Over a century ago the English social critic G.K. Chesterton accurately predicted the end result of atheism. “When people stop believing in God,” he said, “they don’t believe in nothing—they believe in anything.”
Recent events are proving him more prescient than he would have imagined. People across the world are now awaiting the end of the world on December 21. Why? Because the ancient Mayan calendar predicted the looming apocalypse over 1500 years ago.
In France—perhaps to distract the French from the real apocalypse unfolding in their national economy—a mountain in the Pyrenees is hiding an alien spaceship inside, waiting for the magic day to zoom back into space.
Some claim a rogue planet is lurking behind the sun, patiently waiting for the moment when it can make its appearance and crash into Earth.
Two men in China are building arks, convinced world-wide floods will occur on the day.
New Age-ers from Culver City, California to Byron Bay, Australia are planning celebrations. What they plan to celebrate is unclear.
A group called Birth2012 is coordinating an international spiritual rebirth for the world, believing December 21 to represent a new age in human history. Their goal is 100 million people united together. You can sign up—and presumably make a donation—at http://birth2012.com.
And in Serbia, a sacred mountain known as Mt. Ranj supposedly conceals an alien structure inside. Noted Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke claimed the peak projected an unusual energy and called it “the navel of the world.” Hundreds of people apparently took Clarke at his word and are even now making their way there to await the end of the world.
Mayan calendars calling for the end of time? Spaceships inside mountains? Arks in China? SERBIA? OK, so these examples are deliberately the craziest I could find. Still, beneath it all there’s a foreboding in many people hearts—What if there’s something to it?
At least some of that feeling is the almost universal angst people are going through right now because of the state of the world economy and the conflict that’s breaking out from the Middle East to the horn of Africa. Maybe the Mayan calendar has morphed with the free-floating anxiety to create this pseudo-pagan hodgepodge that’s running through the internet like wildfire.
A better explanation is what Chesterton observed. It should come as no surprise that as the Christian faith is more and more discounted by the secular public, the alternative isn’t rationalism; instead it’s this kind of terminal silliness in religious garb.
Lost in all the hysteria is the fact that the Mayans didn’t even predict the end of the world on December 21. The calendar they used simply ran out on that day, following a 5,125 year cycle called the Long Count. Their failure wasn’t one of hope but of arithmetic.
That all this occurs at Christmas is significant for two reasons. One, Christianity is so much more coherent and significant than any of these other pseudo-religions that it doesn’t even bear comparing them. The secular world has given up the Christian faith for this? Talk about trading your inheritance for a bowl of porridge. The birth of Jesus promises to the world, not some escapist fantasy or even some dark apocalypse. What it promises is hope. This broken world as well as all of us broken people can live again.
The second reason is more difficult. Unlike the Mayan calendar, Christmas really does signal the end of the world. Once Jesus came, the old world was not the same. In a very real way it ended with the baby in the manger.
That old world was finished the moment Jesus was born in Bethlehem. His birth announced to the world—at least for those willing to listen—that God hasn’t left us to our own devices and hasn’t abandoned us to a grinding, hopeless determinism. Jesus came to set us free. His subsequent life, death and resurrection opened up possibilities of life that we would never have discovered on our own.
In his book Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, David Hart says, “The new world we see being brought into being in the Gospels is one in which the whole grand cosmic architecture of prerogative, power, and eminence, has been shaken and even superseded by a new, positively 'anarchic' order: an order, that is, in which we see the glory of God revealed.”
Anyway, when the long-awaited December 21 rolls around, I plan to be celebrating the birth of Jesus, along with several hundred children, in a special Christmas program in a barn outside of town. We’ll sing songs about Jesus’ birth. Take hay rides. Hear the miraculous story of Jesus’ birth told. Roast marsh-mellows. Have our family pictures taken. It’s going to be a great day. And nowhere will there be seen or heard any sign of the end of the world.
The Mayans didn’t have a clue.