A look ahead to when the world ends

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Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea

After the last 1,000-foot waves crashed onto the sinking shores of the east and west coasts of the United States, as the growing fires in the San Fernando Valley and elsewhere refused to be extinguished, the helpless and doomed onlookers of the world announced almost in unison, “The Mayans were right!” or “Christ is coming!” or “It’s the end of the world!” or simply, “Shit.”

As the world was ending on that day, famous country pop singer Carrie Underwood was caught in the middle of a performance in Orlando, Florida. The crowd refused the advice and pleas by their parents and loved ones to stay in or go to church. “It’s Carrie Underwood, mom, c’mon!” they moaned to their disciplinarian parents. But there they were on a Friday night at the Amway Center on 400 West Church Street on Dec. 21, 2012, the last day of the world.

As the oceans began reclaiming the entirety of the upper east coast, the death toll climbing by the thousands, the venue’s massive steel-and-glass structure began to shake violently. Underwood continued to sing, seemingly unbothered, her blonde locks of hair appearing almost like the glow of a halo as stage lights and steel beams began falling onto the crowd below.

The ground began swelling and cracked opened, swallowing most of the audience. The few remaining looked on in disbelief, screaming frantically and crying, regretting not listening to their fearful parents. Underwood looked down to the crowd, smiling but no longer singing, her eyes glowing red and revealed herself to be the antichrist.

“I have come to retake the earth from your God,” Underwood said. “Your souls are mine. Hail Satan!”

The dead began filing out from gaping red-glowing craters of hell from the audience floor, seeking to wreak havoc on the earth, proving once and for all the book of Revelation, the Mayans and most religions right.

 

ORIGIN OF THE END OF THE WORLD

The previous scenario hasn’t happened. And it most likely will not. But according to a Reuters poll, one in seven people worldwide believe the world is ending.

The end of the world is a popular scenario found in many of the world’s religions, said Dr. Rick Talbott, chair of the religious studies department at CSUN.

“Most religions view the world or the cosmos as going through great cycles. There needs to be a recreation or a renewal periodically; that is a common mythological motif in most religions. It is certainly symbolic,” he said. “Generally we find end of the world scenarios all over the world, and so it’s not just Christianity.”

The origin of apocalyptic text in Judaism—and by default, Christianity—first appeared in 3 BCE (Before the Common Era) during a time of great political crisis with the Greeks in power over the Jews, which they interpreted as interfering with God’s plan, said Talbott.

What started this type of apocalyptic text is the sense that the world has become evil and absent of God and goodness, Talbott said, but that God will eventually vindicate the persecuted. Additionally, the writing was seen as a cryptic protest against their oppressors. The Jews knew that they couldn’t have open antagonistic, seditious protest against the Roman Empire.

“It’s a type of hidden transcript. You’re talking about the oppressors using symbolic language. Like in the Book of Revelation: Rome is Babylon. You’re criticizing it,” he said.

But some modern day religious groups have taken the Bible, specifically Revelation, literally, such as David Koresh and the Branch Davidians from Waco, Texas.

Koresh led a religious sect that believed the end of the world was fast approaching and so began stockpiling arms and ammunition. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI engaged in a 51-day standoff with the Davidians that resulted in the deaths of at least 76 people in 1993.

“There are virtually thousands of small apocalyptic groups in America waiting for some type of intervention by God. Many of them, not all of them, expect it to be a violent end, like David Koresh, that’s why they got guns. He’s reading Revelation, thinking, ‘Hey, there’s a violent end coming,’ and when the ATF and FBI come up with rifles, sneaking in on their compound you know what they were thinking? ‘Yea, this is what the text exactly said.’”

The New Testament’s Rapture concept, where the true believers of Christ are saved and ascend to heaven, was first popularized by John Nelson Darby in the early 1800s. After this point, the interpretation of Revelation and the Rapture would be forever changed, said Talbott.

Aaron Gilless, a 21 year-old junior majoring in cinema and television arts with an emphasis on multimedia production, is a Christian. But he doesn’t believe the world will end, but rather change.

“Some people believe in the Rapture,” Gilless said. “We don’t believe in exactly that, the Rapture, as most people see it. We see it as Christ returning at a certain day that no one knows, at that time some people would say the world will end. We’d say the world will be judged. And things will change, but we don’t know exact specifics.”

He doesn’t interpret the totality of the Bible literally, understanding that some of it is metaphorical.

“A lot of people would say some of it is literal, some of it is metaphorical,” he said.

In order to quell the concerns that NASA has reportedly been receiving, less than a month ago they have gone as far as to devoting an entire section of their official website to dispel all the most popular end-of-the-world myths, including apocalyptic planetary alignments, rogue planets or meteors crashing into Earth, deadly solar storms and one of the most popular ones, the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans.

 

WHAT THE MAYANS NEVER SAID

Luis Mendoza, 23 year-old senior majoring in Chicano/a studies, is not religiously affiliated and does not believe the world will end anytime soon, even if some people believe the Mayans have said so.

“I don’t know exactly where people got that information from that the world is going to end,” Mendoza said. “From what I know, it’s a number that’s on the sun stone. People call it the Mayan calendar, but the actual term is the sun stone. All I know is that it’s supposed to start a cycle all over again, not the end of the world. It stops so people think it’s gonna end.”

Mayan spirituality makes no reference to the physical end of the Earth, time and space, contrary to what people have heard or think, said Dr. Alicia Ivonne Estrada, Central American studies professor.

“The end of the world doesn’t necessarily exist,” Estrada said. “Time is cyclical. While there’s death, there’s rebirth. The Maya sacred text, the Popol Vuh, you see that, this notion of duality, of cyclical time.”

The concept of the end of the world, as interpreted by individuals and groups, does not fit in with indigenous spiritual practices or perceptions of death and the world.

The date of Dec. 21, 2012, the last date recorded on the Mayan calendar, has been interpreted by some using Western philosophy of  the concepts of death and ending being fearful. In doing so, Estrada argues, it reinforces racist beliefs by perpetuating the stereotype of the foolish native.

In Guatemala, where there is a more than half of the population is Mayan, according to the UN Refugee Agency, tourism has been booming recently with many flocking to the country for Mayan Dec. 21, 2012 festivities. But several indigenous groups have been protesting the government’s insensitivity toward the Mayan community.

“There is an organization based in Guatemala called Oxlajuj Ajpop that are Mayan spiritual guides that works to battle against misreading the calendar and also how they reinforced stereotypes and racist beliefs about the Maya,” Estrada said.

The Guatemalan government has spent millions of dollars on tourism—with little-to-no money going back into the Mayan community—essentially trampling on the Maya culture and spirituality, according to Estrada. She fears that once the hype surrounding the end of the world is over, the Maya will be viewed as foolish.

“But they never said it was the end of the world. What’s going to be left in the popular imaginary is how the Mayans were fools in believing that the world will end,” Estrada said.

Featured on the Guatemalan official website is a 31-second tourist video highlighting Mayan sites and rituals and  a window in the upper right-hand corner that has been counting down to Dec. 21, 2012. Most if not all hotels in near the urban center of Tikal have been booked since the beginning of the year, according to Estrada.

“This organization (Oxlajuj Ajpop) is going along with elders to protest because the government is impeding elders from going to the site (Tikal) and perform in the ceremony on Dec. 21,” Estrada said.

While people may still believe the world is set to end at a particular date and time, and choose to live their lives by their interpretation of scripture, doing good in this life is what should be the more important matter, according to Talbott.

“What’s easier to do? Sit back and say the world’s going to hell; there’s all this evil so I’m going to sit back, take care of myself and my family, live a good life so I’m Raptured out of here,” Talbott said. “Or take the founder of the religion, Jesus of Nazareth, seriously, and go down to skid row and start feeding and helping the homeless and poor—and forgiving people, not judging people, being inclusive of people, regardless of their sexual status or purity status, which clearly Jesus taught. Which is easier?”


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