Mass starvation and various related catastrophes didn't happen in the 1970s and '80s, but the Ehrlichs' reprise of Malthusian assumptions is still popular in some circles.
Apocalyptic predictions aren't unique to Western civilization, or Christendom — which are not the same thing, and that's another topic — but I'll concentrate on the Christian variety today.
Hyppolytus of Rome said the Second Coming would happen in the year 500. He died a martyr more than two centuries shy of his spurious Parousia. Hyppolytus of Rome is Saint Hippolytus of Rome now.
Saints are canonized for their heroic virtue, not for being spot-on accurate: and preferring death to denying our Lord is a short, painful, way to display that virtue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828, 2473)
A messy death doesn't guarantee Sainthood, martyrdom still happens, many Saints died of natural causes, and that's yet another bunch of topics. (April 12, 2015; February 14, 2010)
Anyway, the year 500 rolled by. So did the years 1000 and 1033, which apparently saw some high-profile apocalyptic anticlimaxes.
The end of the first millennium wasn't entirely uneventful, though. One of our spectacularly unethical Popes was kicked out of the position twice, and sold the papacy once, between 1032 and 1048.
We've had a few other rough patches during the last two millennia: and that's yet again another topic. (September 14, 2014; February 15, 2012)
The last half of the 1300s and early 1400s was one of those bad times. The Great Pestilence or Great Plague sweeping Europe probably made the situation worse. Quite a few folks were in a panic, with some reason. We started calling it the Black Death a few centuries later. (April 4, 2014)
(Oakland Blog, via SFGate, used w/o permission)
(Judgment Day, 2011; wrong both times — May 21, 2011 and October 21, 2011.)
Every few years someone comes up with a new 'End Times' prediction: probably more often. That's just the ones I notice: and I suspect some are reruns of earlier, fizzled and forgotten, prognostications.
Some stand out, though.
Emanuel Swedenborg, one of the scientists who first developed the nebular hypotheses, made a remarkable claim during 1758. In "The Heavenly Doctrine," he said that Last Judgment had started — in 1757. (February 28, 2014)
I think Swedenborg gets points for originality imagination. Some folks may still believe he's right, since he placed doomsday's dawn in the 'spirit world.'
Harold Camping, now deceased, enjoyed fame in 2011 with a well-publicized 'End Times' marketing campaign that included billboards. I think — and hope, for his sake — he was sincere. He was also wrong. Both times. (June 14, 2011)
I'll concede that America's perennial 'Rapture' predictions, and the continuing willingness of some folks to believe them, has darkly funny sides.
In the comics, the scruffy man wearing a sack and carrying a 'The End is Nigh' sign is a stock character. So is the very-slightly-more-realistic rustic with a shaky grip on reality.
That's the comics. Real life isn't quite that simple.
Followers of this world's Campings aren't, or aren't all, uneducated yokels. For example, one of the folks who took Mr. Camping's 'Biblical' prediction seriously was a "former television producer:"
"...Follower Jeff Hopkins also spent a good deal of his own retirement savings on gas money to power his car so people would see its ominous lighted sign showcasing Camping's May 21 warning. As the appointed day drew nearer, Hopkins started making the 100-mile round trip from Long Island to New York City twice a day, spending at least $15 on gas each trip.I don't know what happened to Mr. Hopkins after that interview. I hope he didn't decide that all Christian leaders were like Mr. Camping.
" 'I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car,' said Hopkins, 52, a former television producer who lives in Great River, NY. 'I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face.'...
(Associated Press, via FoxNews.com)
By the time I was out of high school, back in the '60s, I'd stopped wondering if the 'End Times' wannabe prophets were right, and started wondering how adults could believe them.
I still don't have a good answer to the second question. I suspect that a need for fear, highly selective memory, and at least a slight deficiency of analytic skills, may be involved.
My experience has been that having money or a diploma does not guarantee common sense.
That sort of wisdom comes from, among other things, a willingness to think about extravagant claims before 'really believing.'
No wonder I became a Catholic.
We're told that emotions are fine: they're part of being human. But we're also expected to think about what we say and do. (Catechism, 1762-1775)
Each of us is someone, not something: a person. We're able to reason, and decide how we act — and in these ways are like God. (Catechism, 357, 1700-1706)
Being able to reason is one thing. Using that ability is another: and so is using it wisely. I've talked about emotions, reason, and getting a grip, before. (March 1, 2015; October 5, 2014; December 8, 2013)
There may be another 'End Times' prediction in progress: judging from what I've seen from my 'front porch' online: Brian Gill, on Google Plus.
I think folks who pass along portentous messages take them seriously. Some may think that the Last Judgment really is upon us — this time.
I've seen too many 'doomsdays' come and go to get particularly worked up over the latest one.
I see 'End Times Bible prophecies,' and their Catholic equivalents, as cultural and psychological phenomena.
On the other hand, I believe what our Lord said about His return.
I'm a Christian, a Catholic: so I must take Sacred Scripture seriously. (Catechism, 101-141)
That includes John 6:39-40 and Revelation 7:9-10.
A few decades back, while discussing the End Times Prophecy du jour, someone told me what Mark 13:32 'really' means. I'll get back to that.
Mark 13 starts with our Lord and one of the disciples leaving the temple area. The disciple was impressed by the architecture, Jesus said, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down." (Mark 13:2)
"2 As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately,My Lord died a little later, stopped being dead, rallied the surviving Apostles, gave standing orders that we're still following, and left. (Mattnew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-21; Acts 1)
" 'Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?' "
It's the 'stopped being dead' part, I think, that really got the Apostle's attention: once they'd been convinced that Jesus really was alive. (April 5, 2015; October 5, 2014; March 11, 2012)
Our Lord will return, after "a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers." His return has been imminent ever since the Ascension. After Jesus returns, we'll finally see what's next. (Catechism, 673-679, 1001)
But all we know for sure about the timetable is that we're about two thousand years closer to that day than we were when our Lord left.
Right now it's Saturday afternoon, April 18, 2015. This post is scheduled to show up Sunday morning. If the world's end comes in the next several hours: you won't be reading this, and I'll be very surprised.
We've been on standby alert for two millennia so far: waiting for our Lord's return, making "disciples of all nations," and passing along ethical standards our Lord gave us. (Matthew 28:18-20)
The message is simple: God loves us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Catechism, 52, 1825)
We're expected to love God, love our neighbors, see everyone as our neighbor, and treat others as we'd like to be treated. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)
I'm about as sure as I can be that we're not expected to know more than our Lord did:
""But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.My friend, some decades back, earnestly told me that Mark13:32 'really' means that we can't pin the Parousia down to a particular day — so far, so good.
"Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
"It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
"Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
"May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
"What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!' "
But he was convinced that the self-styled prophets had Judgment Day pinned down to a particular week.
They were wrong. Again.
I figure that either I'll still be alive when our Lord comes back: or, much more likely; that I'll die first, in which case I'll go through my particular judgment and whatever comes after that. (Catechism, 1021-1041)
Either way, I'll be at the Final Judgment. I really hope that I'll be with with the "sheep" at that point. (Matthew 25:33)
Meanwhile, I've got a job to do. The laity are in the Church's front line. We're expected to permeate "social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life." (Catechism, 899)
I've got my hands full: learning to seek, know, and love God, and doing my job as a Catholic layman. (Catechism, 1, 898-913)
I'm quite willing to let God the Father handle the big stuff.
(From NASA/ISS, used w/o permission.)
More of my take on life, death, and the long view:
- "Scrutinies, Options, and 'a Great Multitude' "
(March 22, 2015)
- "Fire, Brimstone, and Lollipop Faith"
(March 15, 2015)
- "Moderation and a Pythagorean Dribble Glass"
(January 25, 2015)
- "Victory and Standing Orders"
(November 23, 2014)
- "Life, Death, and Hope"
(November 2, 2014)