Wishing for the End-Times
I have personally always found the high interest-level many people have in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic scenarios to be rather strange. The amount of energy people pour into this subject is vast, from books, movies, and TV shows to video games to the sub-culture of “preppers” who build bunkers stacked full of canned goods and have contingency plans in case the non-fiction version of the apocalypse shows up. The various flavors of apocalypse vary widely, too, from the ever-popular Zombie Apocalypse shown in The Walking Dead and its fellows to Biblical-themed stories such as the Left Behind series to environmental disasters like The Day After Tomorrow or the alien invasions of Independence Day and its ilk. Taken all together, it’s bewildering to see just how prominently the end of the world features in our lives today.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t read, watched, or otherwise consumed such material myself. I read about half of the Left Behind series when I was younger, played zombie-apocalypse games of various sorts, and seen a number of movies in this vein as well. I enjoyed all of these to varying degrees, but I’ve never been able to match the enthusiasm that many people seem to have for such things.
Some of this is down to my own personality and views on the world. I like taking life at face-value, without trying to worry about forces I cannot control suddenly wrecking everything. Contemplating the collapse of modern civilization seems for the most part futile, especially since most of the potential causes are, as mentioned above, outside of my control. I also know enough about the past to know that people have been proclaiming the end-times regularly for at least 2000 years now, and yet they still haven’t arrived. Maybe that makes me a cynic, or overly-optimistic about life, but that’s who I am.
There’s something else that bothers me when I look at these things, though. When engaged in conversations about the apocalypse, I am sometimes left with the impression that people have an unspoken longing for the end of the world. Since my mind’s reaction is to recoil from doomsday scenarios, finding that another person would be wishing for such an event, however subconsciously, is truly bewildering to me. How could anyone wish for the deaths of millions of people who have no idea why they’re being killed? Is this why news reports about natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis get such high ratings? What is going on here?
At this point, I have to step back a bit and examine the situation from outside of my immediate reactions to the situation. Why would someone wish for the end-times? From a Judeo-Christian perspective this wish makes perfect sense, since the end of this world results in the righting of all wrongs and the beginning of the heavenly kingdom after the final defeat of evil. Many theologians might argue against the imminence of such an event, but as long as it remains a central part of the doctrine there will be wishes for the apocalypse to arrive sooner rather than later.
There are secular reasons for this wish to crop up, as well, and it is illustrated well by looking at most of the apocalypse stories out there right now, or at least those dealing with the apocalypse itself rather than its’ aftermath. In nearly all of the stories that I have seen on this subject, there is a clear distinction made between those who see the disaster coming and wish to prepare for it (this is where the term “prepper” comes from, after all) and those who are either ignorant of the danger or actively dismissive of it. Thematically this makes sense, as it makes it easier for the author to make clear who the heroes of the story are, the few people the story centers on who usually escape harm because they were ready for the disaster. Everyone wants to be those people in the story, so if you think you’re in a disaster movie then that’s the role you take on. It makes you feel good to think that you are the hero in the story.
Ideology can also play a role in this obsession with doomsday scenarios. For those who favor the “rugged individualist” philosophy, an especially strong streak in American culture, the modern outlook of an interdependent, interconnected world is claustrophobic and oppressive. It therefore makes sense to focus on ways in which the modern world could come crashing down, and then knowingly or unknowingly begin to wish for such things to come about. Once again, it makes one feel good to imagine that you are the hero who knows how to survive when everyone else will be hopelessly lost in a world of chaos that needs the independent mindset which you already possess.
The problem is, we are not living in a disaster movie or an anarchist’s dream scenario. If one of the doomsday scenarios which have been imagined did actually occur, the fact remains that the vast majority of people caught up in it, whether they thought themselves “ready” for it or not, would suffer and die in terrible ways. Survival, if possible at all, would be mostly determined by luck and things such as proximity to the disaster or the availability of aid in the aftermath. Why wish for death? It will be coming for all of us one day, so let’s not start hoping that large numbers of people are going to start dying for any reason. Chances are, you and I will be one of them if it really does happen.