The Romans predicted it in 634 B.C. Early Christians said it would happen within one generation of Jesus’ death. Pope Sylvester II predicted it for Jan. 1, 1000. Martin Luther predicted the end no later than 1600. And in the 1900s alone, there were nearly 100 different predictions of the end of the world.
“Many groups have some kind of story of [the world’s] beginning, some kind of story that the world will actually end. It is hard for human beings to conceive of things infinitely,” says Daniel Phillips, Ph.D, a sociologist in his 11th year as professor of sociology and criminal justice at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia. He is also president of Anthropologists and Sociologists of Kentucky (ASK), a small organization of Kentucky professionals that has been in operation for 50 years. Phillips says the goal of the group is to try to remind people where they are in history.
“I think people like to know that they are a part of something, even if that something is a world that is going to end,” he says. “They want to be a part of something other than sheer randomness.”
A Long Time and Counting
The ancient Maya might have considered “sheer randomness” when they devised the calendar. Their intricate system of accounting for time marked their place in the earth’s history by recording important political and historical Mayan events, says Robyn Cutright, Ph.D.
Cutright, an assistant professor of anthropology and Latin American studies at Centre College in Danville, also has conducted archaeological research in Peru for the last decade. She says the Maya used two different calendars that moved in cycles to account for small periods of time. They also created what archaeologists call the Long Count to account for considerably longer periods of time. The Long Count was scheduled to run out somewhere between Dec. 21 and 23, 2012.
Thus, the projected end of the world.
Archaeological findings this past May, however, set that count on end when another piece to the Mayan time puzzle was unearthed that suggested the Long Count was even longer than previously expected.
“Our knowledge of Maya creation stories comes from a few fragments of text that were spared destruction, along with some of the beliefs and myths that have been kept alive by the modern Maya. There was probably some variation in the way that the ancient Maya used the calendar,” Cutright says. “That’s one of the things that makes archaeology so exciting—our ideas about the past can always expand and change based on new findings.”
Going Once, Going Twice, Going Three Times
But just in case those die-hard Mayan doomsday devotees are disappointed about the new discovery, Answers in Genesis astronomer Danny Faulkner, who works at the Creation Museum’s Stargazer Planetarium in Boone County, says there are two other anticipated cataclysmic events predicted for this year’s winter solstice: a galactic alignment and a collision with another planet.
Faulkner says the galactic alignment is slated to occur near the winter solstice date. He explains there are two different planes in which the earth moves—the ecliptic and the galactic. The ecliptic plane can best be described as a circle in the sky that the sun follows, moving about a degree a day. When the sun reaches the high point on the ecliptic, Faulkner says, we experience the summer solstice. The low point is the winter solstice. What makes this winter special, he points out, is that when the sun reaches the lowest point, our ecliptic plane will align in a certain formation with the galactic plane, the plane that makes up our visible Milky Way galaxy.
Still, Faulkner says the alignment is nothing to be concerned about in terms of the world coming to an end. “The best fit on the galactic plane was about 20 years ago and some people think this is supposed to usher in some sort of cataclysm or a new age. That is one of the wonderful things about this [doomsday predictions]—they are so nebulous and vague you can make anything you want out of it.”
Faulkner, who admits to having participated in a tongue-in-cheek end-of-the-world party during graduate school in 1983, complete with dry ice in a punch bowl and popcorn, says that yet another prediction centers around the mythical planet Nibiru, which was prophesied to strike Earth during the 2012 winter solstice. Faulkner says there is absolutely no proof this planet exists.
“In my lifetime, I’ve gone through probably eight or 10 ends of the world already,” Faulkner says. “There is a long, sorry track record of these sorts of things.”
Don’t Bother to Seize the Day
Yet, the impact of a devastating portent of earthly destruction can wreak havoc on society, says sociologist Phillips.
“It provides a link to the past and prediction about the future. One thing is, if you truly believe that the world is going to end and will end soon, it does allow you to stop worrying about what is going on today,” Phillips says. “It allows people to get up tomorrow morning and not have to figure things out. It provides people with an escape from daily problems.”
While he agrees that worrying about problems is not the answer to problems, he also sees a potential danger in this type of escape in the form of neglecting worldly responsibilities and requirements. Phillips says that, in the general course of history, end-of-the-world prophecies seem to be more prolific when times get bad socially. He says there might be a relative unease about the way society is going, or it simply may be an easy way out of thinking about today’s problems.
“Life gets frustrating, and people want some explanation, or they want some sense that they are not responsible. It’s easier to sit down and say don’t worry about it because, come Dec. 21, the world will end anyway,” Phillips says. “Start dealing with today, and what you can do today, and start moving forward in some kind of rational manner.”
Beginning Again With Three Simple Steps
If sociologists and anthropologists are talking about taking positive steps, then it doesn’t seem so strange that metaphysicians are also talking about the same thing.
“When you are not using your whole mind, you tend to see just one side of the coin,” says Rory Colgan, a teacher at the School of Metaphysics in Louisville. “For those people who are stuck in doomsday theories or beliefs, they do have thoughts that resonate to that type of thinking. If you are a negative thinker and you see the word apocalypse, then you see the end of something, and then you are going to embellish that with your imagination, and from that you are going to create a doomsday theory.”
Colgan says he does believe there is an end coming, but it is not the end most people are expecting in terms of doomsday. Colgan believes our society is moving out of an age of complication and into an age of harmonics, as evidenced in society’s interest in living greener lives.
“The green technology that is starting to come out is a sign of the movement back toward harmony where we can harvest the wind or the sunlight. It is not like we are going back to primitive days and hand-plow our fields,” Colgan explains. “This is the most sophisticated that human beings have been.”
A complete societal green movement would take a significant amount of time. Colgan says there are three main steps that people can begin to implement now that will help guide them from complication into harmony. The first step is to continue self-improvement education—through school, church, book clubs or even online chatting—centered around one positive developmental element. The second step is mental discipline.
“Mental discipline is to pay attention to your thoughts and choose your thoughts, not just let your thoughts randomly happen,” Colgan says. “Really take responsibility for your thinking.”
The third step Colgan advises people to take is to provide service such as running a soup kitchen or volunteering as a teacher.
“The common answer is movement. It is very important that you have something positive you can be moving toward,” he says. “If you are moving toward destruction, you are not going to be motivated to make those first steps.”
One conservative Christian agrees with the idea of making positive changes, although not in the light of a metaphysical view.
Alan Dotson, a pastor for 18 years and current pastoral ministry consultant with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, says he does not believe humans can or should pinpoint a date for the end of the world. Instead, he believes people should ask themselves, “So what?”
“This is not to be mistaken as a smart-alecky response. I mean, people need to ask what that means to them,” Dotson says. “If people really believe the end of the world is upon us, what are they going to do with the time they have left?”
Dotson says Christians generally believe that Jesus will return to earth, that there will be a period of relative peace called the Millennium (the thousand-year reign), and then there will be a new heaven and a new Earth, with variations on this exact scenario. “My question would be, what decisions have you made to live successfully, or to live in peace, when a new beginning comes? We are to live doing what He calls us to do, live making life better for ourselves and our loved ones.”
But Just in Case …
While making these changes may work for some, others have a different answer to the end of life as we know it: stockpiling.
Brad Caldwell is a college-educated, former U.S. Defense Department employee from Manchester who feels he and his family are preparing for the end. No, he doesn’t believe time will simply run out. He isn’t afraid of another planet smashing into Earth. He doesn’t cringe at the thought of galactic planetary alignment. He says his approach is more common sense, even though he knows there is a stigma attached to people who stockpile in case of disaster.
“From my standpoint, 2008 was the start of a bad economic situation,” Caldwell says. “You only have to look around the world and see how bad things are economically and politically. We are in very dangerous times.”
Caldwell says he doesn’t walk around wearing camouflage and toting a gun. He also says he is not an alarmist. He hasn’t built a bunker, though he has looked at them. He does, however, consider himself attentive to what is happening on the political and socioeconomic world stage, and he believes that everyone should be aware of current events.
“People just need to be cautious and prepared. Obviously, some people get more prepared than others with the bunkers and 10 years of food, and I don’t think we need to do all that, but I do think you need to be ready,” he says. “It’s actually not a hard thing to do to prepare.”
Caldwell says he and his wife, their three children, and several friends and family members have discussed how they will be prepared for the future. On grocery trips, he buys an extra case of items they are likely to consume. As the expiration date nears, his family eats the food and replaces that with a new case. They stock clean water and anything else they might need to help them survive. He has also purchased gold and silver, which is safe in a depository, should the bottom fall out of the American dollar system.
These are all steps that Caldwell calls common sense based on current events. His actions are also called a common movement in America: self-sufficiency.
“We are doing square-foot gardening, so we are going to have our own food source. Anybody can do that,” Caldwell says. “We are probably going to do some farming with some chickens. It is about being more self-sufficient on the day-to-day operations in light of the supply system that could fail.”
Caldwell says he is also looking into alternative energy supplies such as solar panels and purchasing large quantities of beef or pork from local Mennonite farmers, just to be prepared for the worst.
“It is good for me personally. It gives me a little peace of mind. I don’t have a problem if people think that’s silly. That’s fine. When the grocery shelves empty, then you tell me who was crazy. It may happen. It may not, and that’s good, too. I have all this food that I won’t have to pay for at inflated prices.”