As I witness the sun rising ever farther north on the eastern horizon, I am aware that the solar year is quickly approaching its midpoint, and that we are that much closer to the dreaded day of doom, the Winter Solstice of December 21, 2012… as some people believe, the end of time and civilization.
We are surrounded by people everywhere, some of them quite odd, who believe the world as we know it is coming to an end—or wish it to be so: survivalists, alarmists, pessimists, aimless drifters, religious fanatics, despondent Constitutionalists, fugitives, awol parolees, deadbeat debtors and parents, dumped lovers and lonely divorcees, unlucky speculators, habitual quitters, crazy people and cowards of many stripes.
There are so many frustrated and unhappy people today who, for their own particular reasons, seem to welcome the prospect of oblivion. They view the pagan Mayan Calendar as new proof that this is the year everything will end—even Christians.
There’s a guy in my neighborhood who makes money over the Internet trading on people’s fears and offering scripture-laced advice for the looming “end times.” He follows in the footsteps of a long line of prophets whose end-of-world predictions have all been false alarms.
Here is just a small sampling:
Doom Date Prophet
May 21, 2011 Harold Camping, president of Family Radio (a Christian broadcaster)
Camping predicted that Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world. He had previously predicted judgment days on May 21, 1988, and September 6, 1994. His prediction for May 21, 2011 was widely reported, in part because of a massive publicity campaign by Family Radio. After May 21 passed without the predicted incidents, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneous with the destruction of the universe. Camping largely avoided press interviews afterwards and, after October 21, 2011 passed without the predicted apocalypse, he retired.
2000 Hal Lindsey, author of the 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth
Lindsey has been predicting the end of the world for 40 years. In his 1996 book Planet Earth 2000 AD: Will Mankind Survive? he wrote that Christians should not make any plans after the year 2000. In a 2008 column for the conservative news site WorldNetDaily, he suggested that Barack Obama is setting the stage for the arrival of the Antichrist.
March 26, 1997 Marshall Applewhite, founder of Heaven’s Gate, a UFO religion
When amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek thought he observed a companion object following the comet Hale-Bopp and called a radio show to report his findings, Marshall Applewhite and his “Heaven’s Gate” cult members believed the companion object was a spaceship coming to pick them up. On March 26, 1997, San Diego police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed suicide in order to reach the alien craft. Authorities found the dead lying neatly in their own bunk beds, faces and torsos covered by a square, purple cloth. All 39 were dressed in identical black shirts, sweat pants, and brand new black-and-white Nike sneakers.
November 1982 Pat Robertson, televangelist on The 700 Club
In a 1980 broadcast of The 700 Club Robertson said: “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” The judgment never came. He has since said that God told him about other pending disasters, including a West Coast tsunami in 2006, and a terrorist attack in 2007. Neither of those occurred, either. “I have a relatively good track record,” he said; and then added: “Sometimes I miss.”
December 21, 1954 Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife and student of Dianetics
Through automatic writing, Martin came in contact with beings from the planet Clarion, who told her that the world would be destroyed by flood and that the faithful would be rescued at midnight by flying saucers. Her followers, many of whom had quit their jobs and given away their possessions, gathered in her home to await the aliens. (Martin’s husband, a nonbeliever, slept upstairs through the whole thing.) Midnight came and went and the group became increasingly agitated. Finally, at 4:45 am, Martin said that she received another message from the Clarions informing her that God was so impressed by her group’s actions that He changed His mind and decided to spare the earth.
1914 Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses
The Jehovah’s Witnesses have made a number of predictions about the end of the world. The first was 1914, based on prophecies from the Book of Daniel. At the time of this first prediction, Russell sold “Miracle Wheat” at extremely inflated prices, promising benefits of miraculous proportions. After the end did not come, he changed the meaning of the prediction and stated that it was the date that Jesus would begin to rule “invisibly.” Some other years that the Witnesses predicted the end of the world would come are 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. (The Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will be allowed into heaven to spend eternity with God as spirit beings. But if this were to be so, why in the world do they keep going door-to-door, recruiting more aspirants to clamber at heaven’s gate? I don’t get it.)
October 22, 1844 Samuel Snow, a preacher in the Baptist Millerite movement
Relying on a prophesy in the Book of Daniel stating “Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,” Snow converted days into years to come up with his date. Thousands of people gave away all their possessions, only to be surprised when the world did not come to an end, and the day came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.” The Millerites then splintered into several groups including the Seventh Day Adventists and, more recently, the Branch Davidians.
1806 The “Prophet Hen”, a domesticated fowl in Leeds, England
When this chicken began laying eggs that bore the message “Christ is coming,” throngs of people came to witness the wondrous phenomenon and prepare for the Last Judgment. However, it was soon ascertained that the eggs had been inscribed with ink, and cruelly forced up into the bird’s body before she laid them a second time.
It seems to me that “Obsessive Dystopian Disorder” (ODD) should be listed in the DSM. In every historical age, people have succumbed to its ODDness.
Yet the study of history provides an effective cure. The wonderful thing about history is that it is so predictive of the future and it can suppress such mass delusions. Yes, the world as we know it is always changing, and with that change, the old world is constantly ending.
Yet human nature and our patterns of behavior remain the same. You can bank on them. The Mayan calendar notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to this year’s Winter Solstice and the rapture of witnessing the sun rise the next morning.
This is why, even though every day of change truly is “the end of the world as we know it,” I feel fine.
Groove of the Day