The Words of the Carlson Family

The End of the World

Paul Carlson
May, 2001

This month’s article is a counterpart to my recent "Original Thinking," and it concerns the other end of human history. A person’s beliefs about the origin and nature of humanity also defines their assumptions about its destiny.

Most people don’t think too seriously about the future, and if they do, it’s usually pictured as a speeded-up version of the present. Even when doom is (supposedly) expected, life goes on. People get married, and long term mortgages are signed. Still, the idea of an Apocalypse is deeply rooted in western culture.

Not everyone thinks the world will come to an end. The pagan worldview, as exemplified by the Mayan and Hindu calendars, embraces millions of years. While periods of destruction are forecast, overall, these calendars describe a vast cycle of endless (and ultimately meaningless) repetitions. Thus, the ‘resigned to fate’ personal attitude traditional in India and other ancient societies.

Fictional Doomsdays

Doom and gloom come easily to the human psyche. As Rush Limbaugh points out, most people think their personal problems are the worst anyone has ever faced; and their times, the worst ever in history. Illogical though such beliefs may be, this assumption is so deep-seated that many politicians run for office using that type of rhetoric!

Many disaster tales have—if one can use the word—popularized a terrible doomsday. On the Beach and other nuclear war stories crystallized the fears of an entire Cold War generation.

Science fiction has also taken up the call. In Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, a handful of monks struggle to preserve the last remnants of scientific knowledge. In Damon Knight’s novel The People Maker, a "helpful" new invention ruins civilization. In it, both scholar and planner are swept aside by the raging mob, and only the guns of the strongest men can maintain order.

Arthur C. Clarke, a noted atheist, wrote of a humanity without end. His novel The City and the Stars depicts a long-term psychological and scientific harmony that extends (a relatively static) human history one billion years into the future.

Real Disasters

Science has discovered that the world has, in effect, ended several times before. Devastating asteroid strikes wiped out the dinosaurs, and caused other major extinctions. Two centuries ago, we didn’t even know that asteroids existed, but now we’re making serious plans to divert them away from our planet.

Some disasters may be slower in coming. According to geologists, the Earth is overdue for its next Ice Age. The science is complex, and the claims controversial. While many agonize over global warming (which may not even be real), one British scientist says that our greenhouse gasses are the only thing staving off the next Ice Age!

No matter the actual facts, many environmentalists are eagerly presenting their doomsday scenarios. Will it be overpopulation, as in India and China? Or even underpopulation, as in ailing Russia and Africa? Will it be global cooling (like they said 20 years ago), or warming?

Will it be rampant diseases, new and old? Or even our medicines(!), as excreted vitamins and hormones have a subtle influence on the ecosystem?

Perhaps the doom they fear most is a drying up of their contributions…

Spiritual Doom

Christianity has set the tone for the modern concept of the End of the World. Since the day Jesus died, he’s been expected back, usually on the heels of a terrible series of disasters.

Many people have thought that their time was the Last Days. And thus, the end of mankind, and usually the entire planet, and even the universe. However, the Bible doesn’t exactly specify the year.

Nowadays, theologians say that ‘the re-establishment of Israel’ makes a crucial difference. But what did they say about that back in 1000 AD? They weren’t stupid.

When your author was young, Hal Lindsey’s books were quite popular. Now it’s Pat Robertson, and Timothy LaHaye’s Left Behind series. Their scenarios are based on a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Of course, which parts of it are taken literally varies from author to author. This has produced a popular Christian saying about the expected Rapture: "Pray for pre, prepare for post."

These ideas have a dark side. Free Inquiry magazine notes a connection between those Christian Tribulationist stories and secular terrorist acts such as Timothy McVey’s Oklahoma bombing. McVey was a fan of an extremist novel called The Turner Diaries. In it, white racists have ‘purified’ America through a bloody revolution. It has some disturbing similarities with Robertson and LaHaye, especially regarding ‘who gets punished.’

Other denominations share these nightmares. The Seventh Day Adventist’s glum end times theology, with its inevitable rise of a tyrannical government, had a little-reported connection to the disaster at Waco.

Not only Christians expect an apocalypse. Some New-Agers have doomsday scenarios of their own. Most involve UFOs, and one such led to a mass suicide in San Diego. Others love to quote Nostradamus and his "accurate" predictions. (Though they’re only ballyhooed as such well afterwards).

It’s not just a western phenomena, either. In Japan, one fanatical group got so impatient they actually tried to cause the End of the World. Lacking a vengeful God to strike down their foes, they manufactured nerve gas and other deadly weapons. Fortunately for the rest of us, it didn’t work as well as they’d hoped…

Politics and Science

Many non-religious people believe in the End of the World. Certain humanists regard themselves as wise and powerful enough to transform everything, and bring about a Utopia. Their apocalypse is usually called The Revolution.

With that event, it is believed, many problems will be solved—and many old scores settled. There is precious little talk about what would actually replace the current system.

This author once met a graying techie, on business, who thrilled to the call of this (still impending) revolution. A web search revealed (no surprise to me) that the man had once been a professor at UC Berkeley.

On the other hand, Hegelian scholar Francis Fukuyama posits that history will not go through any more disastrous upheavals; that western society has become stable enough to forestall any major wars or revolutions. He does leave open the possibility of great, as yet unforeseen, new adventures.

Eventually, even in the absence of (further) Divine intervention, humans will bring about a tremendous upheaval. Think of how bewildered a primitive man (or even a 19th century dweller) would be, were they dropped into a modern city. Of course, instead of a miserable doom, they might well see it as a world of wonder.

There are now hundreds of ongoing scientific projects: in space travel, computing and robotics, medicine and genetics, and much more, that will utterly transform civilization. At this point, even our most brilliant thinkers can barely sketch out these possible futures.


The Divine Principle sets forth the clearest outline of human nature, human history, and its conclusion. Its vision is friendly to science, and to the beliefs of others.

Interestingly, the hoped-for revolution of the humanists is the closest thing to the Principle’s depiction of the end times. Both agree: the physical world will not end, only the oppressive ‘system,’ and the suffering that results. Beyond that point, we have precious little in common.

Unificationists are not above a little doomsaying of their own. Father counters that the Messiah will not call down God’s wrath upon his foes. I myself can recall the apocalyptic expectations of 1975-76 (just before the Yankee Stadium and Washington Monument events), and I’ve read about several earlier episodes. I worked hard, and was eager to see what would really happen. But I wasn’t quite ready to write any articles about the subject.

The Principle discounts the doomsayer’s expectations that God; or asteroids, plagues, nukes, aliens, or a vengeful Nature; are predestined to destroy this little planet of ours. The Earth, as the Bible says, endures forever. (If five billion years isn’t enough, scientists already have some ideas for making the Sun burn longer!)

One way or the other, we have now reached the real End Times, or as the Principle puts it, the Last Days. Everyone seems to agree on that. Finally!

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