Whether you're a Doors fan ("The End") or more of an R.E.M. type ("It's The End Of The World As We Know It"), there's no denying that the apocalypse is hot stuff these days. It seems like everybody and his brother has a different theory about when the world is going to end, how it's going to happen and just exactly who's going to get the golden ticket to survival.
That's not even counting my fellow zombie apocalypse believers. We all KNOW the end is coming, but we're too busy preparing to worry about when.
The fact is that predicting the end of the world has been a quick ticket to five minutes' worth of fame for millennia. Want to establish your religion? Build your cult? Convince a bunch of folks that you know when the end is coming and that the only way they can survive is to sign on with you!
Let's take a look at five of the most famous end-times predictions that (obviously) didn't come true.
The Assyrian Tablet
Way back in about 2800 B.C., some unnamed Assyrian doomsayer scribbled on a clay tablet that the world was ending because "bribery and corruption are common, children no longer obey their parents and every man wants to write a book."
As predictions go, the first two parts of this one could fit just about any generation. There have always been crooked politicians, and every set of parents thinks that their kids get away with more than they did.
But the book thing ... now that's a little scary.
I'd think about it, but I'm busy finishing my ebook on how to grill the perfect steak. I'm trying get mine done before my vegan neighbor gets her grilled eggplant guide finished.
One of the earliest predictions on this side of the pond came from a fun-loving sect called the Shakers. In 1780, smoke from forest fires combined with a heavy fog caused a "dark day" on a day in mid-May that didn't clear until after midnight.
The Shakers took this as a sign, and set off on a mission throughout New England spreading their message of complete celibacy as the road to salvation in the face of the coming apocalypse signaled by the dark day.
They did offer lots of singing and dancing, and their members found that easier once they'd divested themselves of all those pesky worldly possessions.
The world didn't end, and the Shakers endured as a viable force for another century and a half or so, now mainly remembered for achievement in furniture-making and music.
The Jupiter Effect
Remember when you were in school and learned about gravity?
Well, in 1974, science writers John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann took the whole idea to extremes in the book "The Jupiter Effect" by hypothesizing that in 1982 all the planets in the solar system would align on one side of the sun and the resulting gravitic chaos would cause the San Andreas Fault to begin an apocalyptic mambo that would end until we were all dust.
Not happy with just gravity, Gribbin and Plagemann threw in sunspots, magnetic disturbances and pretty much everything short of Godzilla and Gamera slugging it out and setting off volcanoes.
Of course, Gribbin eventually repudiated the theory in a 1980 issue of New Scientist magazine in which he stated that he had been "too clever by half." So, in other words, he couldn't even stick it out until 1982 to see if he was right.
The Y2K Bug
Here's one that almost everyone reading this will remember: the Y2K bug.
Billions of dollars were spent re-coding computer systems, reprogramming mainframes and, in general, overhauling everything from your car's onboard computer to your clock radio because some techies became convinced that when the year "00" showed up on system clocks, they'd all assume it was 1900 and we'd all be forced to start riding horses, sending telegrams and envying our neighbors' indoor plumbing.
Or something like that. A lot of work went into avoiding the calamity, and several really bad movies got made.
In any case, the world watched breathlessly as the year 2000 dawned on a remote island in the Pacific, then rolled over and went back to sleep when the year dawned in ultra-wired Tokyo and ... nothing happened.
For triggering apocalyptic predictions, mass suicides, divestiture of property and just general nutball behavior, nothing but nothing can touch Halley's Comet.
Even before Sir Edmund slapped his name on that periodically appearing ball of glowing dirty snow, its presence in the heavens gave rise to all manner of dire predictions.
Perhaps the best hysteria was engendered in 1910, when noted French astronomer Camille Flammarion claimed to have discovered a gas called "cyanogen" in the comet's tail, and predicted that the gas would impregnate the Earth's atmosphere and snuff out all life.
Millions of people snapped up everything from gas masks to "comet pills" to stave off the end, which, again, never arrived.
So, next time someone tells you the world's going to end, tell them to put it to music.