The rise of apocalypticism

What on earth is the world is coming to?

By: AL KRATINA, Freelance

Published: Saturday, February 19 2011

The world is coming to an end.

Depending on how closely you paid attention in science class, the above statement could either refer to entropy on a massive time scale or a belief that the Mayans predict a galactic stroke in 2012. To Concordia professor Lorenzo DiTommaso, the latter assertion is troubling in its popularity.

DiTommaso studies apocalypticism past and present at Concordia’s Department of Religion. He’s written and lectured extensively on the subject, and his latest work, The Architecture of Apocalypticism, is set to be published by Oxford University Press. To DiTommaso, apocalypticism is not simply the belief that the world will end. “It’s not chaos; it’s not destruction or anything like that,” he explains. “Rather, apocalypticism is a world view that expresses a radical way of understanding time, space, and human destiny.”

According to DiTommaso, apocalypticism is a unique collection of four beliefs. To adherents, we live in a world of strictly defined right and wrong. A transcendent reality exists beyond our own, and the world is so damaged or corrupt that it must be swept away. Finally, once the SyFy channel movie about tidal waves or rogue planets is over, a new creation will come into being.

Although this belief is most commonly found in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, DiTommaso says that apocalypticism has gone global over the past century, spreading like a really pessimistic virus. “Apocalypticism has been transformed into a global, multicultural, trans-border phenomenon,” he explains. “Its very nature allows it to thrive in all sorts of ecologies, religious or otherwise.”

Currently, says DiTommaso, we’re in an upswing of apocalypticism, both in traditional forms and in new hybrid varieties. “Beyond the biblical aspect, it’s gained a secular aspect as well … in music, in videos, in role-playing games, in graphic novels, in fiction,” he says, citing The Matrix, the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, and books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road as examples.

DiTommaso also describes the 2012 phenomenon, which posits that the ancient Mayans predicted the end of the world by running out of calendar pages, as indicative of the apocalypticism’s modern strain.

“You have a fusion of the apocalyptic world view,” says DiTommaso, “standard biblical notions of time, space, and human existence … attached to completely non-biblical timetable.” DiTommaso attributes part of this new blend -which also mixes in New Age beliefs and bad astronomy -to the Internet, which has given the 2012 phenomenon the same level of ubiquity as 9/11 conspiracy theories and pictures of cats.

Which is not a good thing. “Apocalypticism is unhealthy,” says DiTommaso, “It’s a toxic way of dealing with these problems.” A key issue is apocalypticism’s sharply defined dualities. “It’s a simplistic response to complex problems. Either good or evil, nothing in between,” says DiTommaso. “(That’s) not a productive way of looking at the world … You can imagine a view of a good and evil leading to views that say, ‘You’re either with us or against us.'”