Dear Doomsday Predictors,
I will tell you a story.
In the Year of Our Lord Nine Hundred and Ninety-Nine, on December 31 of the old calendar and shortly after dusk, men and women climbed up onto their rooftops throughout western Europe to look at the sky. They were waiting for the heavens to roll back like a scroll and for the apocalypse to start, as various officials in the Church had announced that it would do during the first minute of the Year 1000. The watchers on the roofs had, regretfully, a long and dreary and rather cold night. They went to bed extremely late (those who went to bed at all) and were exceedingly tired and grouchy the next morning (and no, Europe did not have coffee yet).
Some were also now rather broke, as they had, in the final months of the autumn, given many of their earthly possessions to the Church so that the poor and the ill could be cared for and could face the apocalypse fed and clothed. After the apocalypse failed to occur on schedule, the general disillusionment (and some sense of having been robbed) led to a growing distrust of the Church over the next few generations. That distrust helped foment the great schism and the War Between the Two Popes, which one of the Popes resolved rather efficiently by declaring the First Crusade and sending most of the armed men of Europe to a country 2,000 miles away. Which also made the Church, for the next two and a half centuries, the wealthiest temporal power in Europe, because marching 2,000 miles to invade the Holy Land is incredibly expensive and the armed men of Europe had to mortgage their lands and titles to the Church in order to afford weaponry, horses, servants, and provisions for the journey — and as most of them never returned, the coin from widespread sales of worldly possessions (far more coin than the working classes had been able to part with in 999 AD in expectation of apocalypse) remained within church coffers.
But I digress. What I want to point out is that since the debacle of 12:01 am, January 1, 1000 AD, neither the Roman Catholic Church nor any of the reformer churches that later splintered from it have been very keen on officially backing scheduled apocalypses. That makes sound sense and is also good theology, as the New Testament asserts that not even Jesus, let alone any human being past or present, knows the day or the hour of the End Times. (There is also a rather pointed instruction in the sacred text to be ready but not to worry about it.)
So why do we, year after year after weary year, have a steady stream of crackpots, quacks, charlatans, and highwaymen establishing specific dates and times for an apocalypse, venturing again and again where even the world’s largest and wealthiest religious institutions fear to tread? And if, every year, these crackpots are actually serious about their predictions of timely and imminent doom, why don’t they at least do as the Church in Rome did in 999 AD, and found orphanages and hospitals, clothe and feed the poor, and put all that cash, media attention, and zeal to some good use in the world? That way, if they prove right and the apocalypse happens at the predicted minute, they are found ready in the midst of their work, like the wise virgins, rather than dozing and daydreaming like the foolish virgins in the story? And that way, if they prove wrong, they will at least have accomplished something and carried out a few of the Lord’s commands along the way.
Better yet, does anyone read history anymore? I mean, you all have been making this mistake since 999 AD, people. That’s rather a long time. My ancestors had this old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me six hundred and seventy-two times, shame on me.”
Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!