Beliefnet
O Me of Little Faith

Yesterday I was interviewed by a college student in Georgia for a paper in which he was required to speak to an expert on a certain subject. He was interested in 2012 doomsday theories, and had seen me in a History Channel program about the event. Also, there’s that book I wrote.

This guy was admittedly nervous about the world ending in 2012. He’d been reading various Internet theories and predictions and was concerned he’d meet his everlasting doom right after graduating.

I set him straight. By the end of our conversation, he told me he felt a lot better about things. Yay! See, with limited expertise like mine comes limited responsibility, and yesterday I used that expertise and responsibility to keep a gullible college kid from freaking out. Thought I’d do the same for any of you who are likewise worried about the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.

And because I like fake interviews, this post will now take that format.

What?!? The world is going to end in 2012?

Yes. That’s what some people say. The whole thing revolves around the Mayan Long Count Calendar, a complicated 5,126-year thing I don’t know much about but which comes to an end on December 21, 2012. That day is also the winter solstice. Shiver.

So people think the world will end just because an ancient Mayan calendar ends?

Pretty much. The ancient Mayans were brilliant at astronomy and math and things like that. They developed a written language, made fascinating advances in architecture, and did all kinds of cool scientific and technological things way ahead of their peers. So certain types of people — mystics, soothsayers, psychics, and even some end-times-obsessed Christians — tend to also ascribe prophetic mojo to the Mayan culture. If those astronomically advanced Mayans decided to end their calendar on that date, maybe they knew something!

Of course, if the Mayans were actually prophetic, you’d think they would have seen the collapse of their heyday in the 9th century and their eventual apocalypse at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors. Maybe they could have done something about it. Anyway, the seemingly prophetic Mayan calendar, sadly, lasted longer than the seemingly prophetic Mayan civilization.

Isn’t it kind of dumb to think the world will end because a calendar ends? I mean, my desk calendar ends at December 31, 2009. But I don’t assume that means there will be no January 1, 2010, do I?

No, you don’t. And yes, it’s kind of dumb. It’s similar to the people who thought the world would end or Jesus would come back when we hit the year 1000, or even the year 2000. As if God scheduled his eschatological timeline based on our calendars.

Anyway, the Mayan Long Count calendar doesn’t even end in 2012. It’s cyclical. It just resets and starts back over for the next 5,126 years.

But aren’t there other things that tie in with Dec. 21, 2012? Enough other things to make people nervous?

Yes. On the 2012 winter solstice (which has always been an event of psychological import), the sun will not just be in a symbolic position in proximity to earth, but also in the galaxy itself. That dates marks the alignment of the sun near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s the first time this has happened in 26,000 years. Holy galactic alignment! And it occurs at the same time the Mayan calendar ends! Clearly this alignment will disrupt the flow of energy through space, rip the planet apart due to crazy gravitational pull, and change the universe forever!

Or perhaps not. Things like planetary alignment always freak people out. Last time it happened was in 1987, when 8 out of the 10 planets in the solar system aligned in what’s called a grand trine. Earth Day founder Jose Arguelles worried that this would cause the earth to go spinning off its axis out into space, so he got a bunch of psychics together to use their positive mojo to keep things running smoothly. Sort of a psychic pep rally to cleanse the planet’s karma and usher in a new age of peace and harmony.

I guess it worked, because the world didn’t end. In fact, nothing weird happened at all, other than the worldwide gatherings of psychic nutjobs.

But there’s other stuff, too, right? Nostradamus predictions? Magnetic pole-shifting? Earthquakes and calamities?

Yes. Everyone with a foot in the prophetic door is hanging his or her coattails on 2012. (To mix metaphors as fantastically as possible.) Some people think Nostradamus predicts a comet’s collision with earth in 2012. As we saw with 9/11, the weirdly vague imagery of Nostradamus’ writings can be interpreted to refer to just about anything, so of course you can make it work with 2012. Just like Christian doomsdayers have no trouble applying the weird imagery of Revelation to fit current events, so do Nostradamus aficionados with his quatrains.

Magnetic pole-shifting? Yes, it could happen. It’s a long process that seems to happen every 250,000 years or so in the earth’s history, only we haven’t had it occur for 750,000 years now. So we’re due. But is it something that happens overnight and we’ll wake up on Dec. 21, 2012 with planetary chaos (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis) because of a magnetic pole reversal? Nope. It takes centuries to happen. And in that regard, 2012 is no better a time for it than today. Today! Beware!

Earthquakes? Happen all the time, including earlier this week in Indonesia and today in California. They’re just as likely to occur tomorrow as on Dec. 21, 2012. Especially if you live in earthquake-prone places.

So I can ignore all the end-of-the-world predictions related to 2012?

Yes, unless they come from NASA or the president. If President Obama — even if he is an unamerican communist socialist spawn of demons who wants your grandma to die — warns you about a comet hurtling toward earth, you should take him seriously. But if these warnings come from a website? An author selling a book? The publicity materials tied to an upcoming movie? A History Channel show featuring yours truly? You can ignore them.

Mankind has been predicting the end of the world for thousands of years. Christians. Muslims. Hindus. Psychics. Godless anarchists. Everyone. And they’ve all been wrong.

All. Of. Them.

No need to worry. Feel better, everyone. Carry on.

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