Monstrous hurricane rakes through Florida

“Apocalyptic”: Irma is uprooting trees and turning streets into rivers. © Getty

In the face of nature’s awesome destructive power is it any surprise that so many people believe it could be a portent of the complete destruction of the world as foretold in the Bible?

Aliens arriving on Earth today could be forgiven for wondering what humanity had done to anger the universe.

As hurricane Irma slammed into southwest Florida last night, packing 120mph winds, US newspapers described being in its path as “like waiting for a monster”.

Meanwhile hurricanes Jose and Katia are gathering strength. There are currently 64 wildfires raging across over 1.5 million acres. And just a few weeks ago a total eclipse blotted out the sun from coast to coast of America for the first time in a 100 years.

Of course scientists can explain these events. This is hurricane season: 95% of hurricanes form between August and October. Wildfires start due to high temperatures and lack of rain. It is normal for the world to have a major earthquake every year.

Yet there are many people who see the chaos of recent weeks as the science fiction writer John Scalzi put it, surveying the charred and flooded and shaken landscape: “This sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now.”

So far the death toll has not been nearly as high as after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed over 230,000 people.

And fears of the end of the world are as old as history itself. The Daily Telegraph reported on Friday that one in every nine Britons has already made plans for a zombie apocalypse.

But even in modern times, “We are all much more superstitious than we recognise, and it takes a lot of logical thinking not to believe that this part of the world is not being somehow persecuted,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in The New York Times.

“End of times fantasies have been a central part of American religiosity since the beginning, so it shouldn’t be any surprise” if many people sense its approach, says Richard Hecht, a professor of religious studies at the University of California,

Seriously?

In 2017 we don’t condone people who think the earth is flat or that humans can fly by flapping their arms. Equally we should respectfully expect adults to pay attention to the incredible knowledge we now have of weather patterns and natural phenomena. Not to do so is really irresponsible. And it doesn’t stop us having any faith we choose.

That just illustrates the arrogance of humankind, others reply. We think we are so smart that we can explain everything. We can’t. Nor are we purely rational. We are complex emotional, spiritual, social beings and we need big ideas such as the apocalypse to come to terms with our life experience. Anyway scientists agree that Earth will be swallowed up by the sun in billions of years. If that isn’t apocalyptic, what is?

You Decide

  1. Do you think we should judge people who do not act in a logical way, influenced by superstition or religion?
  2. Is it possible to believe in both science and religion?

Activities

  1. Write down what you think are the top ten biggest challenges facing the world today. Be prepared to justify your choices.
  2. Choose another “crisis point” in history which you think is comparable to 2017 and research how society reacted to it. What similarities can you find between now and then? Share your findings with the class.

Some People Say...

“Religion is the answer when science has failed.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
A series of natural disasters has struck the world in recent weeks, including hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires. Some theorists and commentators have begun to connect these catastrophes with the end of the world. Others have come up with a range of different, non-scientific explanations for what is happening.
What do we not know?
The extent to which social media commentators have exaggerated these fears. One widely shared post referred to an apocalyptic passage from Luke 21:25-26, pointing out the fact that the eclipse was on August 21st, followed by Hurricane Harvey on the 25th and flooding on the 26th. We cannot know how many people actually believe these theories.

Word Watch

Total eclipse
A total eclipse occurs when the dark shadow of the moon completely blocks the light of the sun. This recent eclipse was on August 21st 2017.
End Times
Several different religions teach the idea of the world coming to an end, normally following a series of turbulent events. Christians believe that this will precede the appearance of Christ on Earth for the second time, at which point people will be judged and sent either to heaven or hell.
2004 earthquake and tsunami
This took place in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004. The effects of the earthquake produced a tsunami which killed people in 14 different countries.
Apocalypse
From the Greek for “uncovering”, the word apocalypse refers to the final destruction of the world (see the above definition of “End Times”). The idea is mentioned in the biblical book, Revelations.
Infrastructures
These are the fundamental physical structures which organise our day-to-day lives. Examples are buildings, roads and railways.

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