Rutgers expert says Mayans never forecast Dec 21st apocalypse

Rutgers expert says Mayans never forecast Dec 21st apocalypse
Twelve percent of Americans believe the world will end on December 21.

December 21st may not be the end of the world as we know it, but if next week's predicted apocalypse falls through, America's many doomsday prophets will invariably choose a new date, says Stuart Charme, a Rutgers-Camden professor of religion. The basis for the latest End Times date is the Mayan calendar, which stops on 12/21/2012. Although the Mayans themselves didn't really forecast an apocalypse, explains Charme, some have interpreted the date to be a sign that life on Earth will be snuffed out next Friday.

Scenarios of the world's end have a strong tradition in United States. From the Book of Revelation to the present day explosion of zombie films and TV shows, apocalyptic thinking has always been with us. According to polls, at least 40 percent of Americans believe Jesus will return to Earth by 2050. Twelve percent believe the is correct and the world will end on December 21, says Charme, who teaches a class called "End of the World.''

Although it's easy for skeptics to dismiss the predictions as crackpot theories, Charme says they're not all that outrageous. "Just because some people have some unrealistic ideas shouldn't distract us from the fact that there are challenges that humanity is going to have to confront. Whether it's or fossil fuel running out or the world's population straining resources, humans are going to have to change their attitudes and behavior."

Rutgers Today: Why is there such a focus on the Mayan calendar as signifying the end of the world?

Charme: The Mayan theory has been percolating in New Age spiritual circles for at least five years, combining ideas about the world's end with the expectation of some huge transformation of human consciousness. There's a feeling that ancient cultures had insights and wisdom that we don't have. People who believe this think there's a possibility that a sudden reversal of the of the world or the alignment of the earth, the sun and the center of the galaxy on the winter solstice will have catastrophic consequences. This isn't really something the would have expected. I think they had a sense that the earth goes through different cycles and where the calendar ends is just the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. There wasn't this notion of cataclysmic destruction. They had every expectation that history was going to continue.

Rutgers Today: How does the Biblical account of the End Times differ from the December 21 model?

Charme: The Book of Revelation predicts there will be a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. Some believe that before this happens true believers will be lifted up from Earth into some kind of heaven. This is known as "the Rapture." Then there will be great tribulation – storms, floods, earthquakes, disease. Everything will culminate in a final battle between the forces of the anti-Christ, often symbolized as a beast and the forces of God led by Jesus.

Rutgers Today: How is the idea of the apocalypse manifested in pop culture?

Charme: Zombies have really taken the place of the kind of mutant monsters, like Godzilla and giant ants, which first showed up in the '50s and '60s in apocalyptic movies. It's not very hard to determine that they were symbolic of a whole variety of threats, from radiation to nuclear annihilation and societal collapse. Today, zombies appear in a post-apocalyptic world where the institutions of society have collapsed and we are all reduced to a base level of survival. The causes of zombies are often envisioned as a virus produced by corporate, scientific or government projects gone wrong. We see that the major pillars of society can't be trusted. It's very conspiratorial. But on a simpler level, zombies are also images of mutilated, dying bodies that may reflect fears of terrorism and other threats.

Rutgers Today: When the world doesn't end on the designated day, what's the response of people who believed those predictions?

Charme: There are usually a couple of strategies: One is to recalculate the date or reframe what the end of the world really means—that the date was really the beginning of a new transformation and not literally the end of the world or that the earth was spared because of the prayers of devout people. Very low on the list is to decide that focusing on the end of the world is foolish and you shouldn't put any more energy into it.

Rutgers Today: What are your plans on December 21?

Charme: I'm having some students who were in the graduate version of my class come over to my house for an end of the world party. I don't know exactly what we'll do. I'm not sure what end of the world activities would really look like. One of my students recommended that we play Twister. Maybe . . .

Explore further

Maya demand an end to doomsday myth

Provided by Rutgers University
Citation: Rutgers expert says Mayans never forecast Dec 21st apocalypse (2012, December 17) retrieved 17 September 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Dec 17, 2012
Those people preparing for the apocalypse are kidding themselves. The Mayans made no such "end of the world" predictions in their prophecies. In fact, the long count calendar ends in exactly the same way ours does, and I don't see people throwing doomsday parties every 31st of December. This is the same thing.

Dec 17, 2012
Now we know that the lower end of the bell curve includes 12% of Americans.
The single incontestable truth applying to all eschatologies is that so far they have all been exactly wrong.

Dec 17, 2012
The predicted world's end on 21 December is irrational scare-mongering nonsense – but the 'Millennium Bug' was not. There's a difference, and it's important to the human race that we understand what it is. See my latest blog: 'Mayan Catastrophe versus Millennium Bug':

Short link:

Dec 17, 2012
While I don't believe that the world is going to end on the 21st, I do believe that being prepared for an emergency in advance is a good thing. Having an apocalypse every couple of years might just keep people on their toes for when the next earthquake, flood or hurricane occurs.

Dec 17, 2012
Having an apocalypse every couple of years might just keep people on their toes for when the next earthquake, flood or hurricane occurs.

False predictions actually produce the opposite effect, whether they are "religious" or whether they are "scientific".

Dec 17, 2012
Having an apocalypse every couple of years might just keep people on their toes for when the next earthquake, flood or hurricane occurs.

False predictions actually produce the opposite effect, whether they are "religious" or whether they are "scientific".

Actually, some of the most important discoveries in science have been the product of failed predictions. That's how science works. Do failed predictions have an effect on religious belief? Most religions seem to have a history full of failed predictions, yet their members seem to look past these towards the next.

Dec 18, 2012
The end of the world when you:

1) used up all the money in your bank and over use of credits cards;

2) you tell your wife you have an mistress;

3) your gay friends suggested you do something different, and you did it!!

4) on Dec 22, 2012, ....

everything as usual .... nothing special really happened ... :)

Dec 18, 2012
I remember in grade school, there was great fear that the planets all lining up on one side of the sun would throw the earth out of orbit, tides would wash over the whole world and essentially life would end. This was in the '70's. As a kid at the time, it didn't mean much to me, but it's all that teachers could talk about. I remember sitting in the (public) school quietly in the lunch room at the "exact time" the "planets lined up"...and nothing happened.

Seems like there has to be a catastrophe in our group and cover nukes, planets aligning, Y2K, Solar Max, Comet Apophis, Mayan 2012....

Dec 18, 2012
correction..._ASTERIOD_ Apophis, and _COMET_ Hale-Bopp

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more