It's 5 o'clock somewhere, says the fellow who wants a head start on cocktail hour. It's always Armageddon somewhere, says Reason magazine's Jesse Walker, writing on man's fascination with mankind's demise.
Some people took seriously the alleged Mayan calendar prediction of the end of the world on Dec. 21. Some just used it as an excuse to start cocktail hour early. The rest of us made jokes. But Armageddon scenarios have been taken quite seriously through the years, often mixed with religious fervor or politicized blame-gaming.
“The closer you look at American history,” Walker writes for Reason's January issue, “the more it seems that someone somewhere is always in apocalyptic time. Sometimes the whole country seems to plunge in together, as in such convulsive periods as the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the aftermath of 9/11. Other times a distinct subculture detects an eschaton invisible to everyone else.”
Author Hilary Mantel picked up on this theme in “Wolf Hall,” her novel set in the Tudor era of England: “Some said the world would end in 1533. Last year had its adherents too. Why not this year? There is always somebody ready to claim that these are end times, and nominate his neighbor as the Antichrist.”
The Mayan myth boosted tourism in Central America, spawned a million jokes and left the world unchanged. Other end-time beliefs led to profound — and deadly — change. Walker notes the effects of such beliefs on the settlement of the New World. America was seen as the refuge from an Old World apocalypse. “God hath provided this place to be a refuge,” declared Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop, “for many whome he meanes to save out of the generall calamity.”
In the 19th century, the “Millerites” abandoned their New England homes and gathered to greet the end of the world. To quote Mark Twain's account, they “put on their ascension robes, took a tearful leave of their friends, and made ready to fly up to heaven at the first blast of the trumpet. But the angel did not blow it.'”
After storm sirens blew in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Walker wrote, “There were enough signs of the last days to fill a thousand folk ballads: a drowning city, death and starvation, martial law, rumors of barbaric behavior.” One survivor told a TV news reporter that it was “kind of like the end of the world.”
Global warming alarmists use massive storms to advance their agenda, spreading their own form of end-times hysteria. Somehow, life goes on. But the lives of nearly 200 American Indians didn't continue following an 1890 massacre which sprang from reaction to the Ghost Dance movement that contained a world-ending scenario.
Since 1970, Hal Lindsey's “The Late Great Planet Earth” has sold more than 35 million copies. Its argument that Armageddon was nigh hasn't come true. Nor have the pronouncements of all the panic merchants who based predictions not on Scripture but on the religion of environmentalism or the exploitation of tragedies. The Cold War was rife with worry about world-ending destruction. That passed. But what lies behind the Islamic Curtain remains cause for concern. Also the weather.
What 9/11 and Katrina remind us of, Walker concluded, is that “the last years never quite seem to arrive. We exit apocalyptic time. A city starts to rebuild. Normal life resumes. Many people's worlds come to an end, but the world itself persists. And then the next disaster strikes from above, or the next millennial fever surges up from below. The end times never really end. It's always Armageddon somewhere.”
So raise a glass and toast the new year. It's always five o'clock somewhere.
McReynolds is The Oklahoman's Opinion editor.