- Religion and Philosophy
Doomsday Predictions – Why they can be Fascinating
6 Days of Darkness
By now we’ve all heard about the dire prediction – 6 days of darkness this December – a solar storm that will all but obliterate the sun’s rays for a period of 216 hours from 16th to December 22nd 2014. Tacked on to this sensationalist news was a supposed announcement from NASA chief Charles Bolden who was asking people to remain calm. This is of a piece with various doomsday announcements that have been made in the past and like them has been found to be a hoax as well. However the question begs to be asked - why do these alarmist, dire and gloomy predictions gain such currency?
My first memories of a doomsday prediction
The first time I remember hearing of a Doomsday Prediction was when I was in class three or so – when a class mate told me in self important tones that we would all die and the end of the world was imminent. This made life quite interesting in school; with much bated breath discussion taking place sotto voce in the school corridors. When my father laughed off the prediction when I spoke of it at home, I was just a little bit affronted at not being taken seriously.
Then when the supposed date for the end of the world came and went without creating so much as a ripple on the surface of the placid lives of my friends and me, we began to assume my father’s dismissive point of view. After this, numerous doomsday predictions have repeatedly been made and have elicited little other than a passing glance from me; there have always been prophets of doom making catastrophic predictions and there will be many more in the future as well.
Harold Camping’s 21 May Doomsday Prophesy
A couple of years ago, a 14 year old Russian girl created worldwide headlines by committing suicide in response to the Doomsday predictions made by Californian radio Evangelist Harold Camping. He has had a long history of doomsday predictions from years previous but when he made a prediction about 21 May and said that the ‘righteous’ would ‘fly up to heaven’ and that the rest would suffer five months of “fire, brimstone and plagues, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on Oct. 21, 2011 with the end of the world”, at least one person took him seriously enough to take her own life. Many American followers reportedly quit their jobs or depleted their savings in readiness for apocalypse that failed to materialize.
Why is the idea of doomsday so fascinating?
In fact why is the idea of heaven and hell so fascinating? One, it is the idea of all of us getting our just desserts; presumably good consequences for us because we are ‘right’ and bad consequences for those who are ‘wrong’ (read those we dislike or disagree with). It is a tempting thought that such ‘justice’ is in store for all us in at the end of this unjust, chaotic, seemingly random world; indeed that someone who is ‘In Charge’ will bring about this.
Then there is the fact that predictions of fire, and brimstone and large scale disasters are also fascinating – disaster movie anyone? They ignite the imagination and capture our collective attention.
Further many of us have a small streak of paranoia within us, and if someone comes along to tell us that our paranoia is justified after all, we probably find that our feelings were at least a little warranted after all.
Lastly it is the endless fascination that an overwhelming majority of us have with predictions of the future – witness the continuing popularity of Nostradamus and his 16th century French book Les Propheties with interpreters still trying to equate present day events with predictions made by him hundreds of years ago. The fact is that we would all love to know what is going to happen in the future and if something as exciting as the end of the world is on the cards; it has everyone riveted!