Opinion

Taylor: Looking ahead to end of world

The news story said that Chris Hadfield might be the only Canadian to survive the end of the world.

He blasts off today for a five month stint in the International Space Station. So, if doomsday occurs this Friday, when the 5125-year “Long Count” of the Mayan calendar runs out, Hadfield might witness the disintegration of this small blue marble floating in space.

Not that he’d survive very long, of course. The space station orbits on the tether of Earth’s gravity.

No Earth—no gravity.

Freed from its gravitational leash, the space station will soar off into space like a rock from David’s sling.

Strange, isn’t it, this fascination we have with end times?

When the year 2000 loomed, people stockpiled survival goods. Headed for the hills. Expected massive computer crashes, earthquakes, volcanoes.

Me, I merely quit flossing. Why protect my teeth if they’ll cease to exist in a few days anyway?

Now the same fears erupt over a Mayan mathematical algorithm based on multiplying 18s and 20s.

In Russia, they’re buying candles, for the coming darkness. In California, they’re headed for underground bunkers. In France, they’re expecting extra-terrestrial aliens to launch off a mountain top.

And if that’s not enough disaster, some doomsayers claim an invisible planet named Nibiru will emerge from its hiding place behind the sun and smash Earth to smithereens. Or a black hole will extend a tentacle through the galaxies and suck Earth into oblivion. Earthquakes will trigger tsunamis big enough to swamp the Himalayas.

What is it about the “end of an age” that inclines some people to wallow gleefully in potential calamities? And that causes other people to visualize supernatural solutions to all our problems? The Mayans themselves never made any predictions about the world turning over a new leaf when their Long Count ended.

Our reactions “tell us more about ourselves than about the ancient Maya,” said Geoffrey Braswell, a professor of anthropology in San Diego.

For several weeks, I’ve received spam e-mails which assure me that on December 21 the skies will be filled with celestial beings. They will take the administration of this world out of our obviously fallible hands. They will inaugurate a brand new cycle of justice, peace and universal goodwill.

It sounds strangely like a scene on a field outside Bethlehem, 20 centuries ago where a celestial being declared: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.” And a chorus of angels sang, “Glory to God, and on Earth peace and goodwill.”

And a new star blazed in the sky that night, marking the birth of a king expected to overthrow corrupt dynasties and rule forever with justice and peace.

Notice any similarities?

No doubt that supernova, or whatever it was, invoked a host of apocalyptic fears too. They haven’t survived. Only the “good news” has.

Now I wonder why many of us treat the Mayan calendar as a turning point of history, but ignore the turning point celebrated each Christmas.

Whether we view the future as impending disaster or promise is our choice every day, not just on December 21 or December 25.

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