Some of this is because I grew up in southern California, where it seemed like every cult in the world bloomed, flourished, and spread crazy ideas like wildfire. 1970 was the prime year, if I remember right (which I may not; like so many of my contemporaries, I enjoyed the hell out of the 60s and early 70s): the very first Church of Scientology and the first Hare Krishna temple opened up in Hollywood, and began what would be an amazing rise for the one and a near disappearance for the other. (At the time, you wouldn't have bet that way, because the Hare Krishnas offered free food daily - which meant huge crowds showed up - while the Scientologists charged - which meant attendance was minimal. I guess it proves that if you want to last, you'd better charge - heads up, Internet!) We also had Jesus Freaks, Moonies, Children of God, the Urantia Foundation, Wicca, Satanists, Rosicrucians, and innumerable independent cult-shops that ranged from worshiping aliens, drugs, sex, the leader, and/or all of the above. And - very rare - the occasional really weird one that seemed to actually practice something like peace, love and tolerance.
Apocalypses fit into the whole cult mentality very well, of course. Both are based on fear and exclusion: if you don't join, you will be lost, perhaps even die. If you do join, you will be among the lucky few who will survive, thrive, and start a new heaven on earth, either all by yourself in your hard-won enclave (battling zombies and orcs with your endless supply of weapons), or in a loving cocoon of community that will always nurture, love, and support you, until you piss the leader off.
Anyway, here are some of my favorites from the Apocalyptic hit parade:
Y2K, the Steampunk edition - I could sort of understand when they said that payrolls and Social Security checks would get all screwed up. But when they said that our coffee machines would roll over to January 1, 1900, and quit working because somehow the machine would know that that was before modern electricity... then I knew we had launched into crazy land.
By the way, remember all the ads on TV for Y2K? the see-in-the-dark-tape to let you find your telephone? The places you could order your Y2K supplies? 100 pound tins of whole wheat? Gold coins? And all those people who set up in bunkers in the desert? Did any of them ever come out?
I'll Figure This Out Sooner or Later, or The End of the World Keeps Changing - In 1844, William Miller - founder of the Seventh Day Adventists - predicted the end of the world and the Second Advent of Jesus Christ for March 21, 1844. Didn't happen. Changed it to April 18, 1844. Didn't happen. Then October 22, 1844. Still didn't happen. Now, Mr. Miller wasn't the only man to predict the end of the world and then change the date, multiple times: So did Cotton Mather (multiple 1700's), Herbert W. Armstrong (1936, 1943, 1972, and 1975), Harold Camping (September 16, 1994, May 21, 2011, and October 21, 2011), Ronald Weinland (September 29, 2011, May 27, 2012), and many, many others. (To be fair, Mr. Weinland was in the process of being tried and convicted for tax evasion, so he might have seen this as his way out of a jail cell.) I understand their thinking, if at first you don't succeed, change the date: what I don't understand is the followers, who are just as fervent believers the second/third/fourth time.
The Planets are Coming! The Planets are Coming! Or, Planetary Alignments are Going to Destroy Us All: the earliest prediction I found was (thanks, Wikipedia!) was that of Johannes Stoffler, who in the 1500's said that an alignment of all the planets in Pisces would wipe us all out on February 20, 1524 (didn't happen, so he changed it to 1528). Jeanne Dixon - who in the 1960's was America's Favorite Psychic - said that the alignment would come on February 4, 1962; and the 1974 book "The Jupiter Effect" warned about our threatening neighbor to the north - or whatever direction Jupiter is. And of course we all remember that the whole universe was going to align along an inter-galactic fault-line on 12/21/12 that would tear the earth apart. HINT: The earth is always in alignment with something very large, very heavy, and very far away. Get used to it.
Future Apocalypse Alert (again, thanks, Wikipedia!):
- May 19, 2013 - Ronald Weinland is back, but this may be his get-out-of-jail card.
- 2129 and 2280 - Two Muslim predictions of the end of the world by Said Nursi, a Sunni and Rashad Khalifa, respectively. And, according to some Orthodox Jewish Talmudic scholars, you can split the difference, because D-date begins 2240.
- The Year 10,000 - Yes, folks, some people are already getting nervous about the upcoming Year 10K problem - how are they going to get 5 digits in a 4 digit date-space? (Repeat everything that was said about Y2K here.) Before you buy any more gold coins, however, two points: (1) none of us are going to be around then and (2) come on, we can't even read 5 inch floppies from 1982. I don't think the Morlocks of 10,000 are going to be reading Huffington Post via pdf files...
- 500,000,000 – James Kasting says that, despite our best efforts, by this time the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will drop, making the Earth uninhabitable. Keep driving?
- 5,000,000,000 – the Sun will swell into a red giant, and that’s it.