Bad news. The world is ending December 21st, 2012. Or at least a lot of people seem to think so, on the grounds that that’s the day when (they claim) the Mayan calendar “runs out”. I’m not quite sure why the pre-Columbian Mayans should be taken as authorities on anything at all, let alone prognostication, especially since things didn’t work out all that well for them. By contrast, the 2012 crowd don’t seem much cheered by the fact that, for instance, China’s calendar doesn’t run out in 2012.
There’s been so much public concern about 2012 that some folks at NASA decided to take time out from unimportant work such as exploring the universe and unlocking its secrets to create a number of public-relations web-pages assuring people that they can go ahead with their advance planning for New Year’s Eve, 2012.
This is probably futile, since people who believe in this sort thing usually are immune to rational argument. Still, it’s good to know that somebody’s trying. Take these people, for instance, who are waging a radio and pamphlet-based campaign against this poppycock that the world is ending in December 2012. According to them, it’s ending May 21st, 2011. Get with the program, people.
I know this because some supporter of theirs handed me a pamphlet outside of Shopper’s Drug Mart yesterday. “The End of the World Is Almost Here! Holy God Will Bring Judgment Day on May 21, 2011!” I did some quick mental math and then headed straight to the LCBO to stock up, because if the world’s coming to an end, I’m getting wasted.
At home, I perused the pamphlet and their website over a cheeky little Beaujolais. Family Radio, I discovered, was founded in 1959 and now has several dozen FM radio licenses in the United States. (According to Wikipedia, these licenses would be worth several hundred million dollars today.) Day after day, these stations broadcast this end-of-the-world business to whoever happens to be listening. Their arrival at the precise date of Judgment is based on a complex numerology explained on their website. Incidentally, they also reject the usual Creationist nonsense about the world being 6,000 years old. Turns out it’s 13,000 years old. Again: Program. With the. Get.
At any rate, their website insisted that “well-known denominations such as Roman Catholic, Baptist, Reformed, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist, Jehovah’s Witness, Mormon, etc.” are “still in deep trouble with God”. At this, my heart rose slightly— perhaps I might be okay after all. I read on. Alas, it was not be so.
It’s often said that religions are automatically to be accorded respect, and that people are not to be criticized on the basis of their religion. The cultural relativists who dominate the academy are particularly insistent about this, going so far as to argue that criticism of religion – and of certain religions in particular – is tantamount to racism. But this is not a position that they themselves believe, since they are perfectly willing to cast aspersions in the direction of, say, the Catholic Church, over such things as the ordination of women and other issues that shouldn’t concern non-Catholics. By contrast, I remember well how they fell all over themselves to defend those who sought the death of Salman Rushdie, arguing that he really did hurt the feelings of millions of people who never read The Satantic Verses.
Respectful behavior can be mandated but actual respect cannot be. Whatever else they may be, the world’s religions are social institutions into which people have vested enormous and all-too human effort. Some of those people are morons, and it’s hard to treat them respectfully. Some of those efforts have been violent, and preach violence, and we have a right to defend ourselves against them. This goes, too, for crude and crass theological arguments mounted by the likes of Family Radio. If you tell me that I’m going to hell, I get to tell you to precede me there.
The suggestion that religions are beyond the scope of criticism can hardly be taken seriously. Certainly no one who is a devout follower of any given denomination takes such an argument seriously, since his own beliefs almost invariably constitute an implicit or even explicit criticism of other beliefs. Either reincarnation exists or it doesn’t. Either a certain messiah is divine or he isn’t. Either the world will end May 21st, 2010, or it won’t.
I am currently taking bets – of any size – that it won’t.