Thursday, December 20, 2012

The World's Last Night

So the world is going to end tomorrow. Or not.

As I understand the Mayan calendar kerfuffle, the whole thing was spawned by a misinterpretation of a single inscription. In fact, the fateful date simply marked the start of a new 394-year cycle. The USA WEEKEND magazine of December 7-9 had the cover caption “The End of the World Is Not Near” and an article in which several scientists debunk fears of imminent catastrophes such as the shifting of the planet’s magnetic poles or the Earth’s getting hit by an asteroid or comet anytime soon.

A couple of Sundays ago, our rector’s sermon began with the assurance that the world isn’t going to end this month. I felt like asking, “How do you know?” It’s almost impossible to prove a negative. However, the odds are against it.

In 1979, Isaac Asimov published a book called A CHOICE OF CATASTROPHES, exploring all the ways doom might befall the world as we know it. One might expect him to start with smaller hazards and work up, but he moves in the other direction. After a brief discussion of myths about the twilight of the gods and the destruction of the world, he begins with “Catastrophes of the First Class,” those such as entropy that involve the entire universe, then going through disasters that would affect the stars, the solar system, and Earth alone down to “Catastrophes of the Fifth Class,” which might destroy civilization but not wipe out humanity. He finishes with the disasters he thinks we have some chance of preventing. Like all of Asimov’s entertainingly lucid science writings, this book remains worth reading.

On the religious side of the question, C. S, Lewis wrote an essay titled “The World’s Last Night.” He reminds us that trying to predict the end times and Judgment Day is futile because we’re explicitly told we can’t foresee those events: “No one knows the day or the hour.” Therefore, we have a duty to be prepared at all times, not by obsessing over the imminent end, but by doing our appointed tasks to the best of our ability. When the Last Day arrives, Lewis says, “happy are those whom it finds labouring in their vocations.”

It’s a little like the advice in a recently popular country song on how to get maximum joy out of life: “Live like you were dying.”

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. Great article Jacqueline!

    Many forget that the Mayan calendar and indeed the long count, is just a calendar. Just like our Gregorian Solar calendar, it starts anew at the end. Certainly, a new age will begin on Dec. 22nd, 2012 just as a new year will begin on Jan. 1, 2013.

    But what I find interesting about the phenomenon is that the X-Files may be one of the culprits for seeding this idea back in 2002. The 201st and 202nd episodes of the X-Files (known as "The Truth") mention the "end of the world" on Dec. 21st, 2012. Fascinating.

  2. Actually, that post was by Margaret Carter (also a good writer and a thoughtful scholar of the Vampire mythos). This blog has a lot of writers on it, from time to time, but I post on Tuesdays, focused mostly on the craft of writing the peculiar blend of Romance and Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal that we love to read.

  3. We're still here. Last night in our part of Maryland, however, people reported strange colored lights in the sky -- which turn out to be an exploding electricity substation. There was a widespread power outage, including in our neighborhood, that lasted several hours.