While watching the news the other day, I saw on the ticker at the bottom of the screen that one in three Americans believe that the recent extreme weather we’ve been experiencing here on Earth is a sign of the “biblical end times.”
This statistic sort of surprised and alarmed me. Do 30% of the people in the most powerful and technologically advanced nation in the history of the world really believe that the apocalypse is playing itself out as told in the Book of Revelations right now ... in our lifetimes?
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised about such apocalyptic thinking, it’s been around my entire life. There were the Branch Davidians, Y2K theorists, there still are scores of lunatics (I've noticed most are stoners by the way) worried about a world government and an impending New World Order (a theory popularized by Pat "gays cause hurricanes" Robertson). The new theory we have now is the Mayan calendar prophecy, which suggests that the end of the Mayan calendar equals the end of the world. Amazingly, 12% of Americans believe that the world will end on December 21, 2012. That number looks sort of small but if you think about it, isn’t it totally insane that about one out of every 10 people in this country thinks that the world they’ve lived in their entire lives will cease to exist in less than a week?
Well, I sure hope that’s not the case and to me it seems pretty unlikely. Barring a coincidentally timed nuclear accident, I don’t believe that the Mayans could correctly anticipate the end of the world thousands of years ago. We are far more technologically advanced today, and our scientific community has given us no warnings of impending doom; at least not for December 21.
While that may seem like a logical way to look at things, I always have to remind myself that not all humans, and certainly not all Americans, think rationally about things like science, evolution, extreme weather, life, and how the world will end. The American colonies were started by fundamentalist Christians and even today we are the most fundamentalist country in the Western industrialized world. In the U.S. today, 46% of us believe we were created in our present form by God, while only 15% believe we evolved from lower organisms without the help of God. Only 36% subscribe to some sort of intelligent design theory. Three in 10 Americans believe in the literal truth of the Bible. i.e. Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and Moses spoke to a burning bush.
Irrationality is part of who we are as a people though, how else could our minds deal with the problems we are thrust into dealing with on this asylum we call Earth. We are very often caught up in irrational ways of thinking. Here’s one for you, why is it that we always fight wars against ideas or non-state entities. We had a war on communism, now we have a war on terrorism and a war on drugs. By definition, these wars are irrational and can’t be won, yet I can’t even begin to count how many lives we’ve lost and how many dollars we’ve spent fighting these “wars." Hey, we’re not even 10 years from re-electing George W. Bush, talk about irrationality.
But back to the irrationality at hand, 22% of Americans believe that Armageddon will take place within our lifetimes. Yes, that’s one in five people think who that Jesus will return to Eearth within our lifetimes. I sincerely hope that the human race lasts longer than that. We’ve learned so much about the Earth through science within the past century, who knows what we’re bound to learn about our own existence if we can just last a little longer.
That said, each year, our prospects for survival as a species grow more dire as the scientific evidence of man-made climate change grows. The temperature of our planet is rising faster than most of us would like to admit, yet we have been making little to no progress to curb our carbon emissions. In his first press conference since being re-elected, President Obama said that climate change is essentially a peripheral concern in relation to our economic mess. Our economic problems are no doubt serious but in the grand scheme of things, I’d like to think that ensuring our planet will be inhabitable a century from now is at least of equal importance to lowering the unemployment rate. Maybe if we adopted former Green Party candidate, Jill Stein’s idea of a Green New Deal, a public works program devoted to making us less dependant on fossil fuels, we could solve both problems at once.
Overall, in American politics, there isn’t the political will to deal with such a complex problem as climate change. Hell, we can’t even get Congress to agree on passing bills that the vast majority of Americans support, like raising taxes on the rich, lifting the Cuban embargo, or raising the minimum wage to keep up with inflation, just to name a few random and unrelated examples.
However, for the first time, there seems to be huge support for significant government action to combat climate change. Today, 48% of Americans believe climate change is a serious threat to our country’s future; 78% believe Congress and the president should be doing more to fight climate change, even if that results in a rise in the cost of energy. http://www.pollingreport.com/enviro.htm
It’s good that we are beginning to value the future of our planet over the cost of electricity but it would be interesting to see if those opinions would sway in the face of gas prices at say, $6 a gallon. Not that it would make much difference since in recent years, our democracy has not been very good at producing policy to reflect our opinions on issues of war and peace, or even taxes and social spending.
I am a believer that the only prophecies that come true are the self-fulfilling kind, which is why seeing the statistic that close to one in three American think we are approaching the apocalypse really concerns me. If one in three Algerians believed that, it would be unfortunate but inconsequential, but here in America, with our arsenal of nuclear weapons and our capacity to burn coal, oil and natural gas, we have the capacity to make our prophecies come true.
The scariest thought is that people who subscribe to those types of beliefs often hold the highest offices in this great country of ours. In trying to convince Jacques Chirac to join his coalition to invade Iraq, George W. Bush said something along the lines of, “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East … biblical prophecies are being fulfilled … This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins.” Thank the lord Kennedy wasn’t thinking about fulfilling any biblical prophecies during the Cuban Missile Crisis or things could have turned our really badly.
The only threat to humanity is not the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy but the continued adherence to irrationality in how we conduct ourselves as a society. If a great percentage of us believe our race is doomed, thanks to a prophecy written thousands of years ago, what chance does the human race really have? As Mark Twain wrote in The Mysterious Stranger about the village soothsayer, “Everyone knew he could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was always a war, and generally a famine somewhere.”
This statement applies very easily to the Book of Revelation. It can be interpreted as imminent by just about anybody at any time since it was written. But if my grandchildren inherit a desolate planet because of my generation’s failure to confront climate change, I doubt they will find any consolation when I assure them that this was all pre-ordained and it’ll work out fine; I know because I read about it in a book once. As Thomas Jefferson once said of the Book of Revelation, “It is between 50 and 60 years since I read it, and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams. … what has no meaning admits no explanation.”
So to conclude, I invite you all to my End of the World Party on Thursday night. Everyone cool is going to be there. I invited Jesus too, just in case the Mayans and the Bible are both right about this whole apocalypse thing. He hasn’t RSVP’d yet but you know how mysterious he can be. Happy December 21!