Why Is the End of the World Such a Big Deal?

I’ve got a new essay today in Obit that takes the new 2012 movie as an occasion for a reflection on why folks are always so eager to proclaim the end of the world: “You Broke It, You Bought It.”

Though the word “apocalypse” now is usually taken to mean a world-ending calamity, the original Greek word strictly translates as “revelation.” This meaning is as relevant today as when the New Testament’s last book was promulgated with the word as its title. The havoc wrought matters less than what it reveals. Because there’s only our one world, predicting its end is the ultimate jackpot in the contest for Truth. Whoever is right about how the world ends is probably right about other important things as well. Foretelling the apocalypse is an audacious attempt to assert the universality of a particular tradition and its beliefs.

I’ve found this stuff more and more worth thinking about lately as a way of exploring the imaginary dimensions of the climate crisis. What kinds of ends of the worlds have cultures imagined previously? What will the end of our world really be like?

Want more? We’ve got a whole series all about 2012.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.