Prophecies about the end of the world abound; there are loonies, religious or otherwise, who have studied some ancient text or interpreted a mysterious rune which tells us that Earth is going to end the day after tomorrow at seven minutes past midnight. The fact that mentally afflicted souls aren’t able to fully comprehend that the end times aren’t likely to be predicted by a tablet or a scrap of paper tells us that they need remedial lessons in scientific literacy or, failing that, a couple of months in a secure facility located in pleasant grounds and with top-of-the-range medical supplies on standby.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an example of a religious group whose roots are at least partly rooted in biblical interpretations of end of the world prophecies, centred around the second coming of Christ. Watch Tower Society publications have made, and continue to make, predictions about world events they believe were prophesied in the Bible. Some of those early predictions were described as “established truth” and “beyond a doubt.” If a member advocates views different to what appears in print, they face expulsion. Whenever dates have comfortably into history, publications are changed; sounds a bit like 1984 to me. Some of their predictions include;
- 1877: Christ’s kingdom would hold full sway over the earth in 1914; the Jews, as a people, would be restored to God’s favor; the “saints” would be carried to heaven.
- 1916: World War I would end in Armageddon and the rapture of the “saints”.
- 1920: Messiah’s kingdom would be established in 1925 and bring worldwide peace. God would begin restoring the earth. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and other faithful patriarchs would be resurrected to perfect human life and be made princes and rulers (did anyone establish how they felt about that?).
- 1942: Armageddon was “immediately before us.”
- 1967: The end-time period (beginning in 1914) was claimed to be so far advanced that the time remaining could “be compared, not just to the last day of a week, but rather, to the last part of that day”.
- 1969: The existing world order would not last long enough for young people to grow old; the world system would end “in a few years.” Young Witnesses were told not to bother pursuing university education.
American seems to have a particular ability to acquire a large section of mad prophets on their books. The world-renowned Harold Camping was just the latest in a long line of Christian preachers who’ve made a profitable career out of wrongly predicting the apocalypse. If anything, Camping was only unusual in that he admitted his blunder after falling flat on his face (although he didn’t offer to refund any of his followers who spent their life savings on spreading his message).
A little more recently, there was Hal Lindsay, author of such ’70s-era classics as The Late Great Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. Along the same lines, a Christian author named Edgar Whisenant wrote a popular book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988. Whisenant’s book was influential: most infamously, Paul and Jan Crouch’s Trinity Broadcast Network preempted their regular programming on Rosh Hashanah in 1988 to run a prerecorded tape of instructions for those who’d been left behind by the Rapture.
Pat Robertson, the one-time Republican presidential candidate and religious-right media mogul, has repeatedly tried to predict the future, with roughly the same accuracy as a dart-throwing monkey. In 1980, he predicted the start of World War III, telling his audience that God said the year would be full of “sorrow and bloodshed that will have no end soon, for the world is being torn apart, and my kingdom shall rise from the ruins of it.” In 1998, Robertson threatened that, as punishment for flying rainbow flags during Disney World’s annual Gay Days event, the city of Orlando would be struck by “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor.”
Rick Santorum once predicted that marriage equality would “destroy the family” and also “destroy and undermine the church.” Not to be outdone, evangelical spokesman James Dobson claimed that same-sex marriage would “destroy the Earth.”
Since it’s always possible to claim, after the fact and with no evidence, that a natural disaster was caused by God’s anger at some sin, these specific assertions are unprovable. However, the claim that sinful behavior in general causes destruction is eminently testable, and has been tested. In April 2010, Kazem Seddiqi, an Iranian cleric, said that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes. This remark inspired “Boobquake,” a tongue-in-cheek experiment where women wore “immodest” clothes for one day to note the seismological effects. There was no detectable change in the number of earthquakes on that day.
To be fair, when it comes to end-of-the-world hysteria, it’s not just devotees of the Rapture and the Antichrist who’ve dropped the ball, as it were. The supposedly significant date of December 21, 2012, saw a surge of excitement and dread among New Age devotees, many of whom flocked to holy sites all around the world in the hopes of surviving whatever they believed was going to happen. (My favorite story was about the mountain of Bugarach in rural southern France: pilgrims believed that there were alien ships hiding out underneath, biding their time until Doomsday when they’d emerge and whisk people away from the planet.)
More recently, on Saturday 23rd September 2017, the world was meant to You may recall several claims that the world was going to end on Saturday. It didn’t.
Apparently it was supposed to happen on Saturday, when a certain correlation involving the constellations Leo and Virgo, and the alignment of several planets, could have triggered the Rapture. People also pointed towards the Bible passage Revelation 12: 1-2 which predicts a huge astrological event; “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.”
If, like me, you’re scratching your head, the apparently woman represents Virgo, the crown is Leo, and the feet is the moon. The final part of the puzzle is the sun, which passed through the alignment on 23 September,(allegedly) bringing with it destruction and suffering.
That obviously didn’t happen. but the man who claimed it would has now adopted a slightly different angle. Whilst the antichrist didn’t arrive and punish all the sinners, he says Saturday was actually the start of something much more catastrophic.
Doomsday writer David Meade told the Washington Post: “The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending. A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.” Meade points towards the various hurricanes, earthquakes and even the solar eclipse to justify his reasoning.
His prediction is based on a verse of the Bible and a numerical code found in the Book of Revelations, specifically the number 33. Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God for the Jews, is mentioned 33 times in the Bible. So Meade argues, 23rd September was exactly 33 days after the North American solar eclipse, and the day that a mysterious planet – X, also known as Nibiru – passes by Saturday, which was going to unleash a torrent of tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
I hate to break it to Mr Meade, but Nasa has repeatedly denied that Nibiru exists, as astronomers would have definitely seen it by now. That’s fairly compelling logic.
There really are some crazy people out there.