Die another day

Well, another apocalyptic prediction goes unfulfilled, though Harold Camping has cleverly countered his critics by proposing a new date: 21 October. That oughta hold ’em. It’s oh so easy to mock such fatuous certainty (especially after the non-event), but I wonder if instances like this one, not uncommon in themselves, are simply extreme manifestations of something more broadly present, and not altogether unfounded. After all, the end of the world is neither provable nor disprovable by observation: the only assurance we have that the world won’t end tomorrow is that it never has before. The absurdity of doomdsay predictions lies, I think, in the confidence of a fixed date and time, not the concept of the world’s end. The idea in Genesis that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth is not in itself absurd, but Bishop Ussher’s idea, that God created the heavens and the earth on 23 October, 4004 BC, is. Doomsday is not confined to the religious (remember Y2K?). Sometimes it borders on hysteria, but it has more to do with moral sensitivity than with emotional or rational responses to data. Almost any worldview with a moral imperative has an implied apocalypse; the end of the world as a natural consequence, if not a divine judgment, of human error. Climate change is the obvious modern example, but every age has its judgment day as the climactic settlement of its peculiar debts. At one level, there is something healthy about a sense that our lives are contigent, temporary, lived at the mercy of events beyond our control – and that our debts will have to be paid.