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The World Didn't End: A Short History of Doomsday Predictions

The Mayan Calendar Doomsday theory isn't the first to predict the end of the world and will probably not be the last.



By Kevin Walker
Posted December 21, 2012 11:00 AM


We at U.S. News University Directory typically deal with information regarding higher education, but we couldn’t pass by the opportunity today to celebrate the good news:

The world didn’t end on Dec. 21. Congratulations! You have again avoided doomsday.

This is not the first time parents of small children - or friends and loved ones of the gullible - have had to deal with baseless anxiety and hand-wringing over this or that apocalyptic prophecy. So while you are here to learn more about careers and find colleges that might be a good fit for you, we offer a short intermission to share a few tidbits about previous doomsday predictions.

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Why? So you can impress your friends with your trivial knowledge.

Factions of the Roman populace predicted the empire’s demise in various years, including BC 634 and 389. None of them, however, managed to predict AD Aug. 24, 410 – the day the Visigoths actually sacked Rome.

Various religious groups have selected dates for the return of Christ or the anti-Christ (see the Book of Revelations). So far, they are oh-for-apocalypse.

1697, 1716, 1736. These are the three years that Puritan priest Cotton Mather predicted for the end of the world, moving it back each time he was wrong. And 276 years later, he’s still wrong.

Baptist preacher William Miller and his followers – known as Millerites – made many end-of-the-world predictions, including two dates in 1843 and two dates in 1844. The Millerites even have a name for the time after the predictions failed: The Great Disappointment.

Even with the technological and scientific advances of the 20th Century, the doomsday predictions did not stop. One came from the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, a Chicago-based UFO cult that predicted the world would be destroyed by a flood in 1954 and that Brotherhood members would escape via flying saucers sent by aliens. Go ahead and read that as many times as you like, it still won’t make much sense.

Psychic Jeanne Dixon made a number of predictions, including one that planetary realignment would cause world destruction in 1962. Undeterred by her epic fail, both President Richard Nixon and First Lady Nancy Reagan would later consult with Dixon.

The Comet Kohoutek passed close to Earth in 1974, leading the Children of God cult to proclaim that it foretold doomsday. As it turned out, comets don’t foretell anything. They’re just comets.

The year 2000 led to a deluge of wide-eyed predictions of world’s end. The list of failed prophets includes evangelist Jerry Falwell, author Tim LaHaye, Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon and psychic Ruth Montgomery. That’s just a sample; the list is embarrassingly long.

A theory launched on the Internet claimed the Sumerians had found a planet called Nibiru or Planet X and that it would eventually collide with Earth, destroying it in May 2003. When that didn’t happen, the date changed to 2012. And you thought the plot of “Prometheus” was weird.

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So, what have we learned? That many of the above suffered horrible embarrassment, but that’s better than the rest of us suffering a horrible apocalypse. So enjoy today and the rest of your holiday season, doomsday-free!

And while you’re at it, and since the world didn’t end, you might want to find a good degree program to enter at a good college. You knew we’d bring it back to higher education, eventually, didn’t you?

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