Nicholl: Doomsday prognostication was another shot in the dark

On Saturday at 5:45 p.m., two 13-year-olds (one mine) were parading through a campground near Rock Creek warning people about the end of the world.

On Saturday at 5:45 p.m., two 13-year-olds (one mine) were parading through a campground near Rock Creek warning people about the end of the world.

They asked me if I was worried that the world was going to end at 6 p.m.

“No. I’m good,” I replied, relaxing in my lawn chair, reading my book.

“Then, we’re going to warn others,” they announced.

There was no cellphone coverage to text loved ones, so, off they went on their bikes with a can of bug spray, fly swatter and a bottle of sunscreen—to be safe and protected, they explained.

They chatted with a few people who, fortunately, were more amused than alarmed.

When they returned, the end of the world had morphed into zombies taking over the world.

“What’s an apocalypse?” one wondered.

“What time is it?” asked the other.

Realizing 6 p.m. had passed without a hitch, I offered that it might have been an Eastern Time Zone prediction and we have another three hours. I think they were going to keep warning people, but the amusement factor had leveled off and they were wondering if I was a zombie.

“That would explain a lot,” I thought.

While the teenagers weren’t too serious about the inevitably false prediction, the idea did cross their minds in some way, zombie thoughts notwithstanding.

Fortunately the public-school-educated children saw through the ruse and went on with their lives.

But, some not so logical people apparently did quit jobs and spend their fortunes.

The predictor of this particular end of the world, an 89-year-old American, Christian radio host named Harold Camping, was alive and well, albeit a bit sheepish and confused, the next day.

He had apparently been so convinced, he had spent his fortune advertising this event.

Now, Mr. Camping has revised his tiny error, possibly due to a mathematical miscalculation, and is going with an Oct. 21 end date. That’s fine with me. I’d prefer to wait until after summer, anyway.

Mr. Camping had previously had a 1994 end-of-the-world prediction, but that, of course, was just the end of the world in Vancouver, when the Canucks didn’t win the Stanley Cup.

Presumably, if Mr. Camping keeps predicting, he may well get it right one day. But, judging by his age, he’s running out of time.

The world may indeed end one day, but it will likely be due to something blowing up, not a religious purging, as Mr. Camping expects.

We’ve weathered all sorts of religious storms over the centuries. Nothing has struck us down yet. But a couple of nuclear bombs with the wrong person at the detonator…now that’s a threat.

I don’t mean to mock the prognosticators, (well, of course, I do) but, it’s not a successful hobby to have.  No one has gotten it right yet. And even if they do, there’ll be no one left to congratulate them.

I remember back to junior high when an English teacher with a peculiar sense of humour had us read a poem by a poet known as Mother Shipton. She wrote in 1448 that: “Carriages without horses shall go,” and “Iron in the water shall float, as easily as a wooden boat.”

The class all agreed that she had been right so far. Then we got to the fatal last two lines: “And to an end the world shall come in nineteen hundred and eighty-one.”

Since it was about 1974 at the time, it shook us up a little. I later found out that someone had changed the date among the lines and it was originally 1881. So, I felt a little better.

Now, I’m not so worried about predictions of our demise.

I particularly like the attitude of the New York Police Department (a force that has come close to seeing an end-of-the-world) when asked about concerns about the latest prediction.

According to a hopefully reliable Wikipedia source, the NYPD said: “We don’t plan any additional coverage for the end of the world. Indeed, if it happens, fewer officers will be required for streets that presumably will be empty.”

Can’t argue with that logic. Just keep an eye out for the zombies.

Shelley Nicholl is the author of The Case for Having Children and other assorted irrational ideas, and owns Mad Squid Ink, a professional writing service.


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