The prediction, made by Mayan Indian astronomers in their 'Long Count calendar' has certainly generated a lot of talk, in the old media as well as among bloggers and other denizens of the Internet. Even a Christian web forum which I used to frequent has been caught up in speculation and even some nervous anxiety about the possibility of the world ending as predicted by the Mayan 'prophets.'
The History Channel, long known as a repository of very little 'history' and a lot of sensationalism, has hyped the 'End of the World' story for some time now. I have wondered why the History Channel devotes so much time these days to the supernatural (Nostradamus' cryptic 'prophecies', Bigfoot and alien stories, ghosts, etc.) rather than to actual scholarly information about real history.
Why is this prophecy being treated by many people with such earnest seriousness?
This article addresses the question of whether people are actually becoming more superstitious (and perhaps more credulous, in my own opinion) than in past eras, popularly thought to be 'backward' by comparison to our time.
''Just how strong the world resurgence in superstition and magic is was made evident by a report published by professor Steve Smith, historian at Essex University in England. For many years both China and Russia went to great lengths to eliminate popular beliefs in such things, yet today the Chinese are investing lots of money in ancestral temples while sorcery and faith healing are gaining in popularity at weddings.
Tarot cards were once banned in Russia, yet today fortune telling has become very fashionable indeed and there are many reports of a dramatic increase in the incidence of witchcraft. White witches were, for many years, regarded with deep suspicion in the west, as evidenced by the witch trials of medieval times; yet in the USA and other western societies today, especially amongst the young, there is a growing interest in it.''
I've read of a number of studies which indicate that, despite the fact that today's Western people have more education (in terms of years of schooling, at least) than our ancestors, we are not necessarily smarter or more rational and logical. Much of today's education is dumbed-down and is loaded with propaganda and bias, so I would argue that today's people are actually less intelligent than our predecessors in many ways, and the fact that many of us are pleased with our supposedly superior intellects actually makes things worse.
According to this article the fact that the world is becoming more 'frightening' to many people makes for more superstition, and in the opinion of the writer, more 'mental disorders' like 'Obsessive Compulsive Disorder'.
''A recent report from the Mental Health Foundation found that fear levels are rising in the UK, and more than seven million of us currently suffer anxiety problems severe enough to affect our health.
A huge 77 per cent of us are convinced that post-9/11, the world has become a more frightening place.
That might explain why, increasingly, we're taking refuge in small rituals, much as the ancients did, to ward off bad luck. If we can't control the wider world, we feel perhaps we can at least exert some power over our small corner of it.''
Now, I am a skeptic when it comes to things like the belief in 'mental illness' and putting credence in modern witch-doctors known as 'mental health experts', but I think there may be some truth in this explanation for the apparent growth in superstitions.
Much of the basis for superstition is that human beings can either know events in advance by some kind of divination (as with the so-called 'Mayan Calendar') and that they can change their 'fate' or ward off certain events by doing various rituals or rites. Though those who dislike Christianity insist on calling Christianity superstition, Christianity flatly denies that human beings, under their own powers, can actually know the future, and also denies the idea that people can 'create reality' by means of 'visualizations' or rituals, such as using spells or fetishes or talismans.
It does seem that the more our society has rejected Biblical Christianity, the more superstitions thrive, what with people subscribing to New Age/occult beliefs like astrology, fortune-telling, 'creative visualization' and so on.
G.K. Chesterton is often quoted as having said that those who stop believing in God do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything. Actually, the quote is based on a passage in one of his Father Brown stories, The Oracle of the Dog:
"It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.''
Is it possible that the Mayan Calendar is valid and accurate? I suppose almost anything is possible, although the Bible tells us that 'no man knows' the day or the hour of the return of the Lord, if that is how we understand the 'end of the world.' Actually the Bible does not say that the world will be ended, as in obliterated, but it will be transformed. There will be 'new heaven and a new earth.'
As for the Mayans, how are we to be sure that the translations of their peculiar ideographs or pictographs (they had no alphabet in our understanding of that term) are accurate? Surely there is much room for the possibility of error in translation or interpretation.
Even if we believed that the predictions in those 'calendars' could possibly be accurate, what good does it do to believe that the world will end next December? It seems to me that such a belief would lead to despair, to a feeling of futility and nihilism. It might lead to the fatalistic 'let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.' Perhaps that's the actual philosophy of many of the 'believers' of the Mayan prophecy; they simply want something to validate their fatalism.
And it helps that the Mayan prediction has the stamp of 'noble savagery' on it; to the typical post-modern, secular Westerner, Christianity is superstition while the Mayan Calendar has the cachet that is accorded only to non-White cultures. The post-modern, post-Christian Westerner's stance is always incredulity and scoffing towards our own oracles of God, but absolute credulity towards anything that comes from witch-doctors, shamen, gurus, and all sources that have the air of the exotic and 'primitive' about them.