Saturday, October 3, 2009

Global Warming, End Times - 'We're All Gonna Die' Over the Last 45 Years Or So

I don't remember the first time I heard about the imminent coming end of the world, but I'm pretty sure it was after I turned 13. By the time I was 20 or so, I'd noticed a pattern.

'And We're All Gonna Die' Has a Rather Broad Appeal, Doesn't It?

Remember the famines and pestilences of the 1970s and 80s, that killed off most of the human race?

Probably not, since they didn't happen.

They were supposed to, though. ("Food, Agriculture, Technology, and City Folks," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (October 2, 2009))

Paul Ehrlich's 'relevant' predictions; nuclear winter; acid rain; 'everything causes cancer;' and that perennial favorite of the last decade or so, global warming; seem to be a secular analog of what this post is about.

Armageddon is Coming! In Three to Five Years - Read All About It for $14.95

That price is just a guess. Quite a few years ago, you could read all about the coming apocalypse for about $4.95. Back in 2004, adult fiction paperbacks (other than 'mass-market') sold for an average of $14.95 - and just a little before that the 'read all about it' books ran for about the same price: although I seem to remember it going up to $19.95.

Small price to pay for getting the inside track at Armageddon, I suppose.

I Take the Word of God Seriously

I'm a Christian and a Catholic. My faith is based on the Bible, the Magisterium, and Tradition. (October 2, 2008) Even if I hadn't been taught - and believe - that the Bible is the Word of God, I'd be interested in what God had been prompting people to record over the last few thousand years.

On the other hand, I haven't taken the passing parade of end-of-the-world warnings - and the books that go with them - as being quite the same thing.

A weird combination of numerology, thinly-disguised fortunetelling and yellow journalism - all wrapped up in a very spiritual package - was part of the background noise in the culture I grew up in. After a little youthful interest, I noticed how the deadlines 'from the Bible' kept passing by - to be replaced with a new deadline and new explanation by the next wannabe prophet.

I didn't take them any more seriously than I took Elvis sightings, later.

Messing With the Word of God

Intentionally buying or selling of spiritual things is a really bad idea. (Catechism of the Catholic Church (2121), Acts 8:9-24)

I'd be much more concerned about the people who wrote those 'Armageddon is coming' books, as a group, if I wasn't pretty sure that they actually believed what they were writing.

Why Three to Five Years?

Good question - but that range was pretty consistently used.

From a marketing point of view, three to five years is a pretty good choice of time. It's close enough to get people interested, curious, or scared out of their wits: But far off enough to let quite a few copies of the book be sold.

Cynical? Maybe. There could easily be other explanations.

Numerology Isn't What it Used to be

Maybe it was just the area I grew up in, but back in the sixties I heard quite an array of radio preachers reading things in the Word of God that were - well, remarkable.

That was a long time ago, and I wasn't taking notes, but as I recall a fairly typical claim would tie Joseph Stalin's birth date, the number 666, and Halloween together. I must be one of 'those' people - I still don't see how it all adds up to Armageddon in the early seventies (I must have slept through it - can't remember a thing).

I don't doubt that what the preachers quoted really was in the Bible - that sort of thing is too easy to check on. Their numerological calculations, though: those I can't take seriously, except as a sort of engrossing intellectual parlor game.

My favorite observation/prediciton from that period wasn't numerological at all, though. I can't remember quite what part of Revelation he pulled it from, but we were supposed to believe that locusts - some kind of insect-like bug, anyway - was an obvious reference to some sort of missile launcher the Russians had added to their arsenal. And that, it seemed, proved that the Russians were going to be there - soon - at Armageddon. (The Soviet Union was, anyway - they often didn't distinguish all that much between Russia and the U.S.S.R. - I'll get back to that.)

Decades later and about 125 miles down the road, numerology seemed to have dropped out of favor. Can't say that I miss it - although my hat's off to the people who came up with those strange, quirky correlations. It takes a sort of talent to start with a verse in the Bible; find numbers in it; add, subtract, multiply, divide and/or systematically substitute the numbers; and come out with a hot topic in current events.

Back to That Russian Missile Launcher and the Beast

The radio preachers were particularly earnest about the Soviet Union.

I can see why, in a way. One of the national symbols for Russia is a bear. A bear is in the book of Revelation. The feet of one, anyway. Or something that looked like a bear's feet. I can sort of see where the preachers got the idea. (Revelation 13:1-2)

I don't think that the Soviet Union was the best thing that ever happened to Russia: but I don't think Russia is the beast with "blasphemous name (s)" on it.

But then, I've never bought into the end-of-the-world predictions, either.

I must not be very spiritual. Or something.

What Set All This Off?

I've been reading about the terrible effects of a series of earthquakes in and around Indonesia. My family's prayed about it - which is about the limit of the useful contribution we can make to rescue and recovery efforts.

Maybe because I've been running seriously short on sleep - I got to bed at about 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning the last two (nights? mornings?) - I remembered the sort of 'and it's a sign of the end times' pronouncements that would have been filling the airwaves back in the 'good old days,' after a horrific disaster like that.1

By early afternoon, ideas were arranging themselves in a vaguely orderly way - and I've learned to take advantage of moments like that. Once I got started, the result still seemed on-topic for this blog, so I finished the thing off.

Why Have So Many People Been Convinced For So Long that The World Is Going to End Soon?

It's not just a particular branch of Christianity - 'and we're all gonna die' predictions about the end of humanity, civilization, and spotted owls, have been around for as long as I've been inclined to notice such things.

Whether it's Armageddon or acid rain, quite a number of people seem convinced that something just simply awful is just around the corner.

Saying 'people are like that' affirms that (some) people like to see disaster looming - or at least are inclined to do so. But saying 'people are like that' doesn't address why that trait runs through humanity.

I don't have an answer: just a speculation or two.

I think that being convinced that disaster is around the corner may be a misfiring of the sort of caution and foresight that keeps us (usually) from eating the seed grain, spending the money we'll need for fuel next winter, or forgetting to keep some gas in the car's tank.

I also think that the reason for a fascination with global warming or Armageddon may be related to whatever it is that makes people fans of horror films. There's a kind of thrill to being scared half (or more) out of one's wits.

But that's just speculation.

Vaguely-related posts:
1 'Good old days?' I remember the fifties - they had their up side, but so has every other period I've lived in. They weren't quite the 'happy days' some folks like to remember.

They weren't "the best of times...the worst of times." They were times - like every other; variously appealing and appalling, and each quite unique.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.