Fire up your Bucket List, because the world is coming to an end. Dec. 21, 2012. The ancient Mayans said so.
Truth be known, I have no idea what the ancient Mayans said. See, their calendar — the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar — comes to an abrupt halt next year. For all I know, the Mayans just got bored calculating calendars. Or maybe they ran out of pencils. Or, perhaps cultural changes made calendar calculations obsolete; like, maybe astronomy nerd Mayans were socially persecuted and eventually absorbed by hip, metrosexual Mayans. Maybe the neighboring Aztecs started publishing a swimsuit calendar.
What I do know is there’s a bunch of people who say that the Mayans say that the world is coming to an end in 2012. And, since the Mayans are no longer here to defend themselves, it’s left to me to wonder what’s going on.
Here’s what’s going on: apocalypticism. Apocalypticism refers to periods of time in which groups of people project the fear of the unknown into narratives about the collective end of history, aka, the end of the world. Apocalyptic fervor fans run hot especially during times of collective hardship — famine, poverty, war, persecution, disease pandemic and cataclysmic natural disaster(s). Apocalyptic ideas can rise tribally, nationally and, in more recent history, even globally. Apocalypticism can find footholds in pseudoscience, mystic philosophy and most popularly in cultural religion.
Apocalypticism is merely one, especially violent expression of eschatology, The Doctrine of the Last Things. Christian eschatology, specifically, contains three driving points: 1) the God who created history will someday bring history to a close; 2) faith, love and justice will prevail, though there’s suffering that must be endured; 3) nobody knows the date of the Eschaton, so run away screaming from anybody who says they do know!
Apocalypticism has been around since forever. It comes and goes in cycles. Before the jabber began about 2012, there was all the rhetoric about hurricanes wreaking havoc and destruction in the American southeast. Before that, there was the millennium. Remember when all the computers were supposed to crash, signaling the end of the world? And how about the staggeringly popular book series “Left Behind”!
In college, I went to a Baptist campus fellowship and heard this preacher make a big deal of two popes dying in rapid succession and the ascension of a Polish pope. This was supposed to be a sign of something apocalyptic. My memory is fuzzy, probably because the only reason I was there was … well, there was this Baptist hottie.
Then there was Hal Lindsay and his book “The Late, Great Planet Earth.” The decadence of the ’60s was to have ushered in God’s terrible judgment and brought down the curtain on human history. That round of apocalypticism mostly just spawned an endless parade of devil movies marching out of Hollywood.
The Black Death was widely thought of as ushering in the end of the world. Martin Luther’s theology and the ensuing Protestant Reformation was shrouded in apocalyptic certainty. Jesus’ earthly ministry emerged in the backdrop of feverish Hebrew apocalypticism.
But, do a Web search on “2012,” and you will see all these predictions were wrong. The world is coming to an end next year, it turns out.
What would I do differently, right this very day, if I knew the world was coming to an end next year? Answer: not one damn thing. Why? Because I already knew the world was coming to an end. My world, at least, is coming to an end.
I’m going to die. This is my own personal eschaton. My destiny. Yours, too. The chief reason to trust the future to my Maker, get my head out of worry and focus on living well right here and now in this moment is because the calendar of “here and now moments” is finite. This does not call for panic; rather, it invites an inspired, passionate urgency.
There is only so much time left to love. To forgive. To be forgiven.
Fools build bomb shelters in their backyards. Wise people build love shelters in their hearts — an impenetrable cloak of faithfulness to friends and family that no apocalyptic eruption can harm. So, whether I die in my sleep in silk sheets at the age of 106, or starve to death in a global famine, or am vaporized in an asteroid strike in 2012, or this plane crashes before I finish this column … everything I need to know about the Eschaton I already know:
Almost nothing that truly matters requires hurrying up; yet, there is not one moment to waste.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling Wellness Center in Las Vegas and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.