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Religion 101

The Internet has been abuzz for quite some time now regarding the infamous Mayan calendar, and its notorious terminal date of December 21, 2012. Since that ominous date is now (as I write) looming before us as the day after tomorrow, the online and wider media buzz is growing louder than ever.

The general idea, currently in broad circulation, is that since the ancient Mayan calendar ends abruptly on Friday, Dec 21 of the current year, the prescient ancient Mayans who created this prophetic calendar therefore must have known that that seemingly very final date represents the end of the world — or at least the The End Of The World As We Know It (or TEOTWAWKI, for short).

Speculations regarding our imminent fate are currently running rampant, predicting everything from a sudden global doomsday apocalypse (massive solar electromagnetic pulse, cataclysmic asteroid impact, polar flip, worldwide tsunami, nuclear Armageddon, or some other equally dire extinction-level event) to a sudden spontaneous global mass awakening of souls, ushering in a radically transformed new age of spiritual enlightenment and ultimate cosmic ascension. Take your pick.

However, the reality is apt to be far more mundane. My own prediction: December 21 this year will be very much like Dec 20 of this year, and very much like Dec 22 of this year — very much like any other day, in fact. (Mark my words!)

In the first place, the date on the particular Mayan calendar in question (there’s actually more than one Mayan calendar) which brings that particular calendar to a conclusion, and which also happens to correspond with the date of Dec 21, 2012 on our own Western (Gregorian) calendar does not — and never did — signify the sudden and permanent end of time. Rather, it merely signified the end of one rather large cycle or lengthy measure of calendric timekeeping, and the beginning of another one. It was never meant to signify anything more final, dramatic, or portentious than that.

In the second place, predictions of the end of the world are nothing new. There have been quite a large number of such predictions periodically offered, with great confidence and much foreboding, throughout history.

So far, every single one of those eschatological predictions has been 100% wrong.

Remember Harold Camping? The Christian radio preacher who last year famously calculated, based upon alleged biblical clues, that the End Times were scheduled to begin on May 21, 2011? He and his followers were so sure that the Rapture was set to occur upon that precise date that they spent millions of dollars publicly promoting their May 21 prediction with absolute certitude. Radio warnings, tracts, T-shirts, and thousands of billboards urgently spread the word. Some people donated their life savings to fund this campaign. Others quit their jobs in anticipation of an imminent Judgment Day.

Nothing happened.

Camping went back to the drawing board, recalculated, and announced that the Rapture would actually occur a few months later, on October 21. Followers (fewer of them now) regrouped, and hunkered down to once again await the return of Jesus.

Once again, nothing happened.

Remember “Y2K”? The “Year 2000” scare? The “Millennium Bug” problem that was supposed to render computers inoperative worldwide, at the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve? A widespread standard computer programming convention regarding how years were digitally counted would, it was feared, result in 1999 disastrously ticking over on New Years Day not to 2000 but to 0000, resulting in mass global computer crashes everywhere. It was actually a relatively minor technical problem, and a rather easy fix. Nevertheless, in the months leading up to Y2K, dire scenarios increasingly circulated, predicting all digital networks going down everywhere, airplanes falling out of the sky en masse, worldwide power grids irreversibly shutting down, unstoppable meltdowns of nuclear plants globally, and similar cataclysms due to total planetary computer failure.

Nothing of the sort ever occurred, after all.

In 2011, an incoming comet known as Elenin was widely feared as a harbinger of doom. Popular (and uninformed) speculation ran rampant, predicting everything from a devastating rain of deadly comet debris impacting the Earth, to catastrophic gravitational disturbances causing all sorts of geo-disasters of immense magnitude. But the only doom that occurred was that which befell the poor comet itself; by the time of Comet Elenin’s closest approach to Earth, it had all but disintegrated.

Marshall Applewhite convinced his followers in 1997 that Comet Hale-Bopp was a harbinger of imminent spiritual ascension, at least for himself and his Heaven’s Gate cult. Convinced that an alien spacecraft was accompanying the approaching comet, he and 38 of his followers committed mass suicide together, hoping to transcend a doomed earth by transporting their souls aboard the alien craft and thereby attaining “the Next Level,” a higher state of existence.

David Koresh convinced his own followers that the end of the world was nigh in 1993. The end indeed came, but only for himself and 75 other unfortunate members of his Branch Davidian sect, when a fire destroyed their Armageddon-ready compound following a protracted and deadly siege against the FBI near Waco, Texas.

See a pattern here? The predicted end of the world never comes. Occasionally (and somewhat ironically), it fails to come yet has disastrous consequences for some who had fervently believed in its coming.

It’s always much ado over nothing, unless and until some misguided souls go out of their way to try and make it about something.

 

 

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