Yesterday was one of those awesomely unimportant days where the date sort of looks like it should mean something, even though we all know it doesn’t: 12-12-12. It’s also supposed to have some significance according to the Mayan calendar. As I understand it, the world is supposed to end when the llama fern enters the fourth aureola of the ninth concupiscence. Which, obviously, started on 12-12-12. I may have gotten some of the details wrong. Anyway, something calendrical supposedly started yesterday, which will culminate in the end of the world as we know it, according to the Mayans. A people known for their other-worldly prescience. (Ain’t no foreign army sneakin’ up on them!)
The whole Mayan calendar thing is, frankly, hysterical. I mean, it’s already gotten the big screen, horrible movie treatment. Jon Stewart’s had fun with it. It’s time for another ‘end of the world’ type scare. Y2K fizzled. Bruce Willis took care of one asteroid, Morgan Freeman guided us through t’other one. Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage had the numbers all figured out. (Speaking of whom, apparently Cage has signed on to a new big budget Hollywood movie remake of Left Behind. Which instantly becomes the number one must-see movie of 2013.)
Anyway, signs, portents, evidences of the End of Days. Obama. Obama won, over Romney, a re-election without, so far, apocalyptic consequences. We’ve even survived that, so next, it’s the Mayan’s turn.
But because this particular faux emergency is calendrical, it lends it a different kind of faux legitimacy. Obviously, if God intends the world to end in some final spasm of violent horror, He must have left some clues around as to what would happen (Revelation! Matthew 24! Joel and Daniel!) and other clues as to when (hello Mayans!).
All of which reminds me of the single weirdest evening’s entertainment of my life.
First, let’s talk about Meridian Magazine. Hang in there, this will all make sense eventually.
Meridian Magazine is kind of a favorite of mine. It’s an on-line ‘zine that combines some first class Mormon scholarship (Davis Bitton used to have a column there, Terryl Givens still does), some advice columns of various quality, some good coverage of the arts, and some completely bat-poo crazy right wing politics. It’s an interesting introduction to Mormon culture ca. 2012–some really thoughtful stuff, and some other stuff that’s just judgmental, and very occasionally, stuff that’s completely nuts. Typical is today’s article about LDS feminists and ‘wear pants to Church day’ coming up–Meridian‘s response is this exercise in Pecksniffian sanctimony.
Among the–forgive me, dude, but it has to be said–crazies is a guy named John Pratt. He has a PhD in astrology (sorry, astronomy), which surely aces mine, which is only in Theatre History. And he loves calendars. And he regularly publishes stuff like this. That’s right, a credentialed astrophysicist arguing for a 6000 year-old earth. Proved calendrically. He’s got published articles (mostly in Meridian) about how the Ten Tribes will return from ‘the north’ via a volcano. And he’s figured out the date for the Second Coming.
Mormons love this kind of thing, honestly. We love scientists ‘proving’ the literal truth of scriptural stories. We love to posit ourselves as holding to revealed truths denied by ‘worldly’ atheistic non-believers. A lot of Mormons buy into creationism. Not all, thank heavens, and it’s not something the Church teaches–back when prominent Church leaders talked about science v. religion, it was more like a debate, with scriptural literalists facing off against General Authority scientists. Me, I’m a playwright; even back when I was playing a scholar, it was mostly about nineteenth century theatre practices. I have no expertise in science, none. I read popular science books written for laymen. But even us humanities-degree level scholars value evidence. We value expertise. And I grew up with a best friend whose dad really is an astrophysicist (and who was also my Stake President). So, sorry, but the world really is a lot older than 6000 years. No, there wasn’t an actual flood.
A Second Coming, though? A literal, trumpets blowing, angels descending Second Coming? I’m pretty skeptical. But here comes John Pratt to reconcile all things. Turning the Second Coming, literally, into theatre. Positing the end of days as more an event as a ceremony. Calling it an ordinance.
So some years ago, my sister-in-law invited me to attend a lecture on ancient calendars. As it happens, I love calendars. I think they’re terrific. I love studying the various ways ancient peoples tried to make sense of the passage of days and astronomical phenomena. So I figured, what the heck. We went to this big auditorium in a retirement community that someone had rented, and we listened to this lecture by John Pratt.
Oh my freaking heck.
Basically, the idea was that comparing various calendars, and looking at the stars, you could figure out when the Second Coming would be, and have a ceremony welcoming it. It was astrology writ large. There were guys dressed as angels playing trumpets. There were incantations. There were quasi-LDS temple-type hand movements. I’ll say this, it was certainly entertaining. Plus, of course, afterwards, you could buy his book. I was sorely tempted, but did I really want another book by a crazy person? Pass.
Turns out, it was important for me to have come. My sister-in-law had an invitation for her and her husband. But he had to work that night; hence my invitation. And see, there were supposed to be 144 people there. 12 times 12. For it to, you know, work. We were ritually inviting the Lord back, for a Second Coming. Of course there had to be 144 people in the room.
And the whole thing was so . . . LDS normal. There was a dinner. Funeral potatoes were served, and ham. We drank Kool-aid (I’ll tell ya, the Kool-aid gave me pause) from paper cups. All the guys were dressed in dark suits–all the women in dresses. It felt like every Mormon gathering I’ve ever been to. The only things it was missing were the basketball standards. It has an opening prayer. A hymn. And then the speaker was introduced, to unleash the crazy.
It would be really really nice, I suppose to Know. To have an inside track to the divine. To read the mind of Deity. But the main thing I think God wants from us is to be kind. To be good to people. To forgive, even when we don’t much want to. That seems to be mostly what He’s about.
I really don’t think there’s, like, a timetable. Mayans or Hebrews or whatever, we’re not meant to read the future. And I’m not being kind now–calling this Pratt fellow crazy is surely Not Nice. But I do think there’s value in keeping sci-fi fi. Apocalypse Now? Apocalypse When? I’ll save it for the movies.