Ethon Lowe | Is the end of the world nigh?
Last week, truculent Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea. The tubby tyrant, Kim Jong-Un, responded by calling Trump mentally deranged.
North Korea's foreign minister accused the United States of declaring war on his country. The White House secretary called the allegations "absurd". Russia fires a new ballistic missile with a huge warhead. It warns of catastrophic consequences if the US attempts to stop North Korea. Will World War III break out? Will we see Armageddon?
Arguably, the proliferation of nuclear weapons may actually increase global stability. Nuclear weapons are simply so destructive that using them would be madness itself to launch against another nuclear-armed foe: an imperfect peace like the India-Pakistan conflict?
Surely, two enraged combatants are less likely to come to blows if both are equally armed. Still, a fundamental risk is inherent in countries with nuclear weapons, embroiled by centuries of religious, cultural, and ethnic tensions - a disaster waiting to happen.
While the truculent one was engaging in hot-air verbal exchanges with the tubby one, at least one Christian, a numerologist and former astronomy student, one David Meade, announced that a rogue planet, Nibiru, would slam into Earth on September 23. What went wrong? NASA debunked the existence of this planet. Not to be fazed, Meade says the end of the Planet Earth is still on - sometime in October 2017. Don't splurge on your life savings just yet.
As individuals, when is our end time? Unless we are a determined, well-organised suicide, we cannot know the date of our demise, but we know that the date must fall within a certain window of biological possibility. Estimating the nature and timing of our collective demise is rather less certain. Did Jesus know? If so, He was rather vague. "No one knows the day or the hour." (Matthew 25:13). But He gave us a clue: "All the things let us know that the end is near" (Matthew 24:33). He gave us this juicy scenario of what to expect: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes, etc." ... (Luke 21: 10-11). Sounds familiar - earthquakes (Mexico) hurricanes (USA, Caribbean), volcano threat in Bali, Indonesia. The problem is interpretation. Nations and kingdoms have always risen against one another, and earthquakes are common throughout history. The classic end-time imagery: an apocalyptic revelation, the demise of the world, the survival of a chosen group of believers, the return of the Messiah, and peace after massive death and destruction.
FAILED DATES OF DOOM
The Jehovah's Witnesses must hold the record for the most failed dates of doom: 1874, 1878, 1881, 1910 up to 1975. But all is not lost when the end does not come for apocalyptic doomsayers. Hope springs eternal. The Millerites, for example, (they would eventually become the Seventh-day Adventists), expected to see Jesus on October 22, 1843. After nothing happened, the year was revised to 1844. Again, disappointment (the Great Disappointment). But, hang on. The date had been right all along; it was simply the place that was wrong. Jesus did appear - in heaven, not on earth. A classic case of cognitive dissonance of failed prophesy.
Ultimately, apocalyptic beliefs are a function of faith, that inner conviction that needs no recourse to evidence. Science can speak of the probable: global warming, population growth, viral epidemics, meteorites, and environmental degradation. It cannot compete with the prophecies of the book of Daniel or Revelation (the Antichrist, hellfire, new beasts, whore of Babylon). Reason and myth remain uneasy bedfellows.