Catholics, 2012, and the end of the world


Until recently, few people would have thought Peter Gersten was crazy. After all, he was a successful attorney whose interest in UFOs once led him to successfully sue the CIA to force them to release documents about alleged alien encounters. There’s nothing crazy about that — not in a country like the U.S. where, according to one recent study, more than 80% of the people think the government is hiding the truth about UFOs.

But a couple of years ago, Gersten took his UFOlogy to the next level: he announced his plan to jump off the 550-foot summit of Bell Rock, in Sedona, Arizona.

Gersten acknowledges that the jump may end in his death, but he doesn’t think it will. For him, and for many other believers in such things, Bell Rock is the center of an energy vortex, and his “leap of Faith” will open a portal into a new way of life. And he’s not just going to jump on any particular day. He’ll leap at the exact moment of the Winter Solstice, 11:11 Universal Time (also called Greenwich Mean Time) December 21, 2012.

Yes, Gersten is yet another person banking on the December 21, 2012 date of the end of the world. But his perspective is a bit different from the standard Mayan prophecies we hear about on cable TV. Gersten has come to believe that we’re all virtual characters in a cosmic computer game, and that’s what his leap is all about.

“My two principal beliefs, “Gersten has said, “are: 1) that our reality is an intelligently designed cosmic holographic program and 2) that on the Winter Solstice of 2012 at exactly 11:11 UT – a Trans-Dimensional Event (T-DE) will occur… an article on my web site discussing the Mayan calendar end-date states that: There is no reason not to take a leap of faith imagining what may be in store. Most of you will think that I am delusional and that my insane act will certainly result in my death. Death is inevitable — at least nowadays… But I believe that some type of cosmic portal will be opening at that time and place and that an opportunity will present itself. I fully expect that it will either lead to the next level of this cosmic program; freedom from an imprisoning time-loop; a magical Martian-like bubble; or something equally as exotic. … I’d like to see what else our Cosmic Computer has to offer.”

Mr. Gersten hasn’t updated his website for a while, so I can’t say if he has changed his mind about jumping. If he has (and I hope he has), true believers in the December 21, 2012 doomsday will still have any number of prophecies to turn to. I’m sorry to say that even Catholics are getting in on the December 2012 craziness. After reading our feature in November on a Catholic view of the end of the world, a reader, Karen, wrote to say “I don’t usually pay heed to these warnings but didn’t Lucia reveal the third secret of Fatima and wasn’t it that, unless we change our ways, in December, 2012 there will be an earthquake that will last for 8 hours and the world will then change as we know it? God will return to Earth. This wasn’t even mentioned in your article, which surprised me — anything from Our Lady we should take very seriously.”

While Catholics are indeed encouraged to take everything our Lady says seriously, Mary never said this, and the third secret of Fatima says nothing of the kind — no 8-hour earthquake, no December 2012 date. Like so many things one can find online, the message Karen has heard is nothing more than an internet hoax. (Here is a link to the full and real story of the third secret of Fatima on the Vatican website:

I guess we should expect all this. After all, the world appears to be in serious trouble in lots of ways. It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to predict the real possibilities of social unrest, severe economic problems, wars, pandemics, and famines. And while there is no evidence that storms and earthquakes are more numerous than in the past — a quake the size of the one that hit the East coast in August actually happens, on average, three times a day somewhere on Earth — many people are quick to think that the quakes are coming more frequently and are a sign that the last days are here and that Jesus is coming soon.

For many evangelical Protestants, this means the “Rapture” is almost upon us — the time when believers will suddenly be taken up from the Earth before the great period of tribulation, the time of the anti-Christ, the prelude to Jesus’ return in glory. True believers have been waiting a long time for the Rapture, but there’s been a special fervor since Hal Lindsey published his The Late Great Planet Earth in 1970, which started an avalanche of published predictions, including 88 Reasons Why the Rapture will Occur in 1988, by former NASA engineer and self-taught Bible scholar Edgar C. Whisenant. Lindsey is still active in biblical prophecy, and when Jesus failed to appear in 1988, Whisenant changed the date to 1989, and then 1993, and then 1994. His place in the Rapture business seems to have been taken by radio minister Harold Camping, who has been predicting the Rapture since 1994, and whose 2011 predictions received national attention.

“Harold Camping is good for my business,” says Bart Centre, an affable, retired businessman and author who looked at all the Rapture nonsense and wondered if there was some way to “make a buck” off it. His brainstorm was Eternal Earthbound Pets, founded in 2009, well before Camping’s latest headlines. Eternal Earthbound Pets reaches out to Christians who expect to be raptured but worry about the pets they’ll leave behind. Who will take care of them? Centre offers these Christians a contract: in exchange for a fee, payable now, he and his animal-loving rescuers will pick up and care for the pets if their owners are raptured. Centre and his rescuers guarantee that they themselves won’t be raptured because they all sign a statement disavowing any belief in God at all. In fact, Centre added that he’s not just an atheist, but also an anti-theist: “I believe the very concept of God has caused huge harm for thousands of years,” he said.

Centre assured me that although he does not share the faith of his customers, he is not scamming them: Ethical behavior is not limited to some religious believers. “I don’t believe Jesus is coming back,” he told me, “but my clients do, and if they’re right and I’m wrong, we’ll live up to the contracts.” All his rescuers undergo background and criminal checks and will be ready to move should the moment occur. Eternal Earthbound Pets currently has 264 paying customers, and Camping’s 2011 Rapture predictions had driven business up 27% in the first three months of 2011.

All of this shouldn’t be surprising in a U.S. culture where more than half the people say they don’t accept the science of evolution and almost as many deny the overwhelming evidence for climate change. I’ve argued before in this newsletter for the findings of science and the need for believers to adopt skeptical, critical thinking. While Catholicism does ask us to take some things, like the Resurrection, “on faith,” that doesn’t ever mean that we’re supposed to turn our backs on reality and be gullible enough to accept every prediction and point of view that claims to be representing the Bible or some aspect of faith. There is often an uncomfortably thin line between superstition and faith. But if faith has value, it’s not because it leads us away from reality, but into its deepest meanings.

In the November issue we take an extended look at what the Church means when it speaks about the end of the world. Believers in Bell Rock vortices and cosmic holographic computer games and 2012 Mayan prophecies won’t agree with what we present there, nor will Hal Lindsey, Harold Camping, or Bart Centre. But we hope it’s a bit of calm religious sanity in a world facing serious troubles — not least among them the belief in a seemingly ever-expanding list of silly ideas.

As I said above, it doesn’t take a Nostradamus — or even a hokey interpretation of the Book of Revelation — to recognize that our world is in trouble and in serious need of God’s help. At the same time, the annual November remembrance of our beloved dead should remind us that whether or not the “end of the world” is coming soon, the end of our personal world is always just around the corner.

When we begin Advent later this month, we’ll be surrounded by prophetic images of the coming celebration of Christ’s birth, and by prophetic, apocalyptic images of his return in glory when all God’s purposes have been fulfilled. And in between our remembrance of the past and our anticipation of the future, we have an opportunity to better recognize all the ways Christ comes to us now, in the daily events of our lives, in the people we meet, in the crises we face, in the faith response we give.

The Advent call is to wake up! Watch! Act now! It’s not a call to step away from life by following some silly Mayan prophecy or to try to escape or deny the real world and its problems: It’s the call of incarnation: the call to fully embrace the reality of this world, to find grace within it, and to work for a kingdom that will only be completely fulfilled at the end of time (what is the kingdom but “God’s will be done”?). And that means struggling to do God’s will — working for peace and reconciliation, seeking forgiveness and granting it, treating each other with justice, reaching out to the sick, the weak, the hungry, praising and thanking God by all our works on behalf of others — even when they cost us dearly.

This is the call to Christian discipleship. It’s a call we Christians historically have often perverted or failed to answer — sometimes shamefully. But every day, every November, every Advent is a time to start over. In that sense, it’s a call from God to leave behind an “old world” way of living and to embrace the advent of a new world full of God’s promise, because we work with God to help make it so.

We won’t find that world by following Peter Gersten off the top of Bell Rock or by welcoming 2012 prophecies. We’ll find it in the Eucharist, in the sacrament of penance, in our communion with one another, in the work of discipleship, and in all the ways God offers us life. Let us pray for one another, and for us as a people, that God will help us make the most of it as we work for the new world to come.

Please let me know what you think.

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