scilogs Biology of Religion

Evolution and our Taste for Apocalyptic Stories about the End of the World

from Michael Blume, 06. January 2012, 22:27

Maybe you have been wondering why so many people are freaking out because of another "end of the world" destined for 2012. After all, there have been numerous respective dates in the past, and it never happened.

But we are, simply put, products of evolution. And as a deeply social species, we have evolved to become addicted to experiencing and sharing captivating narratives. And what could be more fascinating than a story about the very topics of survival and reproduction: About great catastrophes wiping out nearly everyone, with the few survivors then going forth to be fruitful and multiply. It's a classic.

From Floods to the Apocalypse

Therefore, we shouldn't be too surprised to find respective narratives abundant among religious mythologies. There's plenty of popular end-of-the-world-myths available, ranging from the biblical, noachidic flood (which is only a late version of many older flood narratives) to the Norse Ragnarök and the genre-naming Christian apocalypse (greek: revelation). Ironically, the Mayan calendar is not among them - december 21st 2012 is just the non-specified end of a cyclus.

But modern "secular" culture is craving for apocalyptic tales as any human culture did before. The image of a punishing God may be replaced by those of a vengeful nature. Instead of demons and angels, aliens and asteroids are descending from the sky. And those lucky or worthy few that survive are destined to sire children and to turn the eternal circle of life...

Thus, whether you are secular or religious, you may want to "enjoy" the subsequent collection of some apocalypses. I'd be glad if you would share some of the ideas and emotions you experienced while watching.

* German Version of this post with a book review "Faszination Apokalypse" by Thomas Grüter.

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