How To Think About The Apocalypse, Now

September 21, 2020

Do you ever worry about the Apocalypse?

Kim H., Wheaton IL.

I guess you can’t blame people for the end-of-the-world being on their radar with all that’s been happening. Hurricanes, fires, violence, the pandemic, Trump – all seem to be a build-up of catastrophes that no normal planet could endure. (Well, maybe Venus. It’s been pretty nasty there for some time.)

But it’s not healthy to sit around obsessing that the world is going to go further downhill, so I give you three ways to think about the Apocalypse so you can stop worrying about humanity ending and go back to fretting over our own personal deaths and what’s on TV.

Revelation is a Load of Crap

Classically, the word Apocalypse refers to the end times described in the book of Revelation in the bible. We can safely ignore this because Revelation is batshit crazy – even by biblical standards. The insanity that goes down in Revelation makes Noah’s Flood seem like a county fair.  Even most Christians have to read Revelation and say, “God wouldn’t do that.” (Wouldn’t he?)

As I was recently reminded of during my (upcoming episode) Point of Inquiry conversation with Chris Matheson, author of The Story of God, Revelation is this weird Sci-Fi orgy of destruction that’s actually kind of funny in parts.

Who can take seriously the idea of a star crashing into Earth, and from a bottomless pit on the star swarms of locusts will emerge and torment men who don’t have the seal of God on their foreheads? Ahh, but these are not your garden variety bugs. These locusts:

“were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.” Revelation 9:7

Huh? What the… Little human-faced flying horses wearing gold crowns? (I’d always thought LSD was a 20th century invention…) Puhleeease….

Ok, so the point is, believing in the Apocalypse because you read it in Revelation is not exactly a solid position, and can be dismissed out of hand.

All the Other End-of-the-World Predictions Have Been Wrong

That’s right, 100% of the people who were cocksure they were staring The End in the face woke up the next morning to the same world they dozed off from the night before. Jonathan Kirsch wrote a great book about this called A History of the End of the World. Kirsch chronicles some of the more embarrassing end-of-time predictions (some of the Millerites sold their possessions in preparation for the October 22, 1844 coming of Christ) as well as others who used the impending ending to do bad things to their fellow humans.

Maybe predicting something that’s 0 for history doesn’t bother you – the Cubs did win a World Series after all. Maybe THIS time it’ll really happen. Wait ‘til next year. But just remember, that’s what the Millerites said.

Statistics

Well then, what is with all this crap happening to us at once? Doesn’t that mean anything?

It does. It means statistics, probability, and math are working properly.

Whenever you have a system (person, group, country, species) that has lots of action (events, occurrences, etc.) associated with it, you get normal distribution – a bell curve – with common, expected, bulk events piling up in the middle, and rarer events toward the ends.

So for us humans in 2020, imagine that on one side of the curve are the fantastically good days full of health, happiness and good fortune. On the other side is sickness, death and misery. That big lump in the middle represents relatively normal life: Work, relationships, food, fun – living everyday life. Not much extraordinary happens to most people most days.

Some days skew out to one end of the scale or the other. We get married, we win money, we enjoy wonderful times with those we love. The good times roll.

Other days we get a ticket for speeding, find a lump on our bodies, or lose a loved one.

Every now and then, one side of that scale bunches up with multiple events of one sort or another. We get a stretch of good or bad that seems to last a long time. And we don’t seem to be very good at recognizing and appreciating extended periods of good that happen. Maybe that’s because pain gets our attention easier.

Bad patches stay on our radar, and so feel longer and more urgent. That’s where we’re at now. That’s where people have always been who’ve endured wars, plagues, famine, drought, and other protracted unpleasantness. We’re not the first people to ride out a little hardship.

So I guess all I’m saying is, take a step back and look at this current graph we’re living from a high perch, knowing that it’s just a temporary bunching-up of lousy conditions. Eventually COVID will be controlled, Trump will go back to supervising the polishing of his gold toilets, and Arby’s will offer in-store dining.

This WILL all end, though not with an imminent Apocalypse and a star full of human/horse bugs sporting gold crowns, but with a real apocalypse. Our sun will expand and burn the planet to a crisp in ≈ 5 billion years.

Not on my radar.