On the second and final day of this year’s Fortean Times UnConvention, former BBC Religious Affairs correspondent Ted Harrison gave a talk about the end of the world.
He has previously written a novel King Clone about how to start your own religion – worshipping Elvis Presley. And he is currently writing a non-fiction book Apocalypse When about various End of The World scares throughout history.
Well, it’s mostly non-fiction.
Scares about the Apocalypse being imminent have thus far proved to be wrong and crop up with alarming regularity throughout history – sometimes when there is a cluster of natural disasters or astronomical abnormalities; sometimes when people are starting up religions and need a strong selling point to grab people’s attention.
When Joseph Smith started the Mormon church, he expected the Apocalypse to be within his lifetime.
The Seventh Day Adventists were a splinter group of the Millerites, who had expected the world to end on 22nd October 1844 and who had to re-calculate when it did not. Understandably, they called what did not happen on 22nd October 1844 “The Great Disappointment”.
More recently, Harold Camping, boss of the Family Radio network proclaimed that Jesus Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven and there would be five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world.
When this appeared not to have happened, on re-consideration, he re-calculated that, in fact, it had indeed happened, but “on a spiritual level” and that the physical apocalypse when God would destroy the universe was actually going to happen on 21st October 2011.
On that day, I was quite busy.
I went filming with Mr Methane, had a drink with comedian Paco Erhard and then went to the launch of Silver Road Studios in Shepherds Bush. The party in Shepherds Bush was quite noisy and I may have missed something; but I am writing this blog on 14th November 2011 and I suspect I would have noticed the end of the Universe if it had happened.
How Harold Camping has coped with the irritating non-appearance of the Four Horsemen, I do not know, but one of my fondest semi-religious memories is of attending a talk by Benjamin Creme in Holborn around 1984.
In the Spring of 1982, he had paid for ads in the London Times, the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers worldwide. The ads said:
“The Christ is now here”
They announced that Jesus Christ – or, more correctly, the Maitreya – was already walking the Earth and would telepathically reveal himself to the people of the world via television on 21st June 1982.
Alas, this failed to happen and I went to the blessed Benjamin’s talk to see how he had come to terms with this.
Jesus, by the way, was working at this time within the Indian/Bangladeshi community in the Brick Lane area of East London.
Apparently he had been going to reveal his identity in the telepathic television broadcast. Really he had.
The reason Jesus had not kept his appointment with destiny, it turned out, was because the world’s media had not taken that extra small step of trying to find him.
Call me cynical, but I had thought there might be – just perhaps – some financial scam involved in this saga.
When I attended Benjamin’s lecture, though, I realised I was wrong. He was an amiable, totally sane and clear-eyed middle-aged man with no particular financial axe to grind. From memory, the talk was free.
Benjamin came across as a kindly uncle trying to do his best although I was a little taken aback when he told us he was going to electrically charge us.
I think this was to increase our powers of understanding and/or awareness.
His eyes went into a wide-eyed staring trance, he stretched both his arms out towards us with his all his fingers sharply pointing forwards and, standing erect, his body slowly moved in an arc round the room, the invisible power source presumably pulsing into each of us.
After he had helped us thus, his eyes returned to their amiable Uncle Benjamin state and, presumably, I was in a higher state of consciousness though, alas, too stupid to realise it.
Benjamin has occasionally given other dates for what I like to think of as the Second Coming of Christ. So far, this has not happened, though I live in hope of good news.
Benjamin would, I think, disagree with me on the use of the phrase “the Second Coming of Christ”.
In April last year, he wrote in the Guardian that he has “never presented Maitreya as a messiah figure who comes to make all things bright and beautiful for a supine humanity” and (I think rather relevantly) he revealed “I am not a betting man”.
We are, by the way, not yet out of the woods on the End of the World being nigh.
The long-dead Mayan civilisation allegedly calculated the End of The World would take place on 21st December 2012.
That is good news for the London Olympics, but bad news for Christmas card manufacturers and for the organisers of Edinburgh’s 2012 Hogmanay celebrations.