Read Candace's bio and previous columns
April 14, 2009
Religious or Secular, We’re
Looking for the Apocalypse
For years we’ve been
treated to warnings of imminent global warming catastrophe. Lately we hear
more and more rumblings about the Mayan prediction for Dec. 21, 2012. That
date is supposedly the end of life as we know it. On that day, among other
things, the animals will rise up and chide us for our mistreatment of them.
(If so, we are indeed a lost cause. If not, maybe they should.)
Movie buffs who’ve seen the
latest Nicolas Cage film, Knowing, now understand that we could be
totally fried by the sun. In that heated vein, a recent article in New
Scientist describes a report funded by NASA and issued by the National
Academy of Sciences. It discusses in minute detail the horrors that will
descend on our technology-dependent society if Earth takes a direct hit from
a huge solar flare. It’s not exactly reading designed to induce sound
slumber or happy dreams.
Despite our supposedly
modern mind-set, the religious theme of judgment day is just like
mask-wearing murderer Jason: It never really dies and cannot be killed off.
Only a minority now believes in an actual Day of Judgment, when God packs
sinners off to never-ending torment and duly rewards virtuous believers.
Even so, narratives of worldwide disaster retain their hold on our
imaginations. We have merely traded in the religious language for secular
Who needs a wrathful deity?
After all, we have an exploding sun with a really long reach. Then there are
those wayward asteroids careening full tilt toward Earth to do the dirty
destructive deed! Want to worry about something really esoteric? We are five
million years overdue for a reversal in the Earth’s magnetic polarity that
the geologic records show occurs every 60 million years or so. The records
also show that when the Earth’s polarity flips, bad things happen to the
animals alive during that time. Half a century ago, we were scared out of
our senses by the prospect of annihilation from nuclear explosion. This
remains a distinct possibility, although it doesn’t get much play anymore.
Apocalyptic worries remain
whether times are rough as they are now, or fairly prosperous. Remember the
Y2K glitch that was supposed to cause havoc with worldwide computer
time-keeping when the year 2000 rolled around? Half a decade of media hype
and millions upon millions of dollars in programming fixes later, Y2K was,
thankfully, a bust. And all the related jitters and handwringing took place
during the 1990s dot.com boom.
Whence this never-ending
penchant to fear the ultimate demise of our species? After all, nearly every
human culture has a variation on a worldwide flood mythology.
One explanation: It may
well be hard-wired into human genes. Maybe we all walk around harboring
distant cellular-based memories of a time when our lives consisted of
minute-by-minute struggles with the elements, large carnivorous animals and
hostile neighboring tribes.
A different take: We have
lived through such mass destruction before, and the possibility haunts our
soul memories. Such explanations are not mutually exclusive even while
appealing to very different views of human existence.
Let us hope we remain to
dread our demise right up until, in the very distant future, our sun does
its final swansong, and shrinks to a dwarf star incapable of supporting life
on our planet or anywhere else in our solar system.
By then our restless,
curious selves will have built arks that have taken us far beyond the
confines of this solar system to new suns and new worlds. But we will still
bring our fears and limitations with us, unless we learn to grow beyond
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