“No man has learned anything rightly until he knows that every day is Doomsday.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Several weeks ago, we shared with you pagan stories of resurrection in honor of Easter. Tune in next Friday for pagan stories of the end of days, in honor of – wait, not “in honor of” – in response to, the hoopla surrounding the doomsday prediction for May 21, 2011. If you are not familiar with this prediction, Family Radio founder, Harold Camping, broadcast in 2009 that May 21st 2011 would be judgement day. You can ask the Oracle (aka Google) for more information. There are several sites, such as judgementday2011.com dedicated to this day of doom.

For the record, the Pagan Princesses do not believe Jehovah or any other god will usher in the end of days next Friday.*

Still, I supposed it makes sense to ponder the end of the world or the end of humanity as we know it. Most faiths have creation stories, so it strikes a balance that most will have apocalyptic stories, too. After all, faith helps us grapple with the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

NPR aired a story about this prediction and interviewed Mr. Camping, as well as some people who believe his prediction. One interesting segment revealed this quote:

Camping himself has had to do some recalculation. He first predicted the end would come Sept. 6, 1994. He now explains that he had not completed his biblical research.

“For example, I at that time had not gone through the Book of Jeremiah,” he explains, “which is a big book in the Bible that has a whole lot to say about the end of the world.”

Unfortunately, Camping is not alone in his hysteria-inducing blather. Many other have made doomsday predictions and failed, as well. I suppose its rather admirable for him to admit his 1994 mistake. He must have really hit the book after that blunder; it took him another 15 years to make a new prediction. Lucky for him, doomsday was still two years away from his 2009 broadcast. Imagine his embarrassment if the end of days had been set for 2006. His prediction would have been too late! I suppose then it would have been a postdiction, more specifically, it would have been vaticinium ex eventu (which basically means religious postdiction).

Indeed, doomsday predictions seem to be part of the human experience, dating as far back as 2800 BC. The site A Brief History of the Apocalypse provides a nice overview of doomsday predictions (sadly this site has not been updated since the fall of 2005). Including the May 21st prediction, I counted 347 failed doomsday predictions to-date. Oddly enough, nearly 25% of these predictions were for doom in the 1990s. Statistical anomaly? Or was it the influence of the X-Files?**

Note that doomsday predictions are not always based in religion. There have been several predictions based in, what was presumably, science. Listverse summarizes a few of the more famous doomsday blunders, including Halley’s Comet in 1910, a planetary conjunction in 1916, the Jupiter Effect in 1982, and the Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997.

It’s easy enough to scoff at these predictions, but they are not without consequence. There is a terrific Star Trek (TNG) episode that warns of the dangers of vesting in doomsday predictions. It’s called “Devil’s Due.” Give it a look-see. But we don’t need to turn to fiction to learn this lesson. Recall Heaven’s Gate, a group so convinced a spaceship was trailing Hale-Bopp, they committed mass suicide in the conviction their souls would ascend to the alien vessel and members would, thus, evacuate Earth.

So, smirk or sneer at the newest iteration of Y2K. But then be thoughtful about what this kind of fear (and fear-mongering) does to people, especially those who are already socially, politically or economically marginalized. Think about Adrienne and Joel Martinez (from the NPR story), their toddler and their unborn child. The Martinez’s are so vested in May 21st as the end of days, they will have exhausted all their financial resources come May 22nd. As silly as I find their choices, I cannot bring myself to mock them.

I have no problem, however, mocking charlatans like Harold Camping. Regardless of the religion or science behind doomsday predictions, those who purport to know when (or if) the end of days is nigh are the worst kind of drama queens – spreading fear to gain notoriety. Shame on you, Mr. Camping! Your predictions are a load of crap. You, Harold Camping, are hereby banned from the realm!

* Okay Wolf-Rayet, if you choose next Friday to send a gamma ray our way, I am going to be super(nova)-pissed.

** The 1990s predictions on the A Brief History of the Apocalypse site were not related to the changing millennium. So, the deluge of doom in the 1990s is probably a result of people vomiting on the newfangled Internet. However, I am open to thoughts on whether or not doomsday predictions are correlated with political and / or social phenomenon (*cough* Clinton sex scandal *cough*).

+ Feature image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows infant stars “hatching” in the head of the hunter constellation, Orion.