2012 predictions: Apocalypse and end-of-world theories

End-of-the world theories have been around about as long as people. But the 2012 Mayan prediction of the apocalypse has gotten the bulk of our attention in pop culture for a seriously long time.

It’s a strange thing that humans have always been obsessed with the end of the world. Why would the most mentally enlightened creatures to walk the earth, the ones who would conquer its physical challenges, also be continually obsessed with its demise? Are we all just crazy depressed? I guess it could be that most of us are fundamentally narcissistic; along with knowledge of our own mortality comes the conviction that everyone and everything else is going down with us.

At any rate, end-of-world theories go way back—way further than our paranoia over 2012 predictions. Funny enough, most of the popular doomsday predictions never even happened. Like the Mayan Calendar’s 2012 doomsday, for instance — most scientists who have any idea what they’re talking about say the famed Mayan Calendar doesn’t predict a doomsday at all, much less one on December 21, 2012. “It’s almost like you’re out there looking for evidence of a looming apocalypse,” Wade Davis, an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, told ABC, “and I think it also ties into a lot of uncertainty that exists in our world today.”

There have always been false flags of doomsday paranoia—I guess correspondingly, there has always been a lot of uncertainty in the world. In the last few hundred years we’ve read doomsday predictions into all kinds of creative works, from the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, to Nostradamus’ book “Prophesies,” to Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing “The Deluge,” to Isaac Newton’s text “Observations on Daniel and The Apocalypse of St. John.” In every case, scholars actually familiar with the work say there’s no doomsday prediction in any of them.

But if the world’s artists aren’t cranking out apocalyptic prophesies, its religions definitely are. And it’s not just the new-school Born Again Christians of the “Left Behind” series getting in on the action. As far back as they go, each of the world’s major religions has its own vision of the end of the world:

  • Christianity: Book of Revelations, blah blah—most of us know about the Biblical chapter that gives rise to the popular idea that Jesus will descend, collect the believers and let the rest fry.
  • Hinduism: Hindus believe that we’re currently living in the last of four cycles or “yugas” called the Kali Yuga, at the end end of which Shiva will destroy and then regenerate the universe.
  • Judaism: All-in, the Jewish version of the end of days sounds pretty nice. In the Hebrew Bible the Book of Isaiah tells of a Messiah who will return to earth and restore all Jews to the homeland where they will live in peace and joy forever.
  • Buddhism: Apparently traditional Buddhism believes that human nature and physical humans evolve in tandem, and that we’re currently shrinking; whereas we used to live for 80,000 years, we’re headed to a place when the average life-span will be 10 years. After descending into some kind of apocalyptic sword-wielding fight to the death, a few survivors will gradually begin to live longer and happier over eons, to the point where we’ll live to 80,000 years again.
  • Islam: The sayings of the Prophet Muhammad tell of the Day of Judgement. The Quran also talks in places of cataclysmic earthquakes that will rip the Earth apart.

Given religion’s history of fixating on an end-of-days crisis that will wipe out humanity, it seems seriously ironic that our newest iteration of apocalypse anxiety—climate change—is mostly dismissed by believers as nonsense.

Of course, science has always been at odds with religion’s needs to attribute the mechanics of the world to a creator. It may be the ultimate irony that after millennia of crying wolf, we ignore the one doomsday scenario we should actually be taking seriously. The Mayan 2012 prophecy won’t pan out in December. However the predictions for breaking new heat records this year will almost definitely come true.