The world didn’t come to an end last Friday, although the way the wind blew and rattled windows, and trees came crashing down in many parts of the region it certainly led to thoughts that it sounded as if it might be happening.
Whether it’s due to a guilt complex or an unconscious wish for a final solution, periodic beliefs that the world is in some way about to be overcome in some manner have taken place at various times. The calendar of the Maya Indians is only on example of this odd human quality. Sometimes the last judgment is expected, and at other times some sort of physical catastrophe is predicted.
In 1833 in this country a man named William Miller gained notoriety by predicting that Christ would return to earth for the last judgment in 1843.
Miller gained a number of followers who prepared for the event. The year 1843 arrived and nothing happened. Miller said his calculations must have been in error and that the apocalypse would happen in 1845.
When 1845 passed, Miller’s adherents gradually dwindled and Miller himself died within a few years. But two church sects that began about the time of his predictions are still with us. They are the Advent Christian Church and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
Within a few years, people like Mark Twain were making fun of Miller and the “Millerites.”
But more recent scholarship has tended to debunk the scornful talk that the Millerites arrayed themselves in white robes and climbed to the tops of mountains in order to be ready for the Second Coming.
Particular dates have had arcane meanings for some people, and certain numbers, especially those perceived in the Book of Revelations, have been used to predict natural or religious upheavals. The hymn, “Dies Irae” tells about what will happen when the Second Coming arrives. The number 666 has had special meaning for some. Back in 2006 some people wondered if something weird would happen on the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year.
Round numbers have also been weighted with special meaning. As the year 1000 approached, some of the intellectuals in Europe wondered if that would be an apocalyptic time. I have not seen anything written that those who believed such a thing were objects of scorn in subsequent years.
As one public radio commentator put it not long ago, the world has been around for more than 4 billion years, so the chances of its disappearing overnight are not very great.
Kendall Wild is a former editor of the Herald.MORE IN Commentary
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