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It’s the (Alleged) End of the World as We Know It

• May 17, 2011 • 8:55 AM

A couple of prominent end-of-the-world predictions may or may not come to pass, but lots of people promoting them are betting your bottom dollar they won’t.

If you are reading this after May 21, congratulations. You have survived yet another doomsday prediction.

For the past several months, Family Radio Worldwide has been spreading the message that Judgment Day is scheduled for May 21, 2011. This news probably comes as a surprise to those of you who thought the Mayan calendar picked the winter solstice of Dec. 21, 2012, for the big finish. Or at least a shock for those of you who sat through the 2009 disaster movie 2012 and thought it might be a documentary.

What’s going on now is a sort of “dueling apocalypses” between two dates, two cultural traditions and two visions of humankind.

Let’s postpone our demise by considering the Mayan date first. As one website touts: “Every Major Source of Knowledge, from Einstein to NASA to Worldwide Religion … They ALL AGREE THAT…In 2012, something huge will happen.” Of course, to find out what to do about whatever will happen, you have to shell out $47. It doesn’t take long for your favorite search engine to reveal thousands of other links and websites devoted to 2012 and the secrets on sale that can save you and your family’s lives.

Typical scenarios claim destruction due to a rogue planet or asteroid colliding with Earth, solar eclipses and solar flares, flipping of the Earth’s rotation axis and supernova radiation. Nostradamus was dragged into the 2012 storylines with the prediction that the sun will rise in alignment with the center of the Milky Way, spelling doom.

Amid all the claims and scams, lonely voices of critical thinking can be faintly heard. Research by Gerardo Aldana at the University of California, Santa Barbara  questions the correlation between the Mayan calendar’s dates and our modern Gregorian calendar, thus challenging the accuracy of the Dec. 21, 2012 end day. And studies by scholars at the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies offer sensible antidotes to the 2012 hype and exaggerated inaccuracies, regardless of the actual date.

These 2012 fears are only reasonable, I suppose, once (or if!) we pass through May 21 unharmed. While the Mayan doomsday scenario derives from solar and planetary movements, the 2011 end comes from Biblical evidence. For this is the date that the Rapture — “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” as one preacher claimed, although there’s a lively industry for rapturologists out there — will occur and fires will punish humans for their sins. This certainty is based on Biblical calendar calculations. Essential to the math is equating one day with 1,000 years. Therefore, since the Flood from Noah’s time happened in 4990 B.C., and because the seven days in Genesis are really 7,000 years, it follows that -4990 + 7000 = 2010, plus 1 (because there is no year 0), resulting in 2011. The May 21 date is the 17th day of the second month of the Biblical calendar, echoing the date of the Flood, which also occurred on the 17th day of the second month in 4990 B.C.

But May 21 is just the start of the Rapture, an intro when earthquakes will ravage the earth and bodies of the saved will be “caught up” into heaven. The actual end of the world will occur five months later, on Oct. 21, 2011; “they should be tormented five months,” according to Revelation 9:3-5.

Luckily, if you are one of the estimated 2 percent of the world’s population to be saved, no need to worry about your pets. In what has to be one of the world’s most creative entrepreneurial endeavors, a group of atheists has started an “after the Rapture” service: “For $135.00 we will guarantee that should the Rapture occur within ten (10) years of receipt of payment, one pet per residence will be saved. Each additional pet at your residence will be saved for an additional $20.00 fee.” Thank God for atheists.

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Or, if you prefer not giving your money to such ungodly folks, another website run by a Christian woman will assign your pets to non-Christian volunteers for a nominal fee of $10.

Should you run a church or ministry and worry about where your organization’s assets will go after the Rapture, remember to add “Rapture Terms” to your will: “in the event of the Rapture, all or a significant portion of the testator’s estate is to be given to the Rapture Fund — an organization dedicated to promoting the Gospel both now (using charitable contributions made by donors during their lifetimes) and during the Tribulation (using assets donated by those who have signed the Rapture Terms).”

It’s not my place here to challenge religious people who interpret the Bible literally or to dissuade people from following their faith. When others, however, exploit believers and develop methods to scam people out of their money, then our skepticism demands we use our critical thinking skills to fight fraud.

End-of-the-world hoaxes have had a long history, prevalent in the Middle Ages and at major turns of the calendar. Remember Y2K? There were at least 42 predicted doomsday events in the year 2000 alone.

With hundreds of other previously predicted dates passing without notice, the upcoming events in 2011 and 2012 will also dissolve quietly. But just in case, send me a monthly check now to guarantee continued skeptical thinking which I can teach your left-behind friends. Maybe I can even care for your pets.

Peter M. Nardi
Peter M. Nardi, Ph.D, is an emeritus professor of sociology at Pitzer College, a member of the Claremont Colleges. He is the author of "Doing Survey Research: A Guide to Quantitative Methods.”

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