If religion is the opium of the masses, then the beliefs about the end of the world are overdoses. The belief in the imminent end of the world is one of the most powerful and radical motivations of the human psyche. It is the overspill of adrenaline of the religious beliefs that combines urgent passions with deep megalomaniac tendencies. Fatalistic beliefs have the ability to generate incredible powers by setting into motion large masses of people and converting their feelings into a collective force. People caught in this kind of phenomena are capable of out of the ordinary things; they can commit the most shocking cruelties or, on the contrary, account for the most exceptional cases of human societies.
The end of the world is a never-ending subject. The obsession of watching the universal clock is a curse that haunts mankind since the dawn of time. For thousands of years the social stage has been populated by fanatics, maniacs and messiahs eager to gain fame and power by publicly proclaiming the imminent end of the world. The return of Jesus Christ, unimaginable catastrophes, Judgment Day, the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon – all these have caused thousands of so-called revelations, behavioral deviations, frenzies, crimes, suicides, economic collapses, migrations, wars and riots. No matter how accurate the calculations have been, no matter how widespread or how well-grounded the interpretations might have been, no matter how much faith was invested or how clear were the signs, the actual coming into being of this so much proclaimed end of the world proved to be a rather obstinate affair. When it comes to the attitudes related to the end of the world, history has pretty much seen it all. And yet, the phenomenon of the year 2012 proved that the image of a general end is still very prosperous.
Fatalistic beliefs usually appear after the consumption of major negative events (wars, crises of any kind or natural catastrophes), extracting their sap from the negative feelings that dominate the groups of people at a given moment: fear, despair, distrust or stress. Concurrently, the apocalyptic message is always dominated by the scenario of the domino effect: “bad” is automatically followed by “worse” until total destruction, and there is never any room for “better.” Catastrophes have always been followed by prophecies that announce bigger catastrophes.
The current tendencies of announcing the end of the world come from two distinct and independent sources. On the one hand, religion says that God, through his infinite power, will certainly and directly end the course of history. On the other hand, science states that our world may perish due to the mechanics of the Universe: meteorites or comets colliding with our planet, the eruption of supervolcanoes or fatal uncontrollable pandemics. Science began to examine this subject only at the end of the 19th century. Hence, the vast majority of the announcements about the end of the world are of religious essence.
We cannot deny our apocalyptic past. History was not shaped only by political and economic interests, but also by the fear or the love of God. In most cases historical context modeled the path of apocalyptic manifestations. But there have also been situations when fatalistic beliefs influenced the course of history by initiating massive social movements, wars and even great discoveries. All Abrahamic religions have the ultimate purpose to prepare the individual and mankind for the moment when God will put an end to this world. And the fear of God and the anger with which he would come at a certain point to judge the entire Creation was the most powerful motive of the Christian pre-industrial existence.
The end of the world is both a social and a religious phenomenon. Although at the moment apocalyptic manifestations are associated with insanity, fraud and manipulation, in the past they have been serious businesses driven by the best of intentions. From heinous crimes, with crusaders who killed Jews and Muslims believing that they acted according to God’s final plans, to ridiculous measures, with fanatics who built shelters and stockpiled huge amounts of food in order to survive imminent catastrophes, the vivid image of the end brought its own contribution to the shaping of the world.
Only after we rehabilitate our apocalyptic genealogy will we be able to see how many and surprising elements of the contemporary culture own their existence to an embarrassing apocalyptic project. Since the 1st century the idea of the end of the world has continuously evolved and transformed. Religious and social aspects that we see as modern have been in fact a part of a phenomenon that started as apocalyptic and, due to the mutations caused by failures, took more stable and distinct shapes. The fact that 2000 or 2012 were years that raised apocalyptic interest was not a coincidence; this apocalyptic appreciation comes from a millenary tradition which we inherited without questioning it.
Some of the readers might find this book insulting or disturbing because it denies their misconceptions and depicts an inconvenient image of the religious reality. When it comes to religion and God many of us are convinced that they possess the truth and they are ready to fight for their beliefs, no matter how absurd they are. But the religious truth cannot subsist without being supported by the historical truth. Religious aspects tend to gain a false image when they are taken out of their historical context. And only the disconnection of religion from history, combined with the ignorance of the people, can explain how most of the current religious doctrines subsist and even thrive, although they are based on lies.
The apocalyptic phenomenon is a part of the larger phenomenon of religion, which in turn is a part of the even larger phenomenon of history. In other words, religion and apocalypticism cannot be truly understood without understanding the historical context they came from. Every prophecy, prediction or messianism is the product and the precise image of the context from which it emerged. Historical context is the key to understanding the apocalyptic phenomenon because it reveals the true face of miracles: prophecies turn into lies, divine visions turn into simple fantasies of delirious minds, entire doctrines or religious systems prove to be shameless plagiarisms. The context, however, involves a multitude of factors, starting from the political situation of a given moment and ending with the scientific discoveries that revolutionized the world. Throughout the millennia the end of the world has not been announced only on religious grounds, but also on historical, mathematical, geographical, mystical, astronomical or astrological ones.
The majority of the Christian apocalyptic manifestations have taken place on two continents: Europe and North America. Accordingly, two millennia of apocalypticism cannot be analyzed without taking into account the most important events in Europe starting with the 1st century and the most important events in America starting with the 16th century. Indeed, the cases exposed in this book represent only a fraction of all apocalyptic manifestations which emerged since the 1st century AD. But no one can say their exact number and, most importantly, they are not all of the same value. The goal of this book is not to simply enumerate isolated events, but to reveal religious mechanisms, to explain the apocalyptic phenomenon as a whole and to offer a new and accurate perspective on religion in general.