To the prophets of disaster and their cohorts, it must feel like such a disappointment to come so close to global destruction, only to escape the rapture at the last minute—only to realize there never was any real danger. And whether Armageddon was supposed to arrive via major catastrophe, religious prophecy, scientific miscalculation, or shadowy world government, we’ve squeaked through scores of (imagined) end-game scenarios.
The Dawn of the Nuclear Era 1945-present
Even J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, understood the world-shattering possibilities: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Rather than ducking, covering, and waiting for the end, he became an outspoken critic of nuclear proliferation. His little creation, though, fueled a million would-be road warriors, and somewhere between the dawn of the Cold War and its end, caused us to eschew the teachings of our parents and lose all trust in authority figures. After Watergate and Vietnam, this is understandable. One little split atom also led to numerous apocalypse scares, including George Van Tassel and Jim Jones in 1967, Leland Jensen in 1978, Elizabeth Clare Prophet in 1990, and millions of schoolchildren every year.
Harold Camping, Harold Camping, Harold Camping, et. al. 1994-2012
The late Christian radio evangelist Harold Camping wasn’t exactly a master rapture-slinger, but he was an impressive rebutter. Originally, the gangly god monger set our date of imminent demise for around September 6th, 1994. When fire and brimstone failed to rain from the sky, the dour prophet realigned the stars to September 29th, then October 2nd, and eventually—this time for sure—March 31st 1995. If I’d heard about this particular end-times prediction, I don’t recall, because I was preoccupied with a near-earth asteroid that could’ve to hit the earth in April of ‘95. Never one to tuck tail between legs, the vague vicar rearranged his apocalypse (fifth time’s the charm!) for May 21st 2011 before recanting his end-times predicting entirely as “sinful.”
Heaven’s Gate March 26th, 1997
Comets. What a bunch of jerks. Always running circles around our planet, flaunting their delightful tails of icy debris, and making us all wish we could hang out in outer space. And what’s worse, they get to hide alien spacecrafts inside their icy plumes. Wait what? After fifteen years of preparation, acolytes of the Heaven’s Gate Cult in California decided the return of the Hale-Bopp comet coincided perfectly with their need to depart the planet before it was recycled (now that’s some serious ecology). At the time, I was fresh out of high school when this batch of kook-a-dooks decided to shed their corporeal form, becoming “children of the Next Level” so they could hitch a ride on the mothership. But after nearly 40 people ended their lives to escape the earth, all I could think was what the hell did Applewhite put in the Kool-Aid?
Y2K January 1st, 2000
I expressly recall awaiting our imminent demise on the cusp of Y2K with a six pack and several survivalist-oriented friends on the phone line (pre-cellular saturation). While I scanned Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year, they scanned the police and military bands for signs, sounds, and hints of impending disaster. As the ball dropped, I admit I was slightly buzzed and mildly anxious. After a tense minute, a then ten less tense minutes, and a few hours of completely relaxed sleep, I noticed planes hadn’t crushed my mom’s clothesline and the microwave wasn’t flashing 666. Game on. The worst was behind us.
Apocalypto December 21st, 2012
By 2012, my tolerance for world-ending catastrophes had long-since peaked. On top of that, those crazy Hollywood bastards made a Mel Gibson feature out of a centuries-old Mayan prophecy—which by many accounts wasn’t even accurate, due to the divinatory tablet being partially damaged somewhat illegible. Even with incomplete wording, there were several possible interpretations of the Mayan’s words. Whether we were in for a shift in worlds or a shift in ethos, I couldn’t give two shifts by this point. Bring on the faux-pocalypse, I thought And, surprise surprise, when December 22nd dawned, the earth was still in one piece. Wrong again, doomsters. Don’t fret, though, the Mayans might have more potential apocalyptic predictions waiting to be unearthed.
CERNtain Doom September 23rd 2015
Since CERN was already a weird rubbing point for the oracles of oblivion, it came as little shock when they foretold that those rapscallion particle physicists at the Large Hadron Collider were about to break the world. These most recent gloomy conjectures came as the massive atom-smasher’s cycle was supposedly working up to a massive, dimension-rending, black hole-forming collision. According to the official reports, the LHC operated at normal output levels in September—but who can believe those sheisty eggheads? After all, they brought us nuclear bombs and fluoridated water and penicillin and free Internet and a better understanding of our universe. Shame on them. Yet, shock of all shocks, we survived September without any black hole-devouring or multi-dimensional squid god conquests.
Of course it doesn’t end here. Doomsayers will continue to spew their venom until the actual end of days, most likely 7 billion years from now, when the sun becomes a red giant star.