|The Pyramid of the Magician – Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico|
A lot of people used December 21, 2011 to look forward 366 days (leap year next year) to the Winter Solstice of 2012, which some believe the Mayans predicted would be the end of the world. Or the end of an era. Or the beginning of a new cycle. Or something else big and important.
Almost all the articles I came across were debunking the prophecy in one fashion or another. Jason Boyett of the Washington Post’s On Faith blog says:
Maybe you’ve heard that the Mayan calendar is coming to an end. That’s no more accurate than saying your car will come to an end when it passes 99,999.9 on the odometer. Just like our calendars, when the Long Count completes an interval it rolls over and starts counting again. The “end” doesn’t matter.
An ABC News report quotes Sven Gronemeyer of La Trobe University in Australia:
The Maya are viewed by many westerners as exotic folks that were supposed to have had some special, secret knowledge … What happens is that our expectations and fears get projected on the Maya calendar.
One year from now is December 21, 2012, a date onto which quite a few people have piled extravagant labels and grand expectations, but which will get a different moniker after the fact; the one I have in mind is Nothing Happened Day.
Greer has a new book titled Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus, And The Rapture Is Wrong, which is now on my to-be-read list. He says:
The research for [it] was among other things a first-class education in the pointlessness of apocalyptic prophecy. There’s nothing in today’s advance press for December 21, 2012 that doesn’t have precise equivalents in a thousand similar prophecies for a thousand similar dates when nothing happened.
Why do we keep making and believing these doomsday prophecies, despite the fact that they fail over and over again? Greer says:
In the face of a cosmos that generally fails to cater to our sense of entitlement, they all offer narratives that make believers feel special, promise them some variation on pie in the sky, and offer them a good hearty helping of excuses for not taking action at a time in which action desperately needs to be taken.
The purpose of prophecy is not to make either the prophet or the believer feel special. The purpose of prophecy is to enable the hearer to take action, to utilize her or his free will to change the outcome of events.
The world as we in the United States know it faces many challenges: climate change, dwindling fossil fuels, increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and a government that grows more dysfunctional by the day. You need not be a master of divination to see that significant change is already underway. If we buy into apocalyptic fantasies we will be no better prepared to deal with these changes than if we buy into the myth of inevitable progress and expect that science and technology will solve all our problems for us.
What if the Mayans were right and this is the end of an era?
What if we made them right?
What if we started a new era here and now?
What if in this new era people began with the idea that the Earth is sacred and should be treated as such? What if they realized that happiness comes from having enough and not from having more? What if they accepted that our fate as a species and as a people is inexorably intertwined with the fate of every other species and people on this planet?
What if we all – Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, and everyone else – decided to live according to the highest values we claim to profess?
The world will still be here on December 22, 2012. Will that world be a better place for us, our children, and the generations to come?
That’s up to us.