If you are reading this story, pause, and breathe a great big sigh of relief.
The highly prophesied end of the world — Dec. 21, 2012 — has arrived with a startling absence of falling stars, planetary implosion or any brouhaha of destruction.
Didn’t the Mayas predict today to be end of the world? Wasn’t there supposed to be something, perhaps a phantom planet hurtling toward Earth, ready to send us the way of the dinosaurs?
Well, according to academic experts and religious leaders, the whole “end of the world” thing was a bunch of hooey. Here’s why.
Before Dec. 21, there had been two prevailing notions for how or why the world would cease to be.
The first dealt with some sort of astronomical object — sometimes called Nibiru — destined for an Earthly collision. University of Iowa professor of physics and astronomy Steven Spangler explained why that didn’t happen today, and why it is also very unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future.
“People keep track of the near Earth asteroids,” he said. “None of them are anywhere nearby or are going to collide with the Earth anytime soon, certainly not this month.”
But what about the Sun? Couldn’t the Sun become hyperactive and expel energy enough to eviscerate our little blue planet?
Even though the Sun is entering a stage of Solar maximum — a period of hyperactivity once every 11 years where the sun expels large amounts of mass — Spangler doesn’t think so.
“All people should really be worried about is damaging satellites,” he said. “Buildings are not going to fall. These things have been going on for millennia, and until around the last 150 years, people didn’t know these were occurring.”
Mayan calendar ends
OK, so the Sun isn’t going to blow us up, but what about the Mayas? Their calendar ended on Dec. 21, 2012, surely that was a sign of the impending apocalypse.
Catherine Komisaruk, a UI associate professor of history who focuses on Latin America says it is not that cut and dry.
“I think the calendar that has brought the idea of the end of the world coming this month into popular circulation is a form of the calendar that Mayan scholars call the long count,” she said. “It is the Mayan parallel of what we would think of as a millennia.”
Komisaruk said one long count is 5126 of our Gregorian calendar years, and this current count began in 3114 B.C., which, if you do the math, would have it end in 2012.
And while she admitted there is mystery surrounding what event caused the Mayas to began this particular count at that time, she said there are multiple examples of ancient Mayan hieroglyphic etchings referencing points in time before this count, and more importantly, after this current long count, suggesting the Mayas placed no particular significance on the end of this cycle.
“In fact, some sites from southern Mexico have some predictions of what will happen in the year 3000 or 4000 (of the Gregorian calendar),” she said. “So the new thinking among Mayan scholars is that this idea the Mayas supposedly had the world coming to an end in 2012 is not right, it was just the turning of the calendar in the big way.”
Fine, the scientists and historians are skeptical of 2012, but what about the religious leaders?
Gerald Sorokin, the executive director of the Jewish Shulman Hillel House in Iowa City said the idea of a precise prediction of an apocalyptic event based on religious texts or calendric evidence is nonsense, and that neither he, nor any of the Jewish students he interacts with pay any serious attention to such claims.
“If there is an end of the world, we should be worried about it as being much more likely to come about from environmental destruction, or a political or military conflict,” he said.
While Wesley Bruss, a pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids concurred with Sorokin that attempting to pinpoint an apocalyptic end through Biblical texts is an exercise in futility. Rather, Bruss stressed how important it was his congregation awaited the return of Christ, which he said would trigger a joyous end of days.
“We do look to the future,” he said. “We do look to the return of Christ and say we do not know when he is coming, but he could come at any time.”
And so Dec. 21 has arrived with no end of the world.
Perhaps at the end of the next Mayan long count this discussion can occur once more.
The year 7138? Don’t hold your breath.