Friday, November 13, 2009

The End of Time

Friday the 13th offers a timely opportunity to discuss a matter of interest to us all: the upcoming appearance of Sarah Palin on Oprah. OK, maybe not. But speaking of disasters, the movie
2012 has been released, loosely based on the contention of some chronic end-of-the-worlders that the Mayan calendar predicts that time will end on or about December 21, 2012. Given the track record of end-of-the worlders, we might do well to place some emphasis on the "about" side of "on or about".

In the mid-1840's a Baptist minister named William Miller developed quite a following in New England by discerning that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. Miller's contemporary, Samuel Snow, set the specific date as October 22, 1844. Many of the "Millerites", the creative appellation chosen by William Miller's followers, gave up their possessions in anticipation of the great day when time as we know it would end, and Christ would come again to wreak havoc on others. Note: end-of-the-worlders are often pretty keen on someone else getting their comeuppance.

Of course, both 1843 and 1844 passed, and the world as we know it did not. This non-event is now known as the Great Disappointment, disappointing ostensibly because the "others" didn't get their comeuppance.

I don't know why dire predictions and those who make them develop such a following. The cynic in me wants to quote H. L. Mencken, No one in the world, so far as I know -- and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me -- has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. This quote is often misattributed to American entrepreneur P. T. Barnum, who said, similarly, No one went broke underestimating public taste.

I doubt that the movie 2012 will lose money. It's directed by Roland Emmerich, the proclaimed "Master of Disaster" who also directed Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow. The latter, lesser known flick, is about the sudden onset of a new ice age. The bits I've seen of it left me cold, but then, Dennis Quaid movies often do. Emmerich was asked if he bought into the Mayan end-of-time theory. He responded with a question in turn: "Did I believe in aliens when I made Independence Day?"

Indeed, today is Friday the 13th. I previously cited "13" as a number of great power associated with women and the moon. The path this number took to becoming "unlucky" is well worn. In matriarchal religions and societies, the number "13" was sacred because it was the number of lunar cycles, and menstrual cycles, in a year. When patriarchal, "sky-god" religions overran the Earth Mother, the holy symbols of the old religion became the demonic symbols of the new. Christianity in particular has proven adept at either incorporating or excoriating symbols of predecessor religions. The consumerist holiday sometimes called "Christmas" is rife with pagan images and symbols that have been twisted into a quasi-Christian celebration. The Church, resistant to this celebration of excess for centuries, finally gave up and "baptized" it in just the last 150 years.

I wonder if Bill O'Reilly of the Fox "News" Network is aware that his annual, bellicose defense of Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with religion. My guess is that, like Roland Emmerich, he has little need to believe in or understand an issue, as long as it attracts viewers. You might want to reread the H. L. Mencken quote above at this point.

When will such opportunistic pandering to the fears and ignorance of the public come to an end? I'm sorta hoping these folks will get their comeuppance before 2012, but I'm neither selling all my possessions nor holding my breath.

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