End of times. The Apocalypse. Doomsday.
There are those who believe it’s inevitable. But some believe it’s imminent.
It’s one day away from Dec. 21, 2012, the day a phase of the Mayan calendar ends. The calendar was produced by the Maya, an ancient civilization based in what is present-day Guatemala.
There’s no consensus on exactly what the end of that phase means, but some are convinced it’s the end of the world. In the Monadnock Region, religious leaders agree that no one knows the time or hour on which Judgment Day will arrive. But a local psychologist says such scenarios can actually provide comfort.
Father Daniel O. Lamothe has been a pastor in New Hampshire for 32 years, the past 10 at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Keene. He doesn’t believe the world will end Friday, but he does believe in being spiritually prepared for the possibility, whenever it may happen.
“We have no idea when the final coming (of Jesus) will be, and so we should be ready at all times” by leading positive lives and making peace with God, he said.
Lamothe believes people of faith are able to take the possibility in stride.
“Sometimes people who are quite distant from a faith experience, they might look to numbers and signs, and it’s kind of natural to look for that,” he said. “But from our Christian perspective, we encourage them to not try to figure things out, but to lead a good life.”
Gordon E. Ellis, senior minister at the United Church of Christ in Keene, believes the Mayan calendar has been misinterpreted.
Ellis has traveled to Mexico on mission trips with the church and spent time with the indigenous people in the area where the Mayan culture was born.
He asked them about the calendar’s significance.
“The Mayan calendar has eras, and this is the end of an era,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean this is the end of the world or the end of time.”
Ellis’ parishioners question him about the end of the world once in a while, but he said most in the congregation “aren’t fretting over it.”
Like Lamothe, Ellis doesn’t believe anyone knows when the end of times will occur.
“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but Jesus does talk about the end times,” he said. “He also says very clearly that no one knows the day or the hour. It’s not up to us to decide.”
Pastor Lourey M. Savick of the United Methodist Church in Peterborough agreed.
That’s all the more reason to do unto others as you would have them do to you, she said. “Not knowing is the moral basis of our lives.”
Although they aren’t necessarily precursors to the end of the world, changes in the climate and in culture must be acknowledged, Savick said.
“I think in general, the Methodist Church accepts the teachings of science about climates and the way we live in the world, and that the media makes us much more aware of the world and what’s going on than ever before,” she said. “It is not our privilege to choose or hope for when we don’t have to go on anymore. With huge natural disasters occurring on a regular basis, we have to make adjustments to live in that new world. I think people are maybe afraid of what that means, and that that’s why some of this talk emerges.
“With any kind of traumatic event, it can be a bit of a relief to hope you wouldn’t be around in the aftermath of that,” she said. “But dealing with change, crisis, is what religion has been all about, and why people have sought those ways, and it’s why we pray. We have to accept the consequences until the end of the world does come.”
Fascination with end-of-times scenarios is actually quite human, said Gargi Roysircar, a professor of clinical psychology at Antioch University New England in Keene. Her latest book is titled “Counseling Theories Across Cultures and Settings,” and it touches on this issue, she said.
“There is this concept that people are anxious about death, and anxious about their own individual death, just as we are always anxious about living life also, a paradoxical situation,” she said. “This notion of being anxious to live and being anxious to die ... how do we deal with that? It’s like separation anxiety when we cling to our immediate family members, or our partners, or our children; the separation is also a fear of death and isolation, and ultimate isolation is death, and non-being.”
As a result, doomsday scenarios can offer comfort, Roysircar said, because there’s a feeling that we’re all in it together.
“The sense of grief and loss is reduced when I think I’m going to have this collective death,” she said. “We all dread the sense of non-being, and if I can put this off to a future when we will all die together, I can live more fully in the present, the here and now. It gives us a consolation that we’re going to hold hands and go together.”
As Lamothe looks at widespread violence around the world, sees an increase of major storms causing massive damage and suffering, and perceives a decline in faith, he’s still not convinced the end of the world is coming. There’s just too much work left to do, he said.
“We need a little more time, especially in the way the people in the Western and Eastern parts of the world relate with one another,” he said. “It’s a question of respecting one another; Christians, Jews, Muslims — we need to learn to respect one another, and not to overcome one another. We need more time, and I think the Lord will give us more time.”
Kyle Jarvis can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or email@example.com.