We’ve made it well past May’s doomsday prognostications and mercifully into June. Recent Rapturous predictions of the world’s end have, once again, proven to be greatly exaggerated. So, now that we’ve dodged yet another kooky bullet, is there anything beyond mirth, snarkiness or the need to invent a new-new-Armageddon math to be learned from this age-old trope?
The freaky guy with an “End is Near” sign is, arguably, an archetype. If so, Jung’s thinking would suggest that a doomsday figure (Grim Reaper, for example) coils embedded in our individual and collective memories, in our bones or at least in our more esoteric metaphysical collective unconscious. The power of this archetype (think Darth Vader) is one way to make sense of how much media coverage an unlikely, and now failed, prediction was able to generate; even for a hundred million bucks (what Harold Camping spent) it would be hard for most multinational corporations to get so many of us to be aware of the same thing, even if it was to collectively joke about the same joke.
Another lens through which we might view Apocalypse-Not-Quite-Now is attachment theory. The notion that unresolved trauma in a caregiver correlates very strongly with pockets of “disorganized attachment” (i.e. a propensity to freak out and go to pieces in seemingly benign situations) in their children begs the question: could the effect of unconscious collective human trauma (i.e. repressed, unremembered or forgotten horrors of our human story) play out in projected doom, and continually give rise to new, human-made, cataclysms (think world wars, genocides, nuclear blasts and mishaps)? Just as many varied cultures have flood myths, it is conceivable that tsunamis and other natural disasters have left a collective psychological scar on us humans. The possibility that we have not yet come to conscious terms with the bad things that have already happened to us humans may itself create the need to predict, and re-create, disaster.
One way to think about anxiety (personal and collective) in general is that it is the unremembered past projected into the dreaded future. The would-be value in this as a psychological defense strategy is a neurotic, and unconscious, attempt to ward off something that has, in fact, already happened. In other words, if we suffered an overwhelming psychological meltdown in preverbal life, we might well end up perpetually fearing things like abandonment, poverty or nameless dread and doom, crimping what might otherwise be fun and exuberant lives now. Rewiring for love, safety, fun and creativity is possible—but not if we remain in denial that hurt has happened, that those war horses have left the barn (but have left plenty of shit where they once huddled).
The key to working through trauma is to make it conscious. This is particularly hard when the trauma is pre-memory (i.e. stemming from the first eighteen months of life or from some forgotten ice-age); at a collective level it would seem difficult to work through traumas that remain in the unreachable depths of pre-history—so maybe a little imagination, a leap of faith that the end (or at least that this-is-the-end, my friend, feeling) is not so much near as far—far in the primordial mists of the past.
In this context a more charitable and compassionate (dare we say Christian) take on predictors of the end of the world is to wonder if they (and those who resonate to their terrified messages) are not, in actuality, simply traumatized, albeit unaware, humans. Compassion might also allow for a poetic (perhaps childlike) interpretation of irrational denials of science; thus if dinosaurs and humans are said to have lived “at the same time,” could we rethink this as simultaneous states of mind (i.e. lizard kill-or-be-killed brain existing at the same time as mammalian I-love-you-let’s-attach-and-take-care-of-each-other brain)—an emotional “truth” rather than a literal hundred million year rip in the fabric of time that confabulates breakfast with dinner on our homo-sapiens’ long day’s journey into whatever doom or enlightenment we may muster.
Although it wasn’t good for the propagation of their existence, the infamous Dodo birds that blithely welcomed the conquistadors were without fear—precisely because nothing massively terrible had ever befallen them as a species. They had no memory of extinction and thus they stepped right up to be clubbed into oblivion. Humans, on the other hand, at least when gripped by lizard brain (i.e. fear and conquest) are conquistadors (as well as Lady Macbeths in need of psychological treatment more than a good hand-washing). In other words, we need to remember (or perhaps imagine) painful things of our collective past more than we need to predict and fear them as our future. This can liberate us from the chains of our limiting, and traumatizing, human propensity to disconnect when frightened (our lizard-brains, our neurological and historical “past”) and allow us to arrive at the age of simple human connection (rather than divisive religions and predictions over which to squabble).
While making fun of people like Harold Camping is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel of holy water (like finding three psychotics in a mental hospital who all claim to be Jesus while each says with great and compassionate solemnity that the other two are, so sad to say, crazy), perhaps understanding where this comes from might help stop it from coming around again and again (like a bad nickel).
In our medium-is-the-message days of lurid wars on terror (sponsored by brands X, Y & Z), if one wishes to be a savvy and discerning consumer of mass media it serves to keep the principles of narcissism in mind—for they are ubiquitously displayed on our world stage; particularly the notion that deep feelings of insignificance lead to compensatory needs to be larger than normally human (be it Trump building look-at-me towers or secretly angry and hurt evangelicals threatening the entire world with end).
Perhaps the messenger is the message as well; and perhaps the insecure speak with the most bombast and the most frightened are those who shout that the sky is falling. So do we want to be lead by the insecure and the terrified, or do we want to parent-up and get a grip, not so much on “reality” (as we can endlessly argue about what that may be) but a loving grip on each other—heading toward times good and bad in some sort of love embrace (or at least holding hands)—and open to what comes, rather than pre-determining what shall come.
After all, if you knew that the world was going to end, wouldn’t it be kinder to let people just enjoy life until the meteor hit rather than spoiling what could have, at least, been a perfectly lovely last day? A truly lovely day is an eternal day, one that time cannot take away, one that transcends time and lives forever as it’s happening. And while we do not live this way nearly enough, isn’t that what we’re endlessly seeking, much more than some revelation about a firm date to pencil in for our demise?
So, take a deep breath. What you fear most has, most likely, already occurred. Left in your crib and ignored, you might end up fearing you’ll end up living in the cardboard box behind the Ralphs market (or is that just my quirky old, albeit fading, fear?)—an emotional representation of unremembered angst. Freaked out by your mom’s unmetabolized losses, you perpetually fear being abandoned or abused… never quite realizing that this very expectation, unconscious as it may be, has an awful way of re-constellating itself (i.e. by picking people to trust who have a propensity to hurt us just like our caregivers did).
Finally, if you’re going to take a spiritual tack on any of this, it seems worth keeping in relativistic mind that there is a bright line between eternity (or non-time) and even the very longest stretches of time. What prophets do, according to Heschel anyway, is to deepen the people’s capacity for suffering (and thus for existing fully, loving more completely, even if that love is for the God of what just is). If Jesus teaches us something, “real” or mythical, perhaps it is less about the future that ever or maybe never arrives, and more about an entirely different sort of time altogether. Thus dying and rising (or simultaneously being dead and not being dead) is a quantum idea. Fixing a date on either, beginning or ending, is a binary idea. Our world is binary (actuarial-ized more than actualized), and thus it becomes counted, calculated and doomed to have a start and a finish; but if we see things in a more creative way, we transcend time (and all its gloomy finality) and arrive at the here and now (the place, Jesus, Buddha and Eckhart Tolle alike seem to extol). It’s not that we won’t live and die, from a heartbeat standpoint, it’s that we might truly live from a soul-standpoint.
To relinquish fear and desire is enlightenment. This is synonymous with realizing that fear is the past and desire the future. In the wake of this latest hoopla about the rapture, a number of Christians suggested that we are not supposed to predict, just “be ready.” If being “ready,” not to die, but to live, means loving and bravely experiencing life, then we get back to paradise, to the way that every creature except us mind-mad humans would seem to already experience life, from the bird to the bee to my dog Agnes—and also very young, vulnerable yet transcendent, human children.
So, instead of waiting for the end of the world, let’s usher in its ever-new beginning (and not predict or wait for a “new age” to begin either), finding our true Selves in each other, and thus our eternity in wonder, and love, for what just is.