21st Century Conspiracy Theories #1: Apocalypse Meh

A great comet descends from the heavens and smashes into the Earth, at the same time as nuclear missiles leave the safety of their launch tubes and begin their journey skyward. Sickness ravages the people, while the world economy collapses and money becomes worthless. Meanwhile, great religious feasts of different faiths line up, while the planets themselves intricately dance together in a column starting at the Earth and ending at a distant galaxy.

The world heaves and thrashes. Billions die. Leaders turn on their people. Society destroys itself and descends into anarchy. And the survivors live in a burned-out husk, stripped of their livelihood and freedom, unless they had the good sense to listen to prophets and prep for the end times.

Some or all of this is what’s forecast to come down from God when the world ends on September 23, 2017.

Or maybe it was September 23, 2015. Or December 21, 2012. Or May 27, 2012. Or October 21, 2011. Or September 29 of that year. Or May 21. Or sometime in 2010. Or April 29, 2007. November 29, 2003? That too.

The wonderful thing about predicting the end of the world is that there are endless ways to be wrong, and to cover your tracks after you’ve been wrong.

Religious leaders, prophecy watchers, and those attuned to the intricacies of the Bible have been announcing the destruction of the planet since the days the Bible was being written. The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 24, written around 70 BCE, includes a vivid passage describing how God will punish the people of Earth with total destruction, beginning with:

the Lord is going to lay waste the earth
    and devastate it;
he will ruin its face
    and scatter its inhabitants

Other books of both the Old and New Testament offer differing visions for the end of the world, while others attempt to justify why earlier predictions didn’t come true. Since then, any number of charlatans and cranks have made fortunes forecasting the apocalypse, only to engage in special pleading to explain why their vision didn’t come true, and how their next date is the real end times.

Everyone from Popes and prophets to Christopher Columbus and Cotton Mather predicted various dates for the end of the world, and they were wrong every time. Mather, the famed preacher who pioneered smallpox inoculation, put forth three different dates.

In the 1840’s Baptist preacher William Miller built a movement of over a hundred thousand people prophesying the end of the world for various dates in 1844, with the final date coming and going, leaving behind the Great Disappointment.

Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong had four different Armageddon predictions, while more recently, Harold Camping made millions on an endless string of end times predictions, dying in 2013 with none of them coming true.

The internet turned what had been the realm of well-studied preachers into a bottomless well of ill-informed crankery, bogus “research,” conspiracy theories, and twisted takes on theology. Most were backed up by pleas to buy doomsday prepping products.

Uber conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, economic collapse guru Michael Snyder, prophecy crank John Hagee, and weeping right wing doomsayer Glenn Beck have all harnessed the power of social media and YouTube to become famous, while selling truckloads of books and food storage buckets based on the end of the world, which is going to happen any…time…now…

These and other (mostly white male) self-proclaimed prophets have spent two decades warning of wars to come, currencies that will become worthless, government takeovers, God’s judgement expressed through heavenly signs, and great heaps of corpses. While the details vary between their predictions, what they have in common is that none have come true.

The latest end times prophecy, said to be taking place on September 23 of this year, is something being called the “Revelation 12 Sign.” It’s based on the eponymous verse from the Book of Revelation, which begins with a horrific vision:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.

The woman gives birth to a child who will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter,” and is taken away by a seven-headed dragon. A war in Heaven breaks out, Satan is cast down to Earth, and the End Times begin.

Biblical scholars tend to view Revelation as less of a roadmap to the end times and more of an allegorical reaction to Roman persecution of the early Christians.  Professor of Classics and Christian Origins at the University of Texas at Austin I. Michael White wrote for PBS Frontline that many of the vivid descriptions in John’s vision line up perfectly with the iconography of 1st Century CE Rome.

“[T]he woman [in Revelation 12] sits on the seven-headed beast as a symbol of her “seven hills” — the seven hills of Rome,” White writes. “The woman is the city of Roman, here depicted as the persecutor of Christians. Then it says that the seven heads are also seven kings. And we can read from its cryptic terminology the references to the Emperors of Rome.”

On and on it goes, with White comparing each Revelation “beast” to a contemporary king or emperor, with the dreaded number of the beast, revealed in Revelation 13 as “666,” standing in for Nero. Each event in the vision of John corresponds to a contemporary one, with the eventual wiping away of the old world symbolizing Christianity’s eventual victory over its Roman oppressors.

But both old-timey and internet-era cranks, conspiracy theorists, and Biblical literalists see Revelation not as hope for the future, but as a guide to what the end of the world will look like.

And what they see in the Revelation 12 sign is a planetary alignment “whereby Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will be around the constellations of Virgo and Leo, together with the sun and moon. Sept. 23 is when Jupiter leaves Virgo,” as NPR puts it.

The “son” of Revelation 12, then, is Jupiter leaving Virgo. The “twelve stars” of the crown are the nine stars in Leo, along with the three planets of our solar system. And the moon will be under Virgo, with the sun passing through. All of this will combine with the recent solar eclipse, the passing through of a rare comet, the Jewish High Holy Days, the transit of Planet X (also called Nibiru),  the buildup of tension between the United States and North Korea, and various scriptural numerology references.

The end result is a once-in-a-universe event that fulfills Revelation 12, and begins the Biblical end times. What will actually happen is unclear, but it’s either something bad or the beginning of something bad. At least one Christian numerologist (who, naturally, wrote a book on Planet X) predicted pole shifts and massive weather changes for the date, and several YouTube videos predict it as the date when nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea will break out.

But even then, the signs that “something” is coming are much clearer than what actually *is* coming.

As “Economic Collapse Blog” author and Christian doomsday prepper Michael Synder puts it, in the vague fashion typical of internet prophets, “We are about to witness an extremely unusual convergence of events that many believe could represent a major turning point for our nation.”

The events are rare, and their confluence might be unusual, but that doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. A rare event doesn’t signal anything other than something that doesn’t happen often happened. And “major turning points” for the U.S. can be seen in everything from elections to the unveiling of the new iPhone.

The events forecast for September 23 read almost exactly like the signs, portents, politics, and stellar events alleged to be taking place the last time an apocalypse was predicted for September 23 – just two years ago in 2015.

As I wrote about for Skeptoid at the time, September 23, 2015, was a day when a number of major events, both real and fake, all allegedly began or continued or ended.

A large part of the hysteria was driven by pastor John Hagee’s book and movie “Four Blood Moons,” which interpreted the natural cycle of the moon’s transit as a sign of oncoming Armageddon.

Some of the other signs, portents, and events being tied into the phenomenon were:

• Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

• President Barack Obama met with Pope Francis at the White House. Of note is that Francis is the 266th Pope, September 23 is the 266th day of the year, and the average length of human gestation is 266 days.

• The Autumnal Equinox.

• The First day of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, also known as “the Feast of the Sacrifice.”

• One of several dates that Comet 67P was scheduled to make an extremely close passage of Earth.

• The approximate date of the restart of the CERN Large Hadron Collider, which will open a portal to another dimension.

• A few days after the end of the Jade Helm 15 military exercise.

• A few days before the launch of a new UN initiative, Agenda 2030, which signals the end stage of Agenda 21 implementation.

• The end of a Shemitah year in the Jewish Calendar, which is the last year of the seven year agricultural cycle, that traditionally brings with it great economic tribulation.

• The End Times prophecy of Sir Isaac Newton.

• A dire warning from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who claimed on May 13, 2014 that we have “500 days to avoid climate chaos.” 500 days after May 13, 2014 is September 24, 2015.

With a confluence of events like this, the more things you add into it, the more weight it carries. It doesn’t matter if these things are innocuous, or if they’re even real. The weight of the argument makes the argument true.

In the case of the 9/23/15 apocalypse, many of these events were indeed either innocuous or fake. Yom Kippur has taken place on September 23 many times, and many Popes have met with many Presidents. The Autumnal Equinox happens every year. Comet 67P was actually moving away from the Earth, while the Large Hadron Collider had restarted months earlier. And Jade Helm 15, a conspiracy theory that set the internet on fire for the entire summer of 2015, turned out to be nothing more than a military exercise, rather than a gun grab or martial law.

The Revelation 12 Sign is typical of modern internet conspiracies. It attempts to assign greater meaning to something random, explaining what can’t be explained. Much of what’s predicted for this September 23, like the last one, is either mundane or made-up. No scientific evidence for “Planet X” exists, the sun moves through Virgo once a year, and Jupiter moves through Virgo every 12 years. The details of the planetary alignment are also wrong – Leo has dozens of stars, not nine.

If the Revelation 12 Sign gets something as simple as the number of stars in Leo wrong, why would any other part of it be right?

Even other Christian eschatology experts don’t agree with the prophecy. No less than creationist website Answers in Genesis, long a bastion of crankery and psuedoscience, casts a side-eye at the sign, declaring it has “several problems” and that it’s likely that “nothing unusual” will happen.

September 23, 2015, turned out to be a bust. And it’s likely that September 23, 2017 will be as well. But the prophecy mavens will move on, just as Hagee did after his “Four Blood Moons” fizzled. Hagee declared that he wasn’t actually predicting a date, but only raising awareness of a sign that the end was coming.

But you can still buy Four Blood Moons DVDs and books on his site, and you’ll probably be able to buy Revelation 12 Sign books long after that apocalypse fizzles.

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