Religious prophesies, Y2K, or the Mayan Calendar, there's always a prediction of apocalypse right around the corner, but why?
It comes up again and again. As soon as one date passes another one is set. When is the world going to end? Humanity sometimes seems absolutely preoccupied with this question and predictions about the world's end. It matters not that no prediction of armageddon has ever come true, new ones are always forecast and rabidly proclaimed by numerous doomsday believers. It seems that many are simply enamored with the prospect of apocalypse and the end of the world. Especially now the so-called Mayan end of the world. In this article we'll first consider a few of the broad categories for end of the world prophecies, then we'll contemplate the psychology involved, not just in making and believing such prognostications, but also in relishing the thought of them and truly hoping that they come true.
The Bible and Religious Prophesy
By far the most common end of the world predictions come in the form of religious prophesies. Preachers, prophets and pastors have all had their hand in setting dates for the return of the Lord and the destruction of the earth. Most these days don't claim to prophesy the end themselves but rather to have cracked some secret code for understanding the Bible’s own hidden doomsday revelation. The most recent was Harold Camping who used his radio station, Family Radio, to preach his message far and wide that the world would come to an end on May 21, 2011. Mr. Camping promoted himself to be an enlightened numerologist whom God had guided to undestand the Bible's secrets regarding the apocalypse, once and for all. An aggressive campaign ensued by believers around the world to get the message out that the end was near. No amount of certainty on Mr. Camping's part however, nor advertising by his devoted adherents (some of whom spent every dime they had to conduct their own preaching crusades) could make it happen. May 21st came and went, not even as an ordinary day, but actually as a less than ordinary day. It was a remarkably slow news day without even any interesting weather to talk about.
Y2K and Human Causes
There are other end of the world predictions which are not based on the bible or religion. Some are based on the idea of mankind undoing itself, especially through technology. Such was the case with Y2K. The year 2000 was surely not one to be missed when it came to end of the world predictions. Perhaps a bit too on the nose for most religious prophets but not for those who saw technology as mankind's downfall. When the clock struck midnight surely all of the computer chips would fall into utter confusion, thinking it was really 1900; then every last electronic device, right down to the household toaster, would attack us and bring society to its knees. To be fair this wasn't a full blown prediction of the world ending but rather only a similar sort of prediction of the end of society as we know it. Consequently many built shelters, hoarded food and supplies, and even barricaded themselves before the clock chimed in the new millennium. It's hard to deny that the hype was kind of fun and certainly sold a lot of books but once again, nothing happened.
The Mayan Calendar and Ancient Wisdom
Next on the horizon is December 21, 2012, the date set by the Mayan calendar (or so it seems) for the end of the world. This sort of apocalypse prediction falls into the category of heralded ancient wisdom, along the lines of old time prognosticators such as Nostradamus. December 21, 2012 (the 21st of the month seems to be a popular date for Armageddon) is interpreted by some to be a prediction, or in fact a calculation, conceived by the all-knowing Mayans when they made their expansive calendar. However, nothing was actually indicated by the Mayans about the date itself. 12-21-12 is simply the limit of how far into the future the Mayans set their intricate calendar. If it is actually an end of the world prediction then one might first take into consideration that they didn't get their calendar date right for the beginning of the world (August 11, 3114 BC). December 21, 2012 however, might simply be an arbitrary spot which the Mayans chose to close off their calendar projection of the future; after all they had to end it somewhere. Nonetheless numerous people believe, and many more will be converted to believe before the date arrives, that the ancient Mayan civilization, with its mixture of both scientific knowledge and superstitious beliefs, was able to do what no one else has ever done, predict the final day of the earth.
Why So Many Want It To Be So
What undergirds, not simply the existence of such prophesies and predictions of apocalypse, but people’s fascination and even pleasure in them? What drives people to want to project such dates, proclaim them and even cross their fingers in hopes that all the doom will come to pass? What's going on beneath the belief here?
1. An escape from the ordinary.
Many are just bored with the day to day drudgery of their lives. The alarm clock, the work routine, bills, taxes, worries over health, etc. It's all so mundane. Putting a final date on it all, even if the end turns out to be rather nasty, is somehow more desirable. Perhaps some, even knowing deep down that the prediction will not come true, simply find getting caught up in the hype a welcomed and enjoyable distraction. In other words, many just want some drama, even if it's brought on by a crisis, and what better drama could there be than counting down the days to the ultimate crisis.
I was right, you were wrong. My beliefs, my religion, my superstition, my numerology will be vindicated on the great and final day while you and your disbelieving, doubting cohorts will finally know the truth and get scorched to boot. Certainly there’s some appeal to be found in this angle, especially if you’re accustomed to playing the underdog.
3. Survival planning.
Planning a survival strategy is a very addictive pastime. Many thrive on Boy Scout-like preparedness and just need events to prepare for. The predicted apocalyptic event doesn't even need a strong basis, it just needs to exist and have some traction and then many will devote months of their lives to stocking up, sealing up, and arming up. Within all of this also exists a sort of survivalist's competitiveness with society, the inclination to survive and outlive what most others will not.
4. Final Justice.
The wickedness of the earth simply demands justice and the end of the world will not fail to deliver that justice. The corrupt wealthy will be burned out of their mansions and the godless will be devoured by giant cracks in the earth's surface. All sinners will be made to pay for their sins, whether they be sins against God, sins against mother nature, or sins against those who preached the great and final day.
Reactions to Failed Predictions
This is always the most fascinating part of an end of the world prediction; how believers respond after it fails to happen. Some become disillusioned and shrink back into the shadows of society. Others, especially of the religious sort who have a belief system to maintain, go on unfazed and eagerly accept a new prediction. In Harold Camping's case he explained that all along his prediction was that May 21, 2011 was only to be the beginning of God's judgment on the earth. The real date of his revelation was actually supposed to be 6 months later, on October 21, 2011. After another bust Mr. Camping issued the following statement on his website:
"The question constantly arises, where do we go from here? Many of us expected the Lord’s return a few months ago, and obviously we are still here. Family Radio is still operating. What should be our thinking now? What is God teaching us? In our Bible study over the past few years, we came to the conclusion that May 21 and October 21 were very important dates in the Biblical calendar. We now believe God led us to those dates, but did not give us complete understanding. In fact, we did not understand at all the correct significance of those two dates. We are waiting upon the Lord, and in His mercy He may give us understanding in the future regarding the significance of those two dates."
For those who refuse to give up their beliefs in the basis for their predictions, they still find a way to justify it all. In other words, there's always an out. God was testing us, or maybe God changed his mind out of mercy, or maybe we just have to study harder. If they did study the Bible harder they would find this critical passage:
Deuteronomy 18:22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
The Clock is Ticking
As 2012 moves along we will increasingly be made aware of the clock ticking down to December 21st and certain apocalypse. Many of us will believe, many of us will not, and some will sit on the fence. Even for those who most strongly reject the prediction it's hard not to become intrigued with the hysteria. It's also hard not to at least wonder deep down if it might actually end up being true. After all, no one wants to be caught off guard when the big day actually does come and end up playing the ultimate fool, laughing dismissively at others who are safe in their shelters just as the giant asteroid comes crashing into the atmosphere. And it is this, the tiniest thread of uncertainty and wariness, that will prompt even some of the biggest skeptics among us to a least make sure we have an extra loaf of bread in the house on the eve of December 21st.
For more on the 2012 prediction based on the Mayan Calendar read What You Need to Know About 2012 and the End of the World.