Do all human eras think they are in the end times

I have seen several things in my short life that are/were supposed to signal the end of civilization

The year 2000 and/or Y2K
Avian Flu
Global warming
topsoil erosion leading to famine
lack of freshwater
The year 1989
the creation of superintelligent robots & computer that could destroy civilization

Many of these are due to modern technology. However the concept of the world ending in the near future is always considered present in the horizon. Is this a new thing or have humans always felt they were living in the end times? Is this just some coping mechanism we have to deal with the bad side of life, to tell ourselves its all coming to an end soon or is the idea that civilization is on its last legs something that has always been a trait we have shown? Did an average civilian in the year 700 BC or 700 AD think he was living in the end times? It seems that way, at least with christianity, but I don’t know if these were mainstream opinions or just a marginal few.

I think it’s safe to say there have always been a few crackpots who espoused the idea, a handful of mildy interested observers of their proclamations, and an overwhelming majority who either never thought about it or dismissed the notion out of hand.

Look at all the literature, history, etc. we have from the past and tell me how much, if any, gives any indication that there was general belief in the end being nigh. Precious little, I’d say.

In Century’s End, Hillel Schwartz looks at century’s ends since the year 990 and essentially says that each cycle meant that people thought that the world was coming to an end literally or at least that the world as they knew it was coming to an end.

In addition, there probably hasn’t been a single year in the last several hundred in which some person or group hasn’t proclaimed that the end was coming and sold their possessions or moved to a holy spot or otherwise showed their belief.

This is part of Christian extreme belief because of the Book of Revelation, but until the 19th century or so, the general understanding even among intellectuals was that the world was slipping from a distant golden age into darkness.

The notion of the Enlightenment, evolution, and science-propelled progress temporarily fought this trend for a century or so, although it never won over the entire population. After the atomic bomb and Russia’s emergence as an adversary who could annihilate us, science became disillusioning for many and the dangers of technology were emphasized over the obvious improvements in everyone’s lives.

You’re conflating all these different trends, beliefs, and fears instead of treating them as separate threads that we happen to hear more about in a hypercommunicative age. But nothing has truly changed.

There’s a fairly amusing amateur web site that collects end-of-the-world predictions: here

It’s amusing, in part, because the web layout is so bad (orange-and-yellow font on black), but the content is pretty good if you get past that. All sorts of scenaries, collected and sorted by individual brand of nuttiness.

In a moment of amusing philosophical rambling, my (Christian) dad once speculated that it’s the crackpot endtimes believers that actually perpetuate this tired old, worn-out world. His reasoning was based on Matthew 24:36, which says that none but the Father knows when the end will come. My dad joked that most likely, every single day is believed by some crackpot to be the end, and that this belief most likely rises to the level of knowing that the end will be on that day. Therefore, it can’t possibly come on that day.

:slight_smile: My dad has a funny sense of humor.

Don’t forget the other ones that were supposed to wipe out mankind:

Mad Cow disease
AIDS (while still a global problem hasn’t wiped out half the population like they said it would)
Nuclear Annihilation (from the early 80’s)
Deforestation (we really shouldn’t have any trees left by now)

As others have indicated, it isn’t a new thing at all, but I’d actually go further. It seems to me that a generalized unexamined egotism, the basic self-centeredness of human nature, causes most of us to assume, to one degree or another, that the time we’re living in right now is more important than any other time. It’s true that the time we’re living in right now is extremely important to each one of us individually, because, hey, this is when we’re alive, and we’re not alive at any other time, so those other times aren’t important. Sort of an anthropic tautology, or something; for whatever reason, while we have books and books of history, and millions of ancient artifacts, it’s amazingly difficult to grasp, really grasp, that billions of people have lived on this planet before us, going through their lives just as we do, and that they died just as we eventually will, and that hundreds of years from now our own lives will be as nebulous as those of our own predecessors. We’re focused on the here and now because that’s how we’re wired.

And the effect goes beyond the easy-to-mock end-times believers; that’s just a subset, I think. The feeling that we’re on the cusp of greatness affects many areas of the culture, whether it’s New Age fuzziness (space aliens are about to give us the answers to everything) or high technology and science (we’re on the verge of perfecting fusion or artificial intelligence or whatever). Remember how each of the last two world wars was supposed to be “the war that ends war”? Remember that ambiguous arrogance that cropped up in physics around the end of the 19th century, when nobody saw how quantum mechanics would pull the rug out from Newton?

In short, as I see it, every Pangloss is merely the flipside of a doomsday prophet; they’re both rooted in the same psychological bias, seeing one’s present as more important than either past or future merely because it is the time in which one lives.

From recollection, there were several moments in early Christian history (post-Christ’s death to the first Council of Nicaea?) when the Messiah was expected to pop up again and bring about Revelations, but, to everyone’s confusion, it kept not happening.

Very nice answer that I agree with, and want to add to. It gets perpetuated not only by the attitudes and ideas mentioned, but also because doomsdayers often lives their lives as a preparation for an external end (and a big one at that), or a life that will culminate in something big (that they will be part of or warned us about, etc.). Meanwhile, most others live their lives as a continual process of growth and discovery, one where their purpose and the meaning of their life is generated internally as they pass through various phases.


Don’t forget global cooling.

I wonder whether we have to resort to egoism to explain the phenomenon. The difference between the problems of today and the problems of the past is that we know how those problems ended. Many (most? all?) people derive meaning from uncertainty (don’t spoil the story for me!), as well as a great degree of worry. The problems of today would seem much less important, and thus less frightening, if we had a reliable way to predict the future. Similarly, I’m sure President Kennedy would have found the Cuban Missile Crisis much less daunting if he had known, with certainty, that the blockade would work without bringing the USA and the USSR to nuclear war. Because we don’t know how our difficulties will end, the possibility that they will end in disaster seems much more real.