The End of the World

Don Wyeth

The End of the World

3 mins
December 14, 2021

In the 1996 sci/fi movie thriller, Independence Day by director Roland Emmerich, a popular rock tune by R.E.M. entitled It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) opens the show. The chorus of the song goes:

It's the end of the world as we know it

It's the end of the world as we know it

It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

But how could we possibly feel fine about the end of the world?

Over the centuries there have been many predictions regarding the end of times. Prognosticator and American radio broadcaster, Harold Camping, is the most recent iteration of the doomsday prophets, predicting the end of the world no less than 12 times, using ‘biblical numerology’. His most memorable prediction was May 21, 2011. He claimed that the date was calculated by going forward 7000 years from the date of the great flood of Noah. How he knew the date that Noah went sailing is unclear. When the May 21 date came and went, he claimed that his math must have been off. So, he changed the date to October 21, 2011. I'm pretty sure, being that I am here writing this right now in 2021, instead of getting a hole in one, he obviously claimed another mulligan on that round.

Another prediction of note is one that was leveled by Taiwanese religious leader Hon-Ming Chen, head of the group called Chen Tao, translated ‘True Way’, a religion blending Christianity, Buddhism, UFO conspiracy theories, and Taiwanese folk religion. His prognostication zeroed in on March 25, 1988. This event would be triggered, Hon-Ming Chen stated, by the appearance of Jesus Christ on American TV channel 18, and UFOs coming to the rescue of the ‘true believers’. When this trigger event occurred, a spaceship (for which you had to buy a ticket) would save you. This prediction is striking in its similarities to the March 26, 1997 Heavens’ Gate tragedy perpetrated by a man named Applegate, who convinced his followers that they needed to kill themselves so that the UFO rescue craft could collect their souls before the earth was destroyed.

There are other examples. There was the Halley’s Comet Panic of 1910, where the end would be caused by the earth passing through its poisonous tail. Another involved “…[r]eligious leader William Miller … preaching in 1831 that the end of the world as we know it would occur with the second coming of Jesus Christ in 1843.” britannica.com.  He later wrote, “…I waited all Tuesday, and dear Jesus did not come … I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain—sick with disappointment…” Then there was 64-year-old Joanna Southcott in 1813 who announced that she was a virgin and the she would give birth to the second Messiah the following year, signaling the end of time. But, I guess the baby got thrown out with the bathwater. My apologies for the blatant irreverence. There was even an end times prophecy made by a chicken! “In 1806, a domesticated hen in Leeds, England, appeared to lay eggs inscribed with the message ‘Christ is coming.’” Turns out that her owner actually wrote the messages on the eggs himself and then put them back in to the chicken. Where is the ASPCA when you need them? One recent example of end times prediction is the 2012 Mayan prophecy that was mistakenly taken to mean the end of time but was simply indicating the end of a time cycle.

The question remains, why would a person anticipating the destruction of the world harbor a positive feeling? Neurobiology and psychophysiology expert, Dr. Shmuel Lissek, at the University of Minnesota thinks he has an answer. “…Dr. Lissek suspects that some apocalyptic believers find the idea that the end is nigh to be validating. Individuals with a history of traumatic experiences, for example, may be fatalistic. For these people, finding a group of like-minded fatalists is reassuring. There may also be comfort in being able to attribute doom to some larger cosmic order—such as an ancient Mayan prophecy. This kind of mythology removes any sense of individual responsibility.” blogs.scientificamerican.com

Dr. Steven Schlozman, a Harvard Medical School child psychiatrist “…has noticed that people frequently romanticize the end times. They imagine surviving, thriving and going back to nature.” The initial reaction in humans upon hearing about the announcement of an apocalypse or major disaster of any kind seems to be panic. In order to cope with those current, overwhelming feelings of panic brought about by the realities of terrorism, endless war, economic woes, and global warming, some people entertain the fantasy that post-apocalyptic life will somehow be better. But considering the reality of a complete collapse of civilization, and the failure of the infrastructure that would come with it, and consequential hardships that this dystopian scenario would bring, do not match up to the expectations fueled by this utopian fantasy. That being said, I acknowledge that everyone has a right to believe what they choose. But reflection on our motivations for our beliefs should be honestly examined.

This article was orginally reported by
Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.