Age of Aquarius, Imam Mahdi, restoration of the Native American peoples, ecological/economic/food collapse, Blavatsky’s sixth subrace of the Aryan root race and who know how many more for quite a while. There have been any number of end-of-the-world prophecies, from the year 1000, 1984, 2000 and now 2012. Given the level of free-floating anxiety about the state of the world, it’s perfectly understandable. Who knows, the world might even end in 12/21/2012 for all I know. But a little perspective would be helpful.

  • Matthew

    “Or Y2K (which generated more than 200 books and led to booming sales of water purification systems)?”

    Although the Y2K bug wouldn’t have caused Armageddon, it was a real problem which was solved through the hard work of many, many people. I’m not sure it belongs on this list.

  • Jerry

    Matthew, did you not see the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror X episode, specifically Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die, where the world ended because Homer did not remediate his nuke plant? Sure it was a Simpson’s episode, but part of the humor was that a certain number of people were a bit off the deep end at that time.

  • A sidewalk prophet

    What about the best selling book “The Bible” the truth about the end. For no man knows the day or hour. but the signs we see today are leading up to the hour. Are you ready? Seek the love of your Father, His open arms are there for you. Thank you Jesus!