Thursday, May 19, 2011

The End is Nigh, Again...

"The present week is a time of great interest to the believers in the personal reign of Christ, and in the Second Advent as now near. This week, we believe, will conclude the 2,300 years from the going forth of the decree to restore and build Jerusalem, at which time the word of God has been given that the sanctuary shall be cleansed, and there shall be an end of indignation." - Horace Canfield

Sounds familiar, right? Well, perhaps. Some of you might know that May 21, 2011 is Judgement Day (or what you could call "Rapture Day"), according to followers of Howard Camping. Never mind that his 1994 prediction of the end of the world came and went; apparently, his math was wrong and Saturday is the real date. He purports that there will be a catastrophic earthquake in New Zealand (sorry, kiwis) that ripples across the globe causing mass destruction. The saved will go to Heaven, while the rest of us... well, you might as well stock up on marshmallows and ice.

There have been a lot of similar predictions throughout history. Entire religions, sects, and cults have formed over a belief in Armageddon. Which beings me to the above quote. It came from the American Democrat, an Akron, Ohio, newspaper, during the 1840s.

Between 1841 and 1846, a religious craze swept northeast Ohio. Millerism, or Second/Seventh-Day Adventism, was founded by a farmer and war veteran turned pastor named William Miller. While Miller wasn't what you might call educated, he was devoutly religious and read the Bible... well... religiously. You could say Miller was one of the first conspiracy theorists; he had an unhealthy obsession with hidden symbols and prophecies found in biblical texts. It was this work that helped him discover the day when the world would end: April 4, 1843.

It came and went. Luckily, he realized there was an error in calculation. The true date was April 23, 1844.

Again, nothing happened. Well, at least as far as the Rapture is concerned.

Plenty did happen, concerning the thousands of followers (called Millerites). Both times they prepared for the end of the world. Some went so far as to commit suicide. Even after the failed predictions, believers lost their minds. In November 1844, Ira Viets of Cuyahoga Falls chiseled off his own penis, taking the doctrine, "If thy member offends thee, cut it off" far to literally. The final blow (no pun intended) for Akron's Second Adventist movement came when their "Tabernacle" was blown to smithereens with a keg of gunpowder on December 23, 1845.

A few sex scandals over the next year and the Millerites fizzled out. Yet many other doomsday prophets would come between then and now. We seem to be a people obsessed with destruction (or fear-mongering). From Jonestown and the grape FlaVor-Aid® deaths of 1978 to the Apocalypse of 2012, we take the end of the world very seriously. Our fear of death and destruction brings about its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Life is a journey, not a destination." Unfortunately, in our modern times, we've forgotten this almost entirely. We fear death and the end of the world. We rush from place to place without paying any attention to the trip in between. Life is all about the instant gratification; less cerebral, more limbic. Honestly, death can come at any moment of any day. Why spend life focusing on the end results when there's plenty of living to do? Whether your travels are short or long, enjoy what you have while you have it.