2.1. Empirical observation as a psychological root



Will the world ever end? The environment signals us that nothing lasts forever: plants, insects, animals, humans, rivers, mountains, planets, stars and even the Universe itself – everything seems to be governed by the law of succession between existence and inexistence. Hence, it is easy to believe that our species will cease to exist at a certain moment. In reaction to the environment, human beings are biologically programmed to do whatever it is necessary to ensure the survival of our species. We work, learn, invent, built, expand, breed, help each other, we are ready to give up our lives for our children, some people are even expressly preparing for the end of the world – all to ultimately avoid our greatest fear: the failure of the species. The prospect of losing our multimillenary achievements or to disappear as a species makes the end of the world our worst nightmare; even worse than our individual death.

Our constant instinctual struggle to ensure the survival of our species causes various psychological reactions. First of all, the end of the world is a mystery, and mysteries exert an irresistible attraction upon the human psyche. Many of us believe that the end of the world is inevitable, but no one knows exactly how and when it will happen. These gaps of information make the image of the end very appealing because they can be filled according to our own needs.

Second, the idea of the end of the world offers a very exact place inside a linear and coherent history that explains the world in an adequate way where other means of explanation failed to do it. The unshakable belief that the world will end at a certain point in the future gives people the feeling that they can control their own destiny up to that moment.

Third, the idea of an imminent end removes the feeling of pointlessness. Like magic or fairy tales, the prospect of the end helps man forget his worries; it pulls him out of the monotony of the present time and it transposes him, at least for a short period of time, in an out of the ordinary spatial and temporal context. The general end makes the individual feel special, giving him the impression that by assisting at an event of such grandeur his destiny is not trivial. It is an unconscious refuge through which the individual gives value to his own existence and voices his own frustrations. Most fatalistic messages speak about the present time or the near future, placing the transmitter and the receiver in a possible material context. Current events, which can influence current subjects, always gain crucial importance. Every generation of people believes that its problems are the most important ever. Thus, as history flows without interruption and the fatalistic scenarios fail, the following generations concentrate on their own contemporary events, ignoring the past. In this way people always see “signs” in their times and the end of the world is a constantly fresh subject.

And fourth, the issue of the end of the world focuses on the connection between the evolution of the individual man and the evolution of mankind. It is about the relation and the synchronization of the microcosm with the macrocosm. Although mankind is the sum of the individuals that are part of the same species, it has always been seen as a singular personified entity. All the features, the processes and the experiences of the human individual have been transposed in humanity. So, humanity is expected to suffer a human-like evolution: it was born, has grown and developed, it gets old, it learns, suffers, it is hurt, makes mistakes, decays and it finally dies.

Because death is preceded by the decline of the body, the approaching end of the world is most often sustained through the identification of a so-called generalized decadence: “the world is decaying,” “everything is going from bad to worse,” “it is not as good as before,” or “people have become worse.” The image of the general decadence is well engraved in the human psyche, being very active even today in religious circles. For example, a naive interpretation of the primordial state (Genesis 2-3) and the Parable of the Children (Mathew 19:14) may lead to the conclusion that human beings experience the closest state to perfection at the moment of birth. Through birth man becomes a part of the material universe and he starts to experience a process of physical and spiritual alteration until death. The same pattern is applied to mankind, which from a moral and religious point of view is believed to have a degrading evolution headed toward a fatal point. In the 7th-century crypt of abbot Mellebaudis, near Poitiers, France, the following inscription was found: “Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. All things are getting worse as days pass, because the end is approaching.”1

The preconception of a physical and moral decay of the world is very old, being part of many legends, myths and ancient religious beliefs regarding the evolution of mankind. In Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra laments the continuously decaying times; in Hinduism the current world is in Kali Yuga, the fourth degenerated era; in the Bible, Noah was saved by an arch from an all-purifying flood sent by God as a punishment for the decadence of mankind. And yet, common sense and historical progress categorically contradict the concept of the world’s decadence. All religions relate evil with immorality and disorder, and good with morality and order. If the world has indeed become worse in terms of spirituality, this would be reflected in the material plan through an increasing disorder. It is true that mankind has suffered ups and downs, but in general it becomes increasingly organized. This means that, even if some people assume the worst, the decline of the world has nothing to do with an actual decadence of times, but with the decay of the one that emanates this judgment. This usually comes from older persons, whose future can bring them nothing else than more weakness and suffering. And because in pre-industrial society the elders represented the supreme authority of the family, the conception of the general decadence easily spread. Thus, any future change can only be a change for the worse, because only the days of their youth were promising. A golden age is placed in the past, the decadent present is condemned and the future is imagined even darker – an idea very well expressed by the historian Edward Gibbon: “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.”2 Currently, the decadence of the world is a cliché repeated by people who have no idea about history or an instrument of religious propaganda meant to put in a positive light certain groups or doctrines.

The general decadence is also similar to the belief that everything which is new is wrong and only what is old is good. The age, or the test of time, is too often seen as an irrefutable proof of legitimacy. In this way silly traditions and absurd beliefs are still practiced without being questioned for the simple reason that they have the support of hundreds or thousands of years.

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