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Monday, December 17, 2012

The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus and Others

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This coming Friday, December 21, 2012, is reputed to be the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, though the modern Mayans themselves don’t seem any too sure of this prophecy, and the whole thing is probably a misunderstanding (see below).  Nonetheless, the Chicken-Littles are making their usual “end of days” noises, and the silly season is upon us again.  Is there any scientific evidence of impending doom?  No.  Is there evidence of any kind that something about to happen other than hearsay and rumor?  No.  Has this nonsense happened before?  Oh yes!  Over and over and over again.  Let’s review the history of apocalyptic predictions.

Begin with the Bible.  In five different places Jesus is quoted as saying the world is about to end.  In Mathew 16:28 he assures his followers that “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."  Mathew 24:34 is similar: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  Mark 9:1: “And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."  Luke 9:27: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."  Finally here is Luke 21:32’s version of the same idea: “"I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”  When that didn’t prove true after all, St. Paul took up the theme and assured his followers that those then living would see the return of Jesus, and then when some of them died and his congregations became worried about this, he reassured them that those who died before Jesus returned (which was still imminent he claimed) would also participate in the heavenly events on the big day.  Then Paul himself died without his prediction coming true.  From that day until this the incipient return of Jesus has been prophesized century after century after century.  We’re still waiting.

Mr. Bockelson
 
In the 1500s the Anabaptists produced a leader named Jan Bockelson in the German city of Munster, and though but a humble tailor he promptly claimed to be the “Messiah of the Last Days,” until his excesses were so severe that in 1535 a siege of the city succeeded and his genitals were nailed to the city gates.

 
 
One of the most famous incidents involves the “Millerite” hysteria in the 1840s, when William Miller preached that Jesus was about to return, and thousands heeded his message, sold their belongings, climbed into the mountains, and waited for the rapture.  When it never came, even after Miller changed the dates a couple of times, you’d think his followers would have abandoned him, but no!  Instead the movement went on to become the Seventh-day Adventists.
Some Millerites Tried To Hide In a Safe

Jehovah’s Witnesses have an embarrassing history of proclaiming dates for the end of the world—dates that then have to be moved when they pass without the promised conflagration.  Jehovah’s Witnesses started  by naming 1799 as the year that would contain the finale, then had another major disappointment in 1874 (which they covered by saying that Jesus had in fact come back, but mysteriously did so invisibly! —you can’t make up things this nutty).  The year 1914 was nominated next, and since then the predictions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have gotten so vague as to be uninteresting.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were bestsellers predicting the end of the world: Hal Lindsey’s “The Late Great Planet Earth” (naming the day as coming before the end of 1988), and a supporting book from Edgar Whisenant called “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.”  When that didn’t happen Whisenant kept moving the day (as Miller had back in the 1840s), first to 1989, then 1993, then 1994, and then he gave up and just lived, finally dying in 2001 (eleven years before the Mayans would have their shot at taking him out).
 


 
So now on to the Mayans, and this prediction is based on the end of one of the 28 Mayan calendars which quits at December 21, 2012.  But the Mayans didn’t mean that the earth would also end on that date, but merely that this particular calendar would then have to be tossed, just as we all toss last year’s calendar every January 1.  But, strangely, people apparently want to hear that the planet is facing doom, so reason and facts are unimportant.  Let’s riot just for the fun of it!

The earth does have a predictable end, or, more precisely, the sun does and when it explodes the radiation will take out the earth, leaving only miasma of subatomic particles.  The current calculation for this event is rough, but scientists book it at 20 to 30 billion years.  Of course by then we, the earthlings, may have moved on to a more hospitable solar system.  Let’s hope for that.
 
 
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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
"'The God Particle' and the Vanishing Role of God," July 5, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013
 





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