FAQ: Apocalypse 2012 Explained
"There is not only good old doomsday fear here, but also the hope of worldly transformation."
Lot of them, though most have been vague. Many religious traditions include stories or general predictions about End Times. Judaism teaches of a “messianic age.” Islam has similar traditions of a time when a hidden prophet will emerge. But neither faith offers much in the way of a timeline. Christianity has End Times predictions deeply embedded in its DNA. Jesus is quoted as telling his followers that some “shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Later Christians have turned to specific parts of the Bible to figure out exactly when Jesus would return. Most of those Christians have been reluctant to set a precise date. But there have been exceptions.
Who were the Millerites?
They were one of the exceptions. They were followers of a New York farmer and lay preacher named William Miller. Based on his reading of the Bible, he predicted that Christ's second coming would occur sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. As with the 2012-ers, he based his predictions on numerical interpretations of ancient materials. When nothing happened during his target year, he recalibrated his prediction to October 22, 1844. Historians say as many as 100,000 people counted themselves as believers. Many of his followers quit their jobs and sold their possessions as the fateful day approached. After the “Great Disappointment,” some of Miller’s followers helped form the Seventh Day Adventists.
How does Nostradamus fit into all of this?
No listing of End Times prophesies is compete without mentioning the 16th Century French astrologer Michel de Nostredame. He wrote hundreds of four-line verses that mixed clear statements with wildly poetic metaphor. His followers say that the poetry was prophesy. Here’s an example: “In the year 1999, in the seventh month,/from the sky will come the great King of Terror,/bringing back to life the great King of the Mongols./
Before and after, Mars to reign by good fortune.” The website of the Nostradamus Society of America says that this verse predicted the 9/11 attack. Seriously.
Have there been non-religious End Times predictions?
The biggest of these was probably the Y2K panic leading up to New Years Day 2000. It combined a quasi-religious anxiety about entering a new millennium with a real-as-rocks worry about electronic calendars in tens of millions of computers. The millennium didn’t actually change until 2001 -- there was, after all, no year “zero.” But experts warned that much of modern humanity’s electronic and technical infrastructure depended on computers that, because of an obsolete design, literally would not know how to compute time after midnight on the last day of 1999. On the one hand, this was a boon to computer technicians who spent several years reprogramming or replacing the equipment. On the other hand, it was a trigger for some people to stockpile essential goods and prepare for a calamity that never happened – modern, secular Millerites.
Why do so many people buy into End Times ideas?
Just as there are people who feel every era is the worst that's ever been, there are always people who hope that something better – or at least transformational – is right around the corner. Wojcik said that the 2012-ers' escatology, or ideas about End Times, has similarities to other ideas through the ages.
"2012 eschatologies have traditional aspects and share concerns in common with previous millennialist worldviews, such as a dissatisfaction with the current social order, a sense of imminent crisis and the loss of confidence in societal institutions to resolve current problems; and the desire for a transformative new age, to redeem a world verging on destruction," he said.
Modern America is particularly fertile ground, and not only for the 2012-ers, he said.
"In the United States, ideas about the end of the world are not limited to a handful of groups on the social margins, but are extremely widespread, and central to the belief systems of numerous Protestant denominations, Catholic apparitions of the Virgin Mary, New Age spiritualities, UFO religions, some environmentalist movements, and various other groups," Wojcik said. "Not to mention the explosion of literary and popular culture doomsday fare--the Left Behind series, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the film 2012, the relentless doomsday programming on the "History" Channel, and the ongoing enthusiasm for apocalyptic zombies."
"Apocalypse 2012" will air on Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 9 p.m. and midnight ET on CNBC. The documentary will repeat on Friday, December 21, 2012 at 8 p.m.