In the film The Day After Tomorrow, audiences were told that global warming could produce an instant ice age. Seriously! In 10,000 B.C., they were told that the pyramids were built by aliens using mammoths for the heavy lifting. Well, this same film director will tell us on the History Channel this month that life as we know it will end on December 21, 2012.
Now, to be fair to Roland Emmerich, he is simply trying to entertain people by literally projecting their anxieties onto the big screen.
If you Google "December 21, 2012," you will get nearly 7 million hits. Do a similar search at Amazon and you find more than 400 books on the subject. There is obviously a lot of interest and more than a little anxiety about that date and both will only grow as we get closer to what's already being called "12/21."
December 21, 2012, is the last day listed on what is known as the Mayan "long count calendar." That calendar marks what the Maya — a now non-existent civilization — regarded as the end of the present cycle of creation.
What makes this fact rise above the level of a historical curiosity is, first of all, the Mayans' astronomical prowess. They charted the movements of celestial bodies with an accuracy unmatched until the invention of the telescope and, in some instances, not until the 20th century.
This alone isn't enough to explain the unease about December 21, 2012, especially since, according to archaeologists, the Maya themselves never said anything about what would happen that day. Their real-world descendants find the hype annoying and are tired of getting letters from fourth-graders saying "they're too young to die."
This unwarranted and unwelcome attention to a long-extinct civilization is, like all apocalyptic thinking, a manifestation of cultural anxiety. Events like the 2004 tsunami and concerns about the economy, terrorism and the environment remind us how vulnerable we really are.
Until relatively recently, we, like the psalmist, knew where are our help came from, and wouldn't fear even if the mountains fell into the sea.
Then that faith in the biblical God was replaced by a faith in human prowess and, eventually, faith in nothing.
Well, Western culture might have lost its faith, but folks have not lost their anxieties. So since we are no longer willing to embrace the ancient faith, many looked for solace or explanation in other ancient faiths, or at least new-age versions of these faiths.
So we're told that the ancient Mayans, the Hopi Indians, and the Chinese text I Ching all predict that 2012 will be a time of "extraordinary shift."
But they don't. It's all hype.
What's going on here is the idea that we live in a random and unintelligible universe, and that's more terrifying than the cataclysms predicted for the year 2012. So we grasp at straws or over-interpret obscure texts, or we despair.
But there is a third alternative — real faith. Christians know that God is working out His purposes in history, and that faith removes all anxieties.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.
Publication date: November 3, 2009