Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis: I am assuming the end of the world did not come on September 23 (which is in three days’ time as I write this and was probably yesterday for you, if you’re reading the Sunday paper on Sunday). If it did happen, then not only am I wasting my time but I will never get to finish the goat curry that I made too much of and ended up putting in the freezer.
The question of the end of the world arises not so much because of the actual published prediction that the earth would be destroyed by a planet called Nibiru, but by things that are happening for real, right now.
With the current plague of natural disasters, it’s enough to make the most level-headed of us feel a bit paranoid. It is easy to see why, in less developed societies, such things are seen as demonstrations of anger by whoever or whatever people regard as being in charge.
Look out: it’s a thunder storm; we must have done something wrong and we’re being punished for it (even though a thunder storm is little more than a slap on the wrist unless you get struck by lightning).
In primitive communities, such castigations are ascribed to a god of some sort, and what distinguishes us in the developed world in the wonderful, all-knowing 21st century from these less educated groups is that here there is some dispute about the very existence of God. The ancients didn’t–and the remotes don’t–have access to scientific research that could be adapted to suit their own fears and theories, so they believed what their elders believed, just as devotees of the Bible and the Qu’ran can point to passages contained in them that indicate right and wrong or foretell disaster.
While TT is luckier than most Caribbean countries in that hurricanes usually start just in front of us and head the other way, even those who choose to interpret weather events as divine retribution must admit that whoever is dishing out the punishment is hugely biased.
Why should a nation in which murder and rape are on the front pages every day get away with it? Why should Irma wipe out peaceful, harmless little Barbuda and spare the gun-toting morons who make TT’s streets such nervous places?
And as for earthquakes, such as the ones that have just killed hundreds of people in Mexico, are they also supernatural beatings handed out to the bad guys? In which case, what has Italy done to warrant the quakes that have plagued it in recent years? Is pizza really that bad for the world, or is it just the stuffed crusts and the anchovies?
Perhaps the point is that we, the human race, have to be self-policing at an individual level. In other words we each have it within ourselves to be good citizens and whatever we may feel about our reward being in heaven, or that karma will sort us out later, it’s up to us to clean up our act here and now, just in case.
That doesn’t mean abandoning religion because it causes trouble, which is a fashionable point of view. That would be like banning football because there is occasionally trouble at a match.
It doesn’t even mean finding some way of getting everyone of a religious persuasion to worship the same god. That would just be insulting to the intelligence of the billions of people whose beliefs cannot be scientifically proven (nor disproven) but who go about their lives in peace, minding their own business.
This is not the first time our communal demise has been predicted. It is, after all, the sort of thing that great wise men are supposed to know. If you’re going to be accepted as a fount of wisdom, you’ve got to have a few facts at your fingertips, such as what time is closing time.
In 1524 many people fled their homes in London and headed for the hills after a prediction by astrologers that the end of the world would start with the flooding of the city. When that didn’t happen the theorists revised their estimation, adding 100 years (a suspiciously round figure, don’t you think?), but guess what – it didn’t happen in 1624 either.
The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, as used by the much-respected Mayan civilisation which peaked in Central America between 250 and 900 AD, pinpointed December 21 2012 as lights-out time, resulting in huge queues at Penny Savers when people who didn’t expect to see another Christmas realised they were going to need to get some beer and ham in after all.
So all together now: phew! Isn’t it great that there are some things we don’t know?