Monday, May 4, 2009

Doomsday talk

I met a neighbor downstairs a few days ago. I was smoking my first cigarette of the day and he was hanging out downstairs, waiting for his wife. After the usual pleasantries, I asked him if he'd heard about the impending outbreak of swine flu. He said he had, and that he had considered going to a doctor to get the flu vaccine and a dose of antivirals but was very concerned that he would increase the odds of contracting an infection by doing so. He had a solid point - hospitals can certainly make the healthy sick.

He went on to ask me if I was convinced. Puzzled, I asked him "Convinced about what?".

"About God" he said. " I know you said you don;t believe in a higher being"

"I don't" I replied, "And I dont understand what swine and viruses have to do with that"

"Its proof man" he said gravely, "Look at the world. First global warming, then the economic collapse, now a pandemic. Someone's very pissed off with us."

That got me thinking. Not exactly along the lines he would have hoped. I don't understand why anyone would be so anxious to believe in this vengeful deity. If there is a god and he's pissed off enough to want to destroy the world, then surely, your piddly prayers aren't going to change much. Plus, there's a certain degree of shameless subservience in begging for mercy that just doesn't appeal to me.

The neighbor continued "Its true man. All the religions predict the end of the world. Christianity does, and I think Islam does too."

"And the Mayans," I offered helpfully. "According to their calendar, the world is going to end in 2012"

"Right. Thats what I'm saying. There has to be a higher power.Something bigger than us" he continued earnestly.

"I'm not denying that." I said "Forces of nature are certainly bigger than us. Gravity - there's a higher power if ever there was one"

"Thats not what I mean," he said, vexed.

There's an easy explanation for the Mayan myth. Their calendar ends in 2012. There is still considerable debate among scholars over whether that date represents the end of the world, or the beginning of a new age of enlightenment. Naturally, the end of the world is more appealing than enlightenment so this theory has more supporters. The christian end of the world revolves around the rapture, an absurd fairytale added to the bible as an afterthought, a fact I pointed out to the neighbor.

"It came from a vision." He said "Jesus appeared in front of John...or Paul...or"

"Ringo?" I offered.

"You won't be laughing when it happens," he said gravely.

No, I guess I won't. But I'm not laughing now either. It doesn't take a genius to foresee strife, cruelty, chaos and contagion on an overpopulated planet. Any idiot can foresee that, including yours truly. Whats more, I "prophesize" that scientific estimates associated with climate change are probably off by at least an order of magnitude. The finely poised equilibria that are responsible for life on our planet, many of which we are still unaware of, can topple, causing chain reactions that can precipitate radical changes much sooner than we think.

The "end of the world" as we know it is probably closer than we think. But it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, so many of us seem so eager for that to happen, it makes me wonder how many of us even want to be here in the here and now.

Conversely, if life is such a burden, why do we cling to it so. Why not have government sanctioned euthanasia for the willing? Thats a trick question, of course - the answer is simple. Tax revenue would decline substantially if everyone had the option of escaping their crummy lives.

I could share this train of thought with my hapless neighbor, but I choose not to. There must be a reason he has chosen to believe in a fairytale instead. It isn't my job to convince him that vengeful superheroes don't exist.

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