This past weekend a new movie came out, 2012, in which human civilization will comes to an end on December 21st, the winter solstice, in the year 2012. The film is based on an interpretation of the ancient Mayan Long Calendar. The Mayan civilization, an advanced culture in what is now Mexico, was the only group in the Americas to develop writing before the arrival of Columbus.
The Mayan Long Calendar is divided into cycles of about 400 years. We are currently in cycle number 13, which is scheduled to end on December 21st, 2012. Scholars say that according to traditional Mayan beliefs, a new cycle will simply begin, no harm done. But the filmmakers have taken creative liberties, and perhaps because it is the 13th Mayan cycle, they created the idea that the world would come to an end on 12/21/12.
The filmmakers of 2012 are not the only ones who suggest that civilization may come crashing down on a certain date. When the new millennium began in the year 2000, there was talk of possible disruption and chaos. As it turned out, the biggest problem we faced was a computer error, the Y2K bug. And even that problem was fixed in time.
There have always been people, “prophets,” who predict a specific day when human civilization will come crashing down. Often predictions about the end are religious in nature. The general belief is that our corrupt human society will be destroyed and replaced by the perfect and just Kingdom of God.
Traditionally, Judaism offers its own series of beliefs about the end of civilization. Some Jews affirm that the messiah, from the line of King David, will come, ushering in a period of heaven on earth. The messiah will reestablish the Kingdom of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. All Jews will return to Israel to live in freedom and peace. Traditional Judaism also teaches that there will be a resurrection, so that ever Jew who has ever lived will be reborn and travel to the Holy Land.
Reform Judaism has generally rejected the idea of the messiah as a person and the belief in a future resurrection. Instead many Reform Jews speak about a messianic age. It is our task to participate in tikkun olam, repair of the world, and to fix all that is wrong with our planet and our society. We must create a heaven on earth, a messianic age for all people.
While traditional Judaism states that God will bring our human civilization to an end, today there are other theories about the end of time provided by modern science. Our universe began with the Big Bang, about 14 billion years ago. Some scientists believe the universe will keep expanding forever, as it has ever since the Big Bang. Others believe in a theory called The Big Crunch.
Eventually the universe will stop expanding and start contracting, until all matter is once again crammed into an infinitely small point. Sounds painful. The good news is that none of us will be around for that, which if it happens, will place billions of years from now.
While the Big Crunch may be in store for the distant future, I do not believe that we are headed for a 2012-like event, where our society will suddenly come crashing down due to natural disaster or Divine will. In the Biblical story of the Flood, God destroyed all living things except for Noah, his family and two of each animal. After the Flood, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of God’s promise never again to eliminate all life on earth.
Yet we human beings are always on the verge of destroying ourselves. Last century, there was the immanent threat of global nuclear war. There were genocides, wars, and a Holocaust, killing hundreds of millions in total. Today, global warming, a human creation, causes sea levels to rise and could create another Noah-like flood. I do not think we need to worry about prophecies, ancient calendars, or a Big Crunch. But we do have a lot of work to do to save our planet and to improve our world, so that the human race can continue to live and to flourish.