Monday, 4 October 2010

Revelations Ancient and Modern

As the so-called Mayan Prediction of the end of the world approaches in 2012, according to the current calculations (which I am sure will be suitable revised when it doesn't happen), here from the 1986 Mensa Magazine, "Thinks!", is an article I wrote on the subject. I was sceptical then, and am sceptical now. That doesn't mean that global warming or some other natural or man-made catastrophe cannot occur - I just don't believe the various people who predict calamity on the basis of their working of the Mayan Calendar, the prophecies of Nostradamus, the book of Revelation, or any other similar method.

Incidentally, Lance Lambert (whom I mentioned in the article) has vanished from public view - in 1986, he made a splash on the British newspapers - but he has a website and is still cheerfully delivering messages about the end of the world, although these always tell us what is going to happen "very soon", and no precise timetable is given. The one given in April 2010 this year says "I will cause their economies to fail, and their financial system to break down, and even the climate to fail them!", which suggests he is employing the same tactic as modern weather forecasters, getting people's confidence by telling them (with 100% accuracy) about the weather for the day that has just passed.

Revelations Ancient and Modern

In one of the famous "Beyond the Fringe" sketches, a motley collection of characters are gathered upon a mountain to wait for the end of the world. When the time comes, nothing happens. They are disappointed, then one of them says: "Oh well, same time tomorrow again, lads. We must get a winner one day!"

That short comedy routine comes very close to the truth about all the actual predictions of the world. A reading of history will reveal a great many occasions on which it was said "The end of the world is coming." On all of these, the deadline was passed, but the world sedately continued to spin around the solar system. To give some examples, I will make a brief selection of those who have predicted the end of the world, and got it wrong.

In the fourth century, Lactantius (tutor of the son of Emperor Constantine) said: "The current situation indicates that the collapse and ruin of everything will soon take place." The proof of this he found in prophecy and scripture, and he firmly believed that in under two hundred years this would be fulfilled. He did not live to see the falsity of his prophecy.

In the twelfth century, there is the Abbot Joachim of Fiore, who was encouraged to write down his theories by Pope Lucius III. "Now is the time," he writes, "for the elect to weep over the imminent destruction of that youngest Babylon lest perchance we share in her sins and be forced to partake of her punishments." The good abbot thought that Saladin's triumph in taking Jerusalem from Christians in 1187 was a sign that "the tribulation" had begun. He was signally wrong.

In the nineteenth century, William Miller worked out a detailed chronology from the Bible to show that Christ would return to Judge the world in 1843. When this was wrong, he discovered a flaw in his calculation and the date was shifted to autumn 1844. The promised date passed without incident, but after a vision, Hiram Edson, a follower of Miller, said that Miller had been right about the time, but wrong about the place. Christ had materialised "in the heavenly sanctuary" and so could not be seen on earth. Blind faith can always see what isn't there!

This survey has, of necessity been brief, and I will not bore you with Bishop Victorinus of Pettau, Angelo of Clareno " Peter John Olivi, Adso of Montier-en-der. Like Lanctantius and Joachim, these were noted men of their time, who all represented a stream of thought that preached the imminent end of the world, and were mistaken.

I am therefore somewhat sceptical about a recent prophecy given by Lance Lambert at Jerusalem: "It will not be long before there will come upon the world a time of unparalleled upheaval.." Of course we will be told that his prediction is different, but that has always been the case, For some reason, those who predict calamity are strangely blind to the failure of their predecessors. It often seems as if it is felt sufficient to re-iterate the message of doom all the more strongly.

Of course there is always a modern form of Pascal's wager - to believe in the chance that sooner or later they will turn out correct. But surely such a gamble would be based on desparation rather than rational assessment? I refuse to believe anything out of a cringing fear that it might turn out to be true, when all the evidence of history is weighted against the likelihood.

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