Thursday, February 24, 2011

Surviving yet another apocalypse prediction

I saw this on YahooAnswers recently, and it brought back memories of my Bible Belt childhood:

Please help me.. I need it :(?
I am going crazy. I'm worried about the end if the world, not 2012, bu this year. People have been saying May 21-October 21 (5 month rapture) will happen. The world is going to be destroyed by fire.. I don't want to burn alive. And I'm just all out scared. What should I do?

I remember this fear. I was about nine years old, and book and movie The Late Great Planet Earth, were being talked about at churches all over the USA, including in my home town. All the talk had me convinced that the world was about to go up in flames. The book and movie asserted that the world would probably end by the end of the 80s. I was terrified. One night I cried so hard my mother had to console me.

The world didn't end. And within three or four years, I was realizing I wasn't a Christian. The 80s and 90s, instead, saw me learning just how often different human communities had been caught up in a belief that the world was about to end (if you are interested in this yourself, I highly recommend The Last Days are Here Again: A History of End Times by Richard Kyle, which shows how the belief that the world will end soon is deeply embedded in the human psyche).

And now the 2012 phenomenon is terrorizing various people, including children, with its proposal that it's all going away next year.

This 2012 campaign of fear bothers me on a lot of levels. Sure, the Earth could be destroyed next year. It could be destroyed later today. It could be destroyed a million years from now. Death from the Skies!: These Are The Ways The World Will End, the a book by American astronomer Phil Plait, also known as "the Bad Astronomer", explores the various ways in which the human race could be rendered extinct by astronomical phenomena, such as asteroid impacts, supernovae explosions, solar flares and gamma ray bursts. Plait isn't trying to be alarmist - instead, he explains the science behind each event and the odds of it occurring in our lifetimes.

People shouldn't live in fear of what might happen, in terms of pure hypotheticals, any more than they should ever believe yet another apocalypse prediction, religious or otherwise. To torture children with such a belief is reprehensible.

We don't know how humans will die, or how each of us will die, or how the Earth will end, or what will happen to each of us when we die. No one knows, though there are a lot of beliefs - that we sleep until the end of the Earth comes, and then some go to Heaven and some go to Hell; that we go straight to one or the other, no sleeping required; that we're reincarnated as a new living being, or even more than one; that we go into another dimension; and on and on. But no one - not even Atheists - know. What I'm pretty sure might happen:

From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.
- Edvard Munch

I'm okay with not knowing.

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