Let’s talk about something cheerful. I nominate the apocalypse.
You may not have noticed, but we survived an end-of-the-world moment again this week when a lunar eclipse made the moon look sort of reddish. This is known as a Blood Moon, and, in certain circles, it was seen as the Start of Something Big.
“The heavens are God’s billboard,” said televangelist John Hagee, author of the best-selling Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change. This is the same Hagee who once theorised that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment to New Orleans for scheduling a gay pride parade. He later apologised. And moved on. To the moon.
As doomsday scenarios go, this one is not particularly original: the basic evangelical vision of trouble in the Middle East followed by the Second Coming. And red moons happen all the time. If you wanted a sign of the end of days this week, there are lots better candidates. You can read all about that in my upcoming book, The End of Guacamole.
The Blood Moon predictions are going to be with us for a while because there will be four of the same lunar eclipses over the next year and a half. And Hagee’s theories have sold a heck of a lot of books on Amazon. But they lack the exciting specificity of the classic end-of-the-world prophecies. Like polar shifts (earth crust moves, triggering volcanoes, floods and eliminating all life-forms) or the Amazing Criswell, who was waiting for a black rainbow to show up and suck off all the oxygen.
Television is taking up the slack. It’s awash with doomsday stories. Killer viruses, planetary power failures, nuclear war. Plus your basic Rapture. Chris Carter, the X-Files creator who’s offering The After, was apparently really moved by that Mayan-calendar-ends crisis in 2012. “There was nervousness in the air… Certainly the power of that played a part in my desire to do something about a world-changing event,” he told TV Guide.
People, do you remember being all that worried about the Mayan calendar? Or zombies? Zombies are still so popular. It would be nice if we were being barraged with a new series about a utopian future where everybody got along except your occasional Romulan. Yet here we are.
The feel-good side of end-of-the-world predictions is that everything seems so nice the day after. We’re still here! There’s oxygen!
Unless you’re someone like Robert Fitzpatrick, a follower of the late Harold Camping, a serial apocalypse predictor who claimed Judgment Day was going to be May 21, 2011. Fitzpatrick spent what he said was his life savings putting warning signs in the New York City subway system. (“Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever!”).
Remember Y2K and all the millennium end-of-the-world scenarios? Years ago, I worked on a project to collect all the predictions about terrible things that were going to happen in the year 2000, and I enjoyed it very much. I talked to a guy living on a mountain who was both waiting for the end and writing a movie script about it. Also, an official in a small Illinois town that had been founded on a plan to airlift refugees into space. This was all based on the work of the town’s founder, Richard Kieninger, who was eventually kicked out amid rumours of sexual misbehaviour. The rest of the community decided to just concentrate on building self-sufficient lifestyles.
And then, the pope! It was only a year ago that the College of Cardinals was meeting in the Vatican to elect a pope, and some people were pointing out that this one was going to be the last pontiff, according to a 12th-century prediction made by St Malachy, who also mentioned the destruction of Rome and “many tribulations” everywhere.
True, Malachy’s list was probably a forgery. But who would have predicted that Catholics would get a new pope who was obsessed with the poor and totally uninterested in people’s sex lives? Nobody. Talking heads sniffed when Francis was chosen and said the cardinals “probably did not come up with the most progressive pope in the history of the world”. Actually, that would have been me.
Our moral today is that things often turn out better than we might have imagined. Look on the bright side. Even when it’s dark and the moon appears to be a rather unusual colour.
Dilip Bobb’s column The Flip Side will be back next week.