Sunday, December 5, 2010

The End Is Near...Kinda

This cheerful painting of Armageddon was painted in 1852 by Joseph Paul Pettit.

I recently was invited to a Year 2013 Party on Facebook. I accepted. Apparently, this event is meant to bravely defy the prediction that the world is coming to a fiery end on December 21, 2012.  

New Age writers cite the Mayan and Aztec calendars, which predict the end of the world on that date. Not to be outdone by the ancients, Michael Drosnin wrote The Bible Code in 1997 in which he divined a hidden message in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible also known as the Torah). The secret messages he found predicted that a comet will crash into the earth in 2012 and wipe out all life.

So… should I skip holiday shopping in 2012 and stop saving for retirement?

Human beings seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with the End Time. We celebrate it with movies like The Day the Earth Caught Fire, When Worlds Collide More recently, the concept of apocalypse has merrily skipped over into a new, more trendy genre—zombies. And, of course, technology has always stood ready to do its part in ending the world as we know it.

Remember the year 2000? Computers up to that point had recorded years in two digits instead of four. So we naturally assumed that our modern world would implode when the atomic clock crossed into the new millennium. We happily awaited our doom—from the destruction of our banking systems and government agencies to our military complex. Poof. New Year's Day 2000 finally arrived and the only cataclysmic event for most people was a hangover from the night before.

This is not a recent phenomenon. Approaching the year 1000, general hysteria ruled in Europe. It was predicted that Christ would return that year on January 1 and Judgment Day would be at hand. During December of 999, people assumed their very best behavior, sold their possessions and gave the money to the poor, made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, neglected crops and opened the doors of jails to release criminals. When the year finally ended and Year 1000 trotted in, big disappointment. Nothing happened. It was, however, a good year for the poor and the paroled.

It is worth noting that only “educated” people knew the date. The average peasant had no idea what year it was. Not to mention that the European calendar was not recognized in most other parts of the world where they were celebrating entirely different-numbered years—and stubbornly continue to do so to this day.

Still, a generalized sense of terror lingered on into the year 1000. Emperor Otto III of Germany decided that the only way to stave off a visitation from the impending anti-Christ was to exhume Charlemagne’s body during Pentecost. Don't laugh. No anti-Christ ever showed up, so apparently, it worked.

Unfortunately, the underlying obsession with annihilation was not extinguished. In 1186, the Letter of Toledo—supposedly written by the astrologers of Toledo, Spain, and sent to Pope Clement III
cautioned everyone to hide out in the caves and mountains. The world was coming to an end and only a select few would be spared. The world, however, had not been informed and continued to go on.

In 1415, a religious group called the Taborites, located somewhere near Prague, divined that if they could defeat their persecutors—you guessed it—the world would end and Christ would reign. Following a gospel that read “Accursed be the man who withholds his sword from shedding the blood of the enemies of Christ,” they attacked the German army. How credible was their prophecy? We will never know. The Germans crushed the Taborites, scattering the survivors.

Neighboring Taborites in Czechoslovakia followed a slightly different timetable. They believed that in 1420 every city would be destroyed by fire. Only five mountain strongholds would be saved. That didn't pan out. Still, due to a less aggressive approach—not picking on the German armythey were slightly better off than the Prague branch.

In 1666, inhabitants of London suspected it might be the End Time, but they had good reason. They were hit with a double calamity: The Great Fire of 1666 burned much of London to the ground and an outbreak of Bubonic Plague killed more than 100,000 people. Throw in that the year ended with 666, and there was a convincing case that the world was a goner.

Fast-forward to more recent times. In the early 1800s, Mary Bateman, also known as the Yorkshire Witch, amazed people with her magic fortune-telling chicken. Whenever the chicken laid eggs, a message was written on them. One message predicted the second coming of Christ. Once again, people found this a bit unsettling. Calm was only restored after an unannounced visitor caught the fortune-teller forcing an egg back into the hen. Poor Mary was later hanged for poisoning a rich client. Sadly, there is no information on whatever became of the chicken.

The list goes on, which brings us to the question at hand: Where will YOU be on December 21, 2012?

Will you be busily burning in a fiery Armageddon? Will you rise up in a giddy state of Rapture? Will you be petitioning our government to exhume the remains of Charlemagne? (Worked before!) Or, will you be busy watching extensive coverage of the 2012 end-of-the-world prophecy on 24-hour cable news? My uneducated guess is the latter. After all, there really isn't anything more important for news networks to cover these days, is there?

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