Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of the world?

December 21, 2012, has been widely proclaimed in the media as the end of the world. Although widely debunked by many people, some still expect the world to end on that day.

The Toronto Star, an otherwise sober newspaper, informed its readers in a headline that one Canadian at least would survive the catastrophe because he would by then have left for the International Space Station.

End of the world predictions have been with with us for a long time. This is just the latest in a long series.

Last year we witnessed Harold Camping making a fool of himself by predicting that the world would end on May 21 or Judgment Day, as he called it, when Christ would return and the world be consumed in a huge fireball.

When that day passed without Christ's return, Camping revised his prediction to October  21, but that date too passed without any truly remarkable event occurring. For more on this prediction, see my series of posts on Camping, starting with the first. The others can be found when you use the search function.

The December 21, 2012, date is part of a New Age phenomenon called Mayanism in which this date marks the beginning of a new era, or-- for some -- the end of the world. The latter, according to them, involves various doomsday scenarios.

These scenarios include a collision with a planet four times the size of the earth or with a comet. However, astronomers, dismiss all of them as bunk, although occasionally asteroids do come close to the Earth, as happened again only a few days ago. But the odds of an asteroid actually hitting the earth are very small.

December 21, 2012, marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun -- a long time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Mayan writings describe how the gods first created three worlds, although unsuccessfully. This was followed by a fourth world in which they were successful and placed humanity.

In the Long Count calendar, the third world ended after 13 b'ak'tuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The end of that world and the beginning of the current one corresponds with August 11, 3114 BC in the Gregorian calendar. The last b'ak'tun of the current world ends on a date that is equivalent to December 21, 2012.

Mayanist scholars cannot agree, however, on the significance of this date. Some contend that this date marks the annihilation of all creation, but most argue that this would be a cause for celebration, but does not mark the end of the calendar, and certainly not the end of the world.

The 2012 idea about the end of the world is a complete fabrication, and affords some people an opportunity to make a lot of money. There will be another cycle after this one; the ancient Maya thought the world would continue. Most classic Maya inscriptions are strictly historical and do not make any prophetic declarations.

Mayans today say that the end of the calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world or the year 2012.
In spite of such disclaimers, the 2012 phenomenon has spread widely, particularly on the Internet. Hundreds of thousands of websites have been devoted to the subject.

In May 2012, an Ipsos poll of 16,000 adults in 21 countries found that 8 percent had experienced fear or anxiety over the possibility of the world ending in December 2012, while an average of 10 percent agreed with the statement "the Mayan calendar, which some say 'ends' in 2012, marks the end of the world," with responses as high as 20 percent in China, 13 percent in Russia, Turkey, Japan and Korea, and 12 percent in the United States, where the sales of private underground blast shelters have increased noticeably since 2009.

The 2009 disaster film 2012 was inspired by the phenomenon, and advance promotion prior to its release discussed the end of the world. As these promotions did not mention the film itself, many viewers believed them to be real and contacted astronomers in panic. Although the campaign was heavily criticized, the film nevertheless became one of the most successful of its year, grossing nearly $770 million worldwide.

The phenomenon has also inspired several pop music hits. Britney Spears, for example, contributed "Till the World Ends" (2011).

Christians, Jews, and Muslims should not be afraid about what will happen on December 21. They should ignore all the media-induced hype. None of their scriptures mention that date; thus it can safely be ignored.

December 21, 2012, will be a day like all other days. Nothing special for most of us -- perhaps, a day to finish our Christmas shopping, if we have not already done so.

I, for one, will not lose any sleep the night before. The world will not end on December 21. There are things to do -- I have a doctor's appointment that day that I intend to keep.

In addition, baring any personal problem, my wife and I, together with some good friends, hope to take a brief vacation in the Caribbean early in January. I am quite certain that our money will not have been wasted. 

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