Here we are at December 21, the supposed end of the world. As of 7:49 am, the world appears to be carrying on like it has for billions of years (or thousands if you don’t trust science). Of course all that could change at any moment.
Doomsday scenarios have been with us since the beginning of time. One of my favorite bloggers, John Michael Greer, has been providing a weekly feature at the end of what are always long, well-written posts. He calls these, “End of the World of the Week.” He’s now up to #53 and what these call to mind is that mankind has always been fascinated and gotten caught up in the apocalyptic. Greer also illustrates that these predictions have always proved inaccurate. But that hasn’t deterred another crop of doomsday prophets from setting up shop and making a new round of failed predictions.
This fascination with and even the embracing of the ending of civilization is a strange phenomenon. I might even call it a bit kooky if I hadn’t gotten enmeshed in my own little hankering for the powering down of the world as we know it.
There is an entire corner of the blogosphere devoted to what some refer to as doomer-ism. Peak oil factors into this for many. Greer might get lumped in with these writers, although it would be unfair to compare his kind of thoughtful, well-written and thoroughly researched blogging to some of the other really zany and tinfoil-ey stuff that sometimes is associated with doomer chic.
I don’t really know where my interest in end of the world narratives began. Possibly it was the Saturday night that our parents went out with friends and left my sister and me in the charge of a babysitter who allowed us to watch The Omega Man.
If you’re unfamiliar with the early 70s sci-fi flick that was regular late night fare at the time, it starred Charlton Heston as Robert Neville, a scientist based in Los Angeles. Biological warfare between China and the Soviet Union (this was during the Cold War, folks) causes a deadly plague to be released upon the world’s population.
Because Neville is also a U.S. Army colonel and a doctor, he has access to an experimental vaccine and is able to inject himself just in time, and is rendered immune. Meanwhile, the plague’s surviving victims in Los Angeles, join together as “The Family,” a cult of crazed nocturnal albino mutants who seek to destroy all technology and Neville.
The movie had a profound effect on 10-year-old Jimmy and I’m sure his sister, Julie-Ann. I remember walking around for days saying “Neville, Neville,” in a creepy, whispered tone to my sister, ala the Family members in the movie. I don’t recall what my parents thought about all of this. It may have made them reconsider their choice of future babysitters and what we were allowed to watch on Tee Vee by them.
The world was supposedly ending back in the 1970s. The war in the Middle East, the oil embargo, the ineffective post-Nixon presidency of Jimmy Carter–hampered in large part by geopolitical events and interest rates in the high teens–all this made for some fertile ground for Hal Lindsey and his end-of-the-world series of books.
Lindsey’s first book, The Late Great Planet Earth, utilized the Bible and a very literal, pre-millennial approach to eschatology to craft a narrative of the world ending in fulfillment of the end-time prophecies in the Bible, especially the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation.
Lindsey’s initial premise suggested the possibility of various events playing out in the 1980s, which he interpreted as one generation from the foundation of modern Israel in 1948, a pivotal event in many evangelical schools of eschatological thought. Growing up during this time, and reading books like Lindsey’s surely became embedded in my psyche.
None of his prophecies and predictions ended up taking place, but Lindsey became a wealthy man, laughing all the way to the bank with what I’m sure were some hefty checks from his publisher. In fact, Lindsey created his own little doomsday cottage industry, as many others had before and continues long after people have long ago forgotten about his books.
Speaking of cottage industries, Nostradamus and books about his prophecies number in the hundreds. Go to any bookstore, even the tiniest neighborhood variety, and the odds are really good that there will be at least one book based upon the 16th century apothecary’s doomsday predictions. This latest fixation on the Mayan calendar smacks quite a bit of Nostradamus and our love of the cataclysmic and our need for a little drama in our otherwise boring lives. I mean, it’s so much easier to remain cynical and figure on the world coming to an end than getting busy trying to make it a better place, right?
I’m confident that I’ll be back to give you all my wrap on the books I’ve read for the year, just like I did last year. If not, 2012 has been a pretty good ride, albeit a bit bumpy.
I’m trusting we’ll make it past midnight, so I’ll wish my JBE readers Happy Holidays!