(UNDATED) It’s that time of the century again. Time to sell your real estate, rid yourself of cherished possessions and purge the evil tendencies of your wicked soul.
The world is scheduled to end in late 2012 — at least according to New Age scholars who look to a 2,000-year-old Mayan calendar for guidance — and it’s time to start preparing.
The Mayans, who were scattered across southern Mexico and Central America from around 2000 B.C. until the Spanish conquest of the 17th century, are noted for astronomical insight and for their “Long Count” calendar, which comes to an end, or perhaps resets, on Dec. 21, 2012.
Cue the destruction of the world.
Hollywood is already playing along. “2012,” a big-screen blockbuster from the director of 2002’s “The Day After Tomorrow,” is scheduled to hit screens in November. Publishers are also cashing in, and the far reaches of the Internet are abuzz with speculation on the end of the world.
Our troubled times are proving to be fertile soil for doomsayers sowing the seeds of Armageddon. Experts say that’s usually how it works.
“Apocalypticism rises and falls with economic and political conditions on the ground,” said Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University. “Give a culture some leisure time and excess income and they’ll forget about the end of the world pretty fast. But mass an army at the border, and prophesies of the end of times will spike just as quickly.”
While the Mayans aren’t normally known as major players on the religious scene, beliefs in the end of the world, or the world to come, are common themes across most major faith traditions.
“Our fears about the end of the world are fairly universal,” Prothero said. “What changes is the form those fears take.”
This time around, they’re taking the form of Roland Emmerich’s “2012,” in which the arms of the Christ the Redeemer statue above Rio de Janeiro break off. St. Peter’s Basilica is reduced to a pile of rubble, and Exodus-style natural disasters plague the planet.
It’s not a religious film per se, but its religious imagery and end-of-days tribulations will resonate with audiences — particularly young people — who take their spiritual cues from pop culture, experts say.
“Hollywood movies tend to succeed if they don’t underestimate (the sophistication of) their audience,” said Lynn Clark, associate professor of new media at the University of Denver. “There is an urgency for (spiritual discovery) that is part of the undercurrent of young people’s lives these days.”
Youth may not be avidly reading their Bibles and attending church in large numbers, but Clark said they do look to the entertainment industry to initiate religious discussions.
Indeed, religious notions of the apocalypse and pop culture’s obsession with what rock band R.E.M. called “The End of the World as We Know It” have often gone hand-in-hand. When Armageddon appears imminent, churches will exploit those fears to get people into the pews.
It worked for William Miller in the midst of an economic downturn in 1837, when he predicted the Second Coming of Jesus in 1843. When that date passed, he changed the date to 1844. Though his failed prophecies eventually became known as the “Great Disappointment,” his followers nonetheless kept the faith. Today, they’re known as Seventh-day Adventists, one of the world’s fastest-growing churches.
People like knowing how it all ends — hoping, of course, it will end well — or that someone else has already figured it out.
“It’s an idea as old as the species that we are part of a pattern, therefore, somebody may be able to trace it ahead of us,” said Volney P. Gay, a professor of psychiatry and chairman of the religious studies department at Vanderbilt University. “There is a certain kind of comfort or relief in that we don’t have to worry anymore.”
Which brings us back to the Mayan calendar, and its focus on 2012.
Publishing giant HarperOne recently released a 356-page book by self-proclaimed Mayan shaman Carlos Barrios, “The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012,” that says many interpreters of the Mayan calendar have gotten it all wrong.
The world won’t end when the calendar does in 2012, he says. A new cycle will begin anew, and the doomsday scenarios are already upon us. Armageddon, it seems, may already be in progress.
“A large part of humanity will disappear. This will not happen in 2012, but in the years leading up to this date as one cycle ends and another begins,” Barrios writes. “This period is when are in the most danger.”
In other words, it’s time to clean up our act so that the next cycle– what Barrios describes as a 5,200-year era of peace and self-awareness — can get started.
“If we take the chance to change, we have the opportunity for harmony,” Barrios said in an interview from Colombia. “We are going to pass to the next level with more possibilities to develop ourselves. It’s not today to 2012. It’s today to the future.”
By LINDSAY PERNA
c. 2009 Religion News Service
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Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.