With all apologies to one of my favorite bands (R.E.M.) quoted in the title, I’m not sure how I feel about the recent media hype about the possible end of the world — either through the prophecy of the Mayan calendar or some other real world incident. But the frenzy leading up to the winter solstice was so intense that on December 21, NASA felt compelled to produce a video called “Why the World Didn’t End Yesterday“.
What is it in our collective psyches that produces such fascination with a potential apocalypse? A good starting point is Joseph M. Felser’s The Myth of the Great Ending: why we’ve been longing for the end of days since the beginning of time. Felser argues that part of it is due to our great longing for reassurance and finality in response to all of the randomness and chance in everyday life.
The search for certainty could explain some of the massive popularity of the “Left Behind” series by Tim LaHaye. A counterargument to this interpretation might be found in the compassionate memoir I Want to be Left Behind: finding rapture here on Earth by Brenda Peterson which outlines both her isolation growing up in evangelical community and her loving bond with that community.
A fascinating overview of end times theories in general can be found in The Rough Guide to Surviving the End of the World by Paul Parsons. 2012 and the End of the World: the western roots of the Mayan apocalypse, by history scholars Matthew Restall and Amara Solari, takes a serious, science-based look at the Mayan calendar system. For a more open-ended interpretation, The Maya 2012: the end of the world or the dawn of enlightenment? by Gerald Benedict argues that the Mayan perspective allows people to see the world in terms of unity, wholeness, and diversity all at the same time.
Our views of the future are not just the projection of our fears and biases, although these elements exist, but also a statement of our hopes and expectation for a better new world in the making. As another of my favorite bands, Rush, sings in ‘The Manhattan Project’:
The hopeful depend on a world without end
Whatever the hopeless may say.