Why We Just Can't Get Enough Of This Apocalypse Business

Some people think the world is going to end tomorrow. This seems like it would be really scary. So why is the apocalypse so popular?

Many followers of doomsayer Harold Camping, who's behind tomorrow's Rapture predictions, think their own family members are going to hell. One believer tells ABC,

We all have people we love who have no interest in this and the Bible tells us that these people will perish. A lot of children are going to die.

And yet people are apparently into this idea. What's more, they've been into it for millennia. ReligiousTolerance.org has a timeline of end-of-the-world predictions going all the way back to — my favorite was based on the idea that Charlemagne would rise from his grave to fight the Antichrist. Clearly the end-times have a timeless appeal — so what is it?

Lorenzo DiTommaso, a religion professor who's working on a book about the apocalypse, tells LiveScience that belief in the end of the world has been on the rise in the last few decades because everything sucks so hard. He explains,

Problems have become so big, with no solutions in sight, that we no longer see ourselves able as human beings to solve these problems. From a biblical point of view, God is going to solve them. From other points of view, there has to be some sort of catastrophe.

Hoping for a clean slate makes a lot of sense, and there's Biblical precedent for this in the story of the Flood. And even if our desire to wipe things clean and start fresh has been rising recently, it's also true that things have always sucked — just look at the Middle Ages. It's easy to imagine almost any society in history occasionally wishing for a do-over. Then there's the explanation religion professor Gary Laderman provides to ABC:

It's a scenario where you can pinpoint the heroes from the villains, good from evil. It's a powerful story that people identify with.

This one rings especially true to me. I've been fascinated with the apocalypse since childhood, and not because I think the world is awful (I mean, it is, but I'm a firm believer that it always has been). Instead, I think the end of the world is interesting because it's a time when the stakes will get really high. We won't worry about our jobs or our bills or Facebook or whether today's young people are too entitled. Instead we'll have to fight not just for our lives, but for the very survival of our species. And some previously ordinary people will have to become heroes. I don't think this is what Camping's followers are hoping for — their plans seem to involve an almost immediate trip to heaven. But if the world as we know it does end tomorrow, that's what will keep me going. Well, that and abundant parking.

Doomsday Psychology: The Appeal Of Armageddon [ABC]
The Draw Of Doomsday: Why People Look Forward To The End [LiveScience]
If World Ends, So Does Alternate-Side Parking [NYT City Room Blog]

Image via Virginija Valatkiene/Shutterstock.com