Friday, December 21, 2012

Fun Friday Facts #56: Apocalypse Edition Round Two

As faithful readers will have noticed, this isn’t the first apocalypse we’ve seen since I started this blog. I dutifully covered the Harold Camping Judgment Day of May 2011, and, when that didn’t happen, I covered the Harold Camping Rescheduling of Judgment Day for October 2011. I also totally called it RE: the apocalypse not actually being today, but as usual, nobody ever listens to me.

I wasn’t going to do an apocalypse facts post again, becauseI’ve already done one before, to commemorate the last apocalypse. Then I thought, well, you know, there have been enough apocalypses (is that the proper term? Should it be apocalypsae?) to do another post, and I’m kind of running out of Christmas-themed ideas, anyway. One of my friends was all, “Well, we might not get another apocalypse” and I was all “Oh come on, we totally will,” I mean, shit, I can personally remember at least five, and that’s not even counting the ones that happened when I was still too little to notice that the world was about to end.

What if it did end, and the government covered it up?

So I guess I’m risking not having anything to blog about the next time the world ends, but whatevs. I’ll take that chance.

1) Many Biblical scholars believe that, when Jesus said He was coming back, he meant soon. Albert Schweitzer, Johannes Weiss, Alfred Loisy, Dale Allison, E.P.Sanders and others who have studied the Bible pretty hard feel that some of Jesus’s statements seem to indicate that He expected to be bringing the Kingdom of God a long time ago. Specifically, Matthew 16:28 and Matthew 24:34, where he seems to indicate the Second Coming will occur within one generation of his “death”. Early, first-century Christians, including Paul the Apostle, would have expected the Second Coming to occur within their lifetimes.

How disappointed they must have been.

Early Christians didn’t give up on the idea of an imminent Second Coming. A second century sect, the Montanists, believed that Christ would be back any day now. So did Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a third century bishop who had the Second Coming slated for 365 AD. A contemporary, Saint Martin of Tours, agreed that Christ would return before the year 400 AD. And on and on and on, with somebody predicting the Second Coming at least once a century ever since.

2) Cotton Mather, the Puritan dude from my last post, predicted the end of the world no less than three times, in 1697, 1716 and 1736. Now, I know he’s not the only person to have predicted the Apocalypse more than once, but you’d think you’d just give up, you know?

He also totally backed witch-burning.

3) The Millerites were followers of Baptist lay preacher William Miller. In 1822, Miller predicted the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world “on or before 1843.” Eventually he gave in to pressure from his ever-growing following and narrowed it down to sometime between 21 March 1843 and 21 March 1844. When the entire year passed without apocalyptic events, Miller announced that he had miscalculated the Apocalypse by using the wrong calendar, and convinced his followers that new, correct calculations led to a new, correct prediction of the End of All Things on 18 April 1844.

When, again, the world steadfastly continued to exist, Miller’s followers became antsy. Many of them had given away everything they owned in anticipation of the Rapture. Miller managed to hold them off for another few months by announcing that the Rapture had already begun, and that they were experiencing the “tarrying,” a period of waiting for things to really kick off. A third and final calculation, Miller said, placed the real, actual date of the Rapture on 22 October 1844.

When the date came and went without Rapture, Miller’s followers, and people in general, were so upset that the fallout came to be known as the Great Disappointment. Millerites experienced harassment and assault at the hands of the general public. Their churches were burned, some of them were tarred and feathered, and, it’s said, even little children taunted them in the streets. Most of the Millerites abandoned their leaders to return to their previous churches or join the Shakers. Others continued to wait for the return of Christ, as did Miller himself until his death in 1849.


Some advanced varying theories of what had happened – the world had entered a “Great Sabbath” during which no believer should work for a thousand years (ha ha, nice one); the saved should behave like children, based on the words of Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it;” Christ was waiting to be “prayed down” to Earth, because He’s pouty like that. The Advent Christian Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church eventually emerged from the chaos.

4) Halley’s Comet passed by the Earth in 1910 and 1987, and both times, people predicted dire consequences. In 1910, Camille Flammarion predicted the end! Of all life! On Earth! Apparently the comet did come especially close that year, so I won’t tease him like I was planning to.


In the 1980s, Leland Jensen, religious leader and known failed apocalypse predictor, predicted that Halley’s Comet, the comet that has passed through the inner solar system every 75-76 years for millennia without bothering anybody, would suddenly up and collide with the Earth in 1987. It did not.

It did shout "Fuck you Leland Jensen" as it went by, though.

5) Seventeenth-century Irish bishop James Ussher predicted the end of the world would occur on 23 October 1997, because, according to him, that date would mark 6,000 years since the creation of the world. I’m not sure why he thought 6,000 years was a good expiration date for the world, but I’m guessing it’s easy to predict Armageddon when it’s three or four hundred years away.


6) I think most of you will remember the Heaven’s Gate cult founded by Marshall Applewhite in the early 1970s. Followers believed that the Earth was about to be “recycled,” or, you know, wiped clean of all life. Furthermore, they believed that they were, in fact, extraterrestrial beings who would be saved from the destruction of Earth when they advanced to the “Next Level” by rejecting all earthly attachments and shedding their physical “vehicle.”  When Comet Hale-Bopp passed by the Earth in 1997, Applewhite convinced his followers that a space ship was following the comet and that they all needed to commit suicide so that their souls could board the ship.

On 26 March 1997, police discovered 39 dead cult members, including Applewhite himself, in a San Diego mansion. They committed suicide by swallowing sedatives and vodka, mixed with pudding or applesauce. Most of the victims were also smothered with plastic bags. Creepily, the mass suicide took place in three shifts over three days, with the survivors helping their friends (kill themselves!) and cleaning up after them. Two groups of fifteen offed themselves on the first two days, and a final group of nine on the last day. They were all found lying neatly in their bunk beds, dressed in identical costumes. Each one carried a five dollar bill and three quarters, which is just the kind of morbid detail I find fascinating.

Was it for cab fare?