The end is near! (again)

end-nighFor some, apocalyptic anxiety is in the air (along with a fall chill). Washington Post writer Joel Achenbach set out to explore the latest doom and gloom in "2012: Eh, It's Not the End Of the World: Film & Internet Rumors Fuel Doomsday Babble."

The world is coming to an end.

In, like, 4 or 5 billion years. The sun will get old and cranky and eventually immolate the entire planet.

The world, however, is not coming to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, contrary to the viral Internet rumor propounded by pseudo-scientists, hoaxers, Hollywood movie promoters and assorted void-between-the-ears people who wouldn't recognize a scientific fact if it tried to abduct them.

Achenbach seems to have had fun talking to a NASA astrobiologist who has counted 200 books about 2012 and has received 1,000 e-mails from folks who fear our planet is in peril. Achenbach also explores rumors involving Mayan calendars and interviews an astronomer who says people are afflicted with "cosmophobia" before examining the role of Hollywood:

Ensuring that no bad idea goes unexploited, Sony Pictures has leaped into the mix with a $200 million blockbuster, "2012," coming out on Friday the 13th of November. ... Sony has set up a fake Web site for something called the Institute for Human Continuity -- that's -- which uses scientific-sounding language to detail the upcoming shredding, torching and obliterating of the world from so many directions it makes your head spin ("large amounts of solar radiation will bombard the Earth and heat up the molten, semi-liquid layers beneath the lithosphere, thus allowing the crust to shift more easily").

It's a good story as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough for me. It fails to put this latest episode of apocalyptic anxiety into any kind of broader context. Not one word of the 1,000-word story indicates that anyone ever feared for the end before now. Nor does the piece probe the contemporary cultural psyche for insights into why one might expect a spike in cosmic fear and loathing at the present moment.

I had actually hoped the Mayan calendar rumors would pan out, if only to balance out decades in which evangelicals have dominated the field. Remember the visions of an approaching Obamageddon depicted in last year's "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" (which can still be found at Focus on the Family Action's CitizenLink site)? Or the "Left Behind" novels (sales of 65 million-plus)? Or Y2K (which generated more than 200 books and led to booming sales of water purification systems)? Or Hal Lindsey's 1970 bestseller The Late, Great Planet Earth (sales of 35 million and counting)?

Many people of faith believe there will come a time "when time shall be no more." Until then, fears of our cataclysmic demise--including the latest rumors--will remain premature.

Meanwhile, I would be intrigued by a story describing those times in human history when there was no sign of "doomsday babble." That would be news!

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