“Is this the end of the world?” The question came up often early in the pandemic. The end. It’s so logical that just about every religion addresses it. It bookends “the beginning” with the symmetry that we so covet that it’s almost impossible to think the world won’t end. Even astronomers tell us the sun will betray us, eventually becoming a red giant and consuming our home planet. Apart from being the greatest equalizer, however, religious speculation places the end way, way before then. A friend sent me an article in National Geographic by Greg Miller titled “These 15th-Century Maps Show How the Apocalypse Will Go Down.” It describes literal maps of the eschaton, and guess what? It was right around the corner back then too.
Maps to the end of the world have been around for a long time. With a bizarre Schadenfreude, many Christian groups eagerly anticipate the end of all this. I grew up with charts and maps telling just how it was going to happen. Like all of you, I’ve lived through many ends of the world. These folks must be the strangestly optimistic bunch on the planet—when it fails to come on schedule they pencil in another date, preferably in their own lifetime. They want to see it. It will, after all, prove that they were right and the rest of the world was wrong. Who wouldn’t want that kind of validation? The apocalypse has been around since long before the fifteenth century. It started in the New Testament, if not before.
This eagerness to end the world would be considered pathological were it not religious. We’ve been about the closest we’ve been to a human-made apocalypse under Trump. Make no mistake, some Christians were banking on it when they cast their ballots. We tend to overlook this destructive way of thinking because some biblical literalists (and they don’t all agree, just put a premillennialist together in a room with a postmillennialist and watch what happens) claim that it’s what the Good Book says. The rest of society, disinclined to look it up for themselves, accept that roadmaps to the end of the world exist in the Bible. They don’t, but that doesn’t prevent everyone from fifteenth-century monks to present-day televangelists declaring when it will be. That there is an end is taken for granted. The astronomers look at their watches and sigh that we’ve got a couple billion years left, at least. No, the pandemic wasn’t the end of the world although many Christians were hoping it just might be.