December 21, 2012
The End of the World (as They Thought It)
As of this writing, the world has not ended. There’s no telling what straits everything will be in by the time you read this, but if you heed the warnings of some ancient Mayans and their modern adherents, things could be getting pretty dicey right about now. There’s just no telling at this point, but, frankly, we like our odds.
The predicted demise of the world on December 21, 2012, was far from the first time the warning bell has been rung. All manner of surefire apocalypses have been sounded throughout history, and each time, the Earth has spun right through it. The countdown hasn’t hit zero yet. But while we’re waiting for the world to end, take a look at a few of history’s biggest false alarms.
1. Bible Student Movement/Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1914
It started in 1914. A certain interpretation of the Book of Daniel gave Jehovah’s Witnesses reason to believe the end was very nigh indeed, and they prepared accordingly. When nothing happened, it was decided they had not gotten the date wrong, only the event—Jesus had actually chosen that day to begin His invisible reign of the world, with an apocalypse to come in the near future. The JWs guessed again with predictions for 1915, 1918, 1925, 1932, 1941, 1975 and 1994—all to no avail.
2. The Great Disappointment, 1843-1844
A Baptist minister named William Miller predicted the return of Jesus would take place sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. Jesus was a no-show, but the so-called Millerites kept their faith. After further discussion, the date of the end of the world was changed to April 18, 1844, and then to October 22, 1844. Miller continued to wait for the end of days to appear until his death in 1849.
3. Halley’s Comet, 1910
It’s not always religion. In 1910, the front page of The New York Times reported that Earth was directly in line with the tail of Halley’s Comet, which contained cyanogen, which was related to cyanide, which meant everyone would surely die. Other papers picked up the story, and the result was full-blown global panic. A few astronomers convened to report there was nothing to worry about, but the panic didn’t subside until the comet had safely passed our great globe by.
4. The Jupiter Effect, 1982
In 1974, two astrophysicists, John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann, wrote that all nine planets would align on March 10, 1982, creating a gravitational pull that would cause catastrophic sunspots, solar flares and earthquakes. By the time Gribbin admitted it had been more hypothetical thought than actual prediction, it was too late to stem the tide of doomsday predictions. And on March 10, 1982, everyone felt justified when high tide clocked in at 0.04 millimeters higher than usual.
5. Pat Robertson, 1982, 2007
In May 1980, Pat Robertson dropped this bomb on his 700 Club viewers: “I guarantee you by the end of 1982, there is going to be a judgment on the world.” December 31, 1982, passed without a peep, so Robertson gave it another shot in his book The New Millennium, in which he guessed the end of the world would land on April 29, 2007. Nope.
6. Harold Camping, 1994, 1995, 2011, and 2011 again
Harold Camping could host a list all his own, what with his serial claims of figuring out when the Earth will take its final bow. Recently, he said Judgment Day would arrive on May 21, 2011, kicked off by global earthquakes and a rapture of the faithful. When May 21 passed, he said he’d been partially wrong—that the date marked a “spiritual rapture” of judgment, to be followed by a physical rapture on October 21, 2011. Camping has since recanted his attempts to make these predictions.
7. Heaven’s Gate, 1997
When Comet Hale-Bopp swung relatively close to Earth in November 1996, amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek observed a companion object following its tail, which he told a radio show appeared to be a “Saturn-like object.” This sparked a fever among UFO enthusiasts, who believed a spaceship was heading to Earth. Tragically, the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide in March 1997, believing the comet would collect their spirits once they died.
8. Nostradamus, 1999
For 400 years, Michel de Nostredame has been to doomsday predictions what Kellogg’s is to Corn Flakes. His writings are just spooky enough to set the imagination twirling and just vague enough to come true without coming true. Among his most famous quatrains is this: “The year 1999, seventh month / From the sky will come great king of terror.” If by that prediction Nostradamus meant the end of the world would arrive in 1999, as many believed he did, then he was wrong.
9. Y2K, 2000
The idea of Y2K had a nice apocalyptic poetry to it, predicting computers as the instrument of our ruin. It was all very Bradbury-esque. Nobody knew how bad it would be, but almost every expert expected something to happen. And something indeed did: Guns, bottled water and generators were bought in bulk. But the new millennium itself began quietly enough, with just a few glitches.
10. Richard Noone, 2000
The Y2K bug was a bust, but Richard Noone assured us of yet another impending global catastrophe to come in the year 2000 in his 1997 book, 5/5/2000 Ice: the Ultimate Disaster. According to Noone, the Antarctic ice mass would be three miles thick by May 5, 2000, the same date the planets aligned. He figured this would result in some kind of global ice disaster. It didn’t.
11. Sun Myung Moon, 2000
So, 2000 was a big year for end-of-the-world theories, but not all of them were doomsday scenarios. Sun Myung Moon, the famed Korean founder of the Unification Church, predicted 2000 would bring about the Kingdom of heaven and the revelation of the Messiah. His teachings on this were just vague enough that his adherents can still claim he has yet to be proven wrong.
12. Mayan Calendar, 2012
We assume this one was wrong, too. If it wasn’t, no sweat—that means you’re not reading this anyway.