God has finally set a date for the end of the world. The apocalypse is set to take place on May 21, 2011, according to an American preacher whose last apocalyptic prediction was for 1994. In a way, that first prophecy wasn’t off the mark – 1994 was the year Justin Bieber was born.
The prediction bucks the trend of recent end-of-the-world forecasts. Most such predictions currently settle on 2012, because it’s the year that coincides with the end of a cycle of the Mesoamerican long count calendar. Some have already started stocking up on essentials for starting a whole new civilisation from scratch. They may be relieved to know that they will be able to enjoy a collection of apocalypse-themed poems while slugging it out with the cockroaches.
2012 is also the anticipated release date of a collection of poems from filmmaker Ethan Coen. Coen, who with brother Joel has made films the future cockroach overlords will hopefully prize as highly as we do, has titled the collection, The Day the World Ends. It follows his first collection, The Drunken Driver has Right of Way, published in 2009.
Failed prophecies are hardly new, of course. The Bible has a number of them. In 1844, hundreds of thousands of Americans were persuaded that the world was to end by William Miller. When the date of his prediction passed without incident, it came to be known as the Great Disappointment. Some returned to their churches, some gave up on religion and some started a new one.
Psychologists studied a UFO-related doomsday cult in a groundbreaking 1956 study called When Prophecies Fail. In it, they assessed the thinking behind the bravest call of all. They found that disappointment often leads to believers revising the parameters of the prediction rather than heeding the bleeding obvious and abandoning it altogether. One of the study’s authors concluded drily, “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change.”
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