"The End-of-the-World Delusion is a well-written, thoroughly researched, and very readable book. Deering's lively narrative makes complex and complicated topics accessible to the average reader. He certainly pulled me into his book despite my cynical view of the topic. Deering offers the reader riveting histories of end-of-the world beliefs and covers an extraordinary array of ground in this well-researched book, discussing everything from the Mayan end-of-times predictions, Christian rapture beliefs, pandemics, economic doomsday scenarios, and other apocalyptic predictions."
-Robert Watson, PhD, author/editor of thirty-four books, including The Presidents' Wives and America's War on Terror
People from many different corners of civilization seem to be saying the same thing: the end is near. In The End-of-the-World Delusion, author Justin Deering explores such scenarios, discussing why they are not likely to occur or have any visible impact on this planet within our lifetime.
Providing a thorough analysis, Deering chronicles the numerous instances of such predictions throughout history, examines frequent religious and cultural sources of these end-of-world claims, analyzes the sociological and psychological dynamics and dangers, and outlines other forms of end-times beliefs, ranging from religious to pop culture in nature. The End-of-the-World Delusion provides concrete information that helps evaluate these dubious assertions, relates how such beliefs have harmed individuals and society, and talks about why people are inclined to nurture such beliefs in the first place.
Setting the record straight by detailing the history of failed doomsdays, Deering shows that nothing can be gained by worrying about the end of time, and that we must learn a lesson from the past, live in the present, and plan for the future.
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THE END-OF-THE-WORLD DELUSIONHow Doomsayers Endanger Society
By Justin Deering
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Justin Deering
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA History of the World's End
"You know people been talkin' 'bout the end of time, ever since time began. We've been livin' in the last days, ever since the first day, ever since the dawn of man."
—Dolly Parton, "In the Meantime"
Throughout history, there have been those who believed that they were living in the final days. This is still true today, of course. Somehow those who put out books or Hollywood movies are much more likely to be taken seriously than individuals who wander around crowded cities wearing a sign proclaiming "The End Is Near." But regardless of the medium, is there really a major difference between the two in the content of the messages?
In appendix A at the end of this book is a thoroughly researched list of dates of failed end-time predictions. One can imagine that the list would be a great deal longer if such historical information had been better preserved. Yet, even with an incomplete list due to gaps in the historical record, it is obvious that people of every single century, without exception, have made predictions that their times would be the last. As one skeptic noted, "Pick a date, any date. Chances are that a search of the Internet will turn up someone's prediction for that day marking the end of the world, despite the obvious fact that no Armageddon up to the present has ever taken place at its appointed hour" (Marschall, 2011, p. 40). This chapter discusses some of the more interesting cases.
The earliest such known prediction is contained in an Assyrian clay tablet, dating back to circa 2800 BCE. This tablet, translated from cuneiform, reads as follows: "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching." This tablet is notable for the striking similarity to comments that might be made today—and without any apparent religious connection, either. This tablet still exists and has been preserved in Constantinople (Strauss, 2009).
During the times of Jesus Christ, there was a widespread belief among Jesus's followers that the Parousia—the Second Coming of Christ—would occur during their lifetimes and would be followed by the end of the world. Jesus himself said: "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place" (Luke 21:32). Being generous, this would have put the end date at no later than the end of the first century. In fact, much of the advice given by Paul in response to questions from upstart churches was based on the sincerely held belief that Jesus would be returning within their lifetimes (Efird, 2005). That this did not occur was a source of disappointment and even embarrassment to the early Church. Nevertheless, Christian believers persevered, reinterpreting the written word so that the Second Coming could occur at any time, leading to many more such predictions over the centuries.
Perhaps one of the most notable of such predictions comes from the transition between the years 999 and 1000 CE. This was a time when—and this is no exaggeration—millions of people believed that year would be the last, beginning a new era with Christ as ruler, following the destruction of the earth and all life on it. It marked the one-thousand-year anniversary of Christ's birth, after all. The effects of this story represent the most tragic consequences of true, committed belief in these apocalyptic visions. "It was very generally believed in France, Germany, etc., that the end of the world would happen in the thousandth year after Christ; and therefore much of the land was left uncultivated, and a general famine ensued" (Brewer, 1889, p. 1118). If there had not been disagreement over whether the world would end in the year 1000, one thousand years after Christ's birth, or in the year the year 1033, one thousand years after Christ's death, then the famine would have doubtless been even more widespread.
History shows that this type of hysteria is not limited to the uneducated. Christopher Columbus (1451–1506), famed explorer credited for discovering the New World, was a true believer in the Second Coming of Jesus, even giving himself partial credit for helping to bring it about. Columbus made the spread of Christianity to the New World possible, an important event for doomsayers since the Bible teaches that "the Gospel must first be preached to all nations" (Mark 13:10) before the event could occur. Columbus wrote that by 1501, the world could only last another 155 years, making the final year 1656. This was also of significance to many others in Columbus's day and beyond, since there were supposedly 1,656 years between the creation of Adam and the Flood of Noah's Ark—a figure that can be calculated by examining the genealogies in the book of Genesis (Pickett, 1998).
Fast-forward a couple of centuries, to the time when the continent on which Columbus arrived existed as colonies of the British Empire. Puritan Cotton Mather (1663–1728) was head of Old North Church, in Boston, Massachusetts. Mather was an exceedingly influential figure in the Salem witch hunts, urging judges to allow spectral evidence, including visions, dreams, and other hearsay, which led to the conviction of many of those accused of practicing witchcraft. The practitioners of witchcraft, he believed, were working secretly for the devil—a sure sign in his mind that these events signaled the end of times. He gave three separate years as being the final one of the earth—1697, 1716, and 1736 (Metzger, 2005).
Go even further forward, after the colonies had gained their independence and the United States became its own sovereign nation. In 1798, economist T.Robert Malthus (1766–1834) published his Essay on Population, in which he calculated the approximate increase in the rate of the human population versus its food supply. He concluded that the number of people was increasing at too fast a rate and that around the middle of the nineteenth century the world would run out of a sufficient food supply to support the population. Malthus advocated birth control via personal restraint and encouraged people to delay or forego having children in order to slow the rise of the population. What Malthus did not take into consideration was that private ownership of land would ensure that farmers never ran out of the supply needed to meet consumer demand. Additionally, the Industrial Revolution brought about numerous inventions—the steamboat, the reaper, the railroad—that made it possible to grow more food than before as well as transport it to places where it was needed, thus averting the disasters that Malthus foresaw (Hollander, 1997).
This has not stopped several modern-day proponents of Malthusian theory from reviving his arguments and using them for more fearmongering; one of the most noted and influential of these is Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. Ehrlich, speaking in the late 1960s, put forth the theory that due to overpopulation, 1975 would be a year of mass starvation and that it was already too late for such a fate to be avoided. Nonetheless, he offered some solutions. He famously advocated for zero population growth (ZPG), meaning that the world population level of the late 1960s and early 1970s—about 3.5 billion—would have to remain at that level in order for humankind to be able to feed itself. The United States, for its part, would have to reduce its population from 200 million to 150 million (The Press-Courier, 1967), using tax incentives to discourage reproduction. He also advocated for increased birth control and abortion in order to maintain population at that level once it was reached (Boyce, 1971).
Throughout history, there have been individuals who claim to see the signs of the world's imminent destruction all around them, that indicate they were—or we are—living in the final days. Could it be that there is just a hint of arrogance in these claims—that, for the most part, the ones making these claims have the "fortune" to be born into a time when they would be able to witness the last days for themselves? Unlike previous generations (and unlike future generations, because there won't be any), these doomsayers know with certainty that they are correct.
There are numerous patterns here, and the obvious prevalence of religion dictates that humanity's "end of the world" predictions are tinged with religious themes. Yet, the very first prediction in this list, which predates Christianity and Judaism, had no apparent connection with any religion at all. Nor do many of the predictions made in more recent times, when religion is nowhere near as dominant a force as it once was. Rather, a host of other reasons have been supplied—from aliens and UFOs, astrology, climate change, atomic warfare—to appear in its stead, or even been blended together with religion. It is easy to imagine how much progress has been lost by squandering energy and resources due to fear-mongering and making the masses aware of these supposedly life-ending events. Bear in mind the famines, suicides, financial ruin, familial rifts, discontinuation of education, and the disruption in people's personal lives that resulted from such hysteria throughout the ages.
These events seem to demonstrate a natural human tendency to perceive signs of impending doom for the whole world, irrespective of religion. It may just be that religion was readily accepted by the masses for so many centuries because it was riding on preexisting end-of-the-world fears.
Hopefully, when viewed in this context, one is able to see 2012—and any other end-of-the-world dates that are sure to pop up—for just what they are. They are only the latest (but certainly not the last) in a long list of such failed predictions.
Chapter TwoChristianity and the Rapture Doctrine
"I guess the Family Radio Network truly is a nonprophet organization."
—Commonly seen on the Internet beginning May 22, 2011
Christianity has a history of followers with wholly differing, incompatible beliefs, but that doesn't stop some from each side from claiming that their way is the right way. Nor does it stop those adherents from claiming that their beliefs are the only ones rooted in the Bible or that their narrow interpretation is the only correct one.
Gunther von Harringa, president of Family Radio and Bible Ministries International, spoke in an interview with the blog American Jesus on the subject of his organization's position on the Rapture, which was to take place between May 21 and October 21, 2011, a period of horror in which millions of people were supposed to die every day (Hunt, 2011):
The only source of expertise on any Biblical subject is the Bible itself. The information that Family Radio (and others like Bible Ministries International, E-Bible Fellowship.com, etc.) is putting forth is free, and comes only from the Bible, the fountainhead of ALL Truth.
Christians who lived through the failed prophecy of May 21 through October 21, 2011, cannot possibly believe Family Radio's predictions are rooted in scripture—and only in scripture—and still retain their faith. Yet there is precedent for Christians to possess a great many beliefs that do not originate in the Bible. Some of these may surprise you.
The Holy Trinity. Nowhere in the Bible is the phrase "three divine persons in one divine God" found. This concept was developed gradually and was not finalized until the end of the fourth century. In other words, it wasn't until approximately three hundred years after Jesus's death that the Doctrine of the Trinity became officially adopted by the Church (Holcomb, 2007).
Original Sin. While this theory may be widely accepted today, it was not always so. Today, nearly everyone is familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man as told in Genesis, but it was Augustine of Hippo (354–430) who shaped the Church's views on human depravity when he wrote on the subject. Prior to this, the story was seen as explaining that humanity continues to suffer the punishment of exile from the Garden of Eden as a result of Adam and Eve's eating the forbidden fruit, as opposed to humanity being born into sin as a result of it (Kelley, 2010). Augustine's views weren't accepted immediately: Bishop Julian of Eclanum (386–485) dismissed his theory of original sin as blasphemy and wrote that the idea of sin being an innate part of human nature is "untrue ... unjust. ... It makes it seem as if the devil were the maker of men" rather than God (Hall, 2002, p. 134).
Noah's Ark and the Global Flood. Approximately 60 percent of Americans believe that Noah's Ark was a literal story and that an actual flood covered the entire world for forty days and forty nights (Bryson, 2006). Meanwhile, 12 percent believe that Noah's wife was named Joan of Arc (McKibben, 2005), but I digress. Reading deeper into the biblical text will reveal that the Hebrew word erets—often translated into English as "earth" or "world"—is more accurately interpreted to mean "land" or "ground" rather than "world" (Bradley, 2001). Similarly, the phrase "forty days and forty nights" is a Hebraism meaning an indeterminably long time, ranging from a month to several years (Deems, 1884). Hence, the Great Flood of Noah's Ark, widely interpreted as a massive, catastrophic, world-destroying event, was actually confined to a much smaller area, possibly over a different time scale. In a sense, it was not altogether different from modern floods.
Purgatory. The idea of purgatory as a place where souls go for purification before entering heaven has its roots in the year 1160, when a man who was believed to be momentarily dead witnessed it firsthand and articulated his vision of it. He described a deep valley composed of flames on one side and ice on the other. Souls would be sent there as punishment for not repenting until they were on their deathbed, tossed from one side to the other until Judgment Day (Lea, 1896). This doctrine would later be revised to encompass shorter periods of time, which could be further reduced during the sinner's life through prayer or by direct intervention on the part of priests, cardinals, or bishops—for a fee, of course. The basis for these indulgences, sold by the Church during the Middle Ages, rested almost entirely on belief in purgatory. Though the Church no longer sells indulgences, thanks in no small part to Martin Luther's protests, the belief in purgatory, as well as the notion that time spent there can be reduced by reciting certain prayers, persists among Catholics today. The pope has described purgatory as a process, rather than an actual place (Wooden, 2011).
Limbo. Medieval theologians actually taught two versions of limbo: a limbo of the fathers (limbus patrum) and a limbo of infants (limbus infantium or limbus parvulorum) (Trigilio & Brighenti, 2007). The limbo of the fathers was invented as a way of explaining how those who lived and died before Jesus, including Old Testament prophets, were able to get into heaven when the only way to do so was through belief in Christ. This version of limbo was described as a temporary waiting place until Christ died on the cross, after which those souls could proceed to heaven. The limbo of infants was used to explain the fate of infants who died without ever having been baptized. This was seen by many as God's mercy, since the innocent would not be sent to hell. While there was never a specifically defined doctrine on the subject, views on limbo have shifted over the centuries. In more recent times the Church has expressed prayerful hope—though not concrete knowledge—that unbaptized babies and children can still get into heaven through God's grace alone (Thavis, 2007).
Immaculate Conception. Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) first put forth the idea that the Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin and remained sinless her whole life. This controversial idea was "settled" on December 18, 1439, when the Council of Basel announced that this doctrine should be universally proclaimed; anyone speaking against it should be condemned. This action was reinforced with papal authority on December 8, 1854, when the pope decreed this concept as official doctrine of the Church (Schroedel & Schroedel, 2006).
Papal infallibility. The pope is recognized by Catholics as infallible, a point whose meaning is still widely debated. At the very least, adherents to this view generally agree that the Pope and the Church cannot err when teaching doctrine of faith or morals. But even this was not the case until the Vatican declared it so in 1870 in order to secure power for the Catholic Church. Louis Veuillot (1813–1883), who helped bring about this declaration, wrote, "We must affirm squarely the authority and omnipotence of the pope as the source of all authority, spiritual and temporal. The proclamation of the dogma of the infallibility of the pope has no other objective."
Excerpted from THE END-OF-THE-WORLD DELUSION by Justin Deering Copyright © 2012 by Justin Deering. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: A History of the World's End....................1
Chapter 2: Christianity and the Rapture Doctrine....................7
Chapter 3: The Maya and 2012....................21
Chapter 4: The Secular Apocalypse—Climate Change....................33
Chapter 5: The Role of the Media....................41
Chapter 6: The Economic Impact....................48
Chapter 7: Why Is This Belief So Common?....................54
Chapter 8: Possible Resolutions....................68
Chapter 9: Other End-of-Time Beliefs....................76
Appendix A: List of Failed End-of-World Predictions....................117
Appendix B: List of Soon to Be Ex-End-of-World Predictions....................137