By Sean Casteel
Being a UFO believer often carries with it a certain apocalyptic world view. While most would hesitate to predict an exact time and place, it’s safe to say that we nevertheless anticipate an eventual mass landing of some kind, or at least formal government disclosure that makes belief or unbelief a moot point. We collectively dream of some kind of radical transformation of our world, for good or evil, once the UFO phenomenon is irrefutably validated.
But writer John Michael Greer, in his new book “Apocalypse Not: A History of the End of Time,” says different. According to Greer, mankind has left a record dating back 3000 years and appearing in nearly every single civilization in which the world as we know it coming to a dramatic end is prophesied and adopted as a heartfelt article of faith.
According to Greer, “Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term, in his 1976 book, ‘The Selfish Gene,’ as a label for ideas that replicate through human society the way that genes replicate through a population of living things.”
A meme is an idea or set of ideas, Greer continues, “that can be transmitted from one person to another. It survives as long as it remains a factor in somebody’s thoughts and actions, and it spreads when one person convinces another to accept the meme.
“The apocalypse meme,” he goes on to explain, “is among the most convincing of examples of a meme at work. To follow it through history is to watch a distinctive set of ideas adapting and evolving over time, passing from host to host and from environment to environment, feeding on the available raw materials and fending off competing ideas with whatever defenses come to hand. Unlike many other memes, the apocalypse meme can be traced throughout history all the way back to its origins between 1500 and 1200 BCE, and it can be followed forward from that point right up to the present. Its trail is easy to follow for an unpleasant reason: the tracks of the apocalypse meme through history are well-spattered with human blood.”
Greer also provides a rundown of the apocalyptic beliefs currently held by various groups in today’s world. There are the evangelical Christians who are convinced that at some point in the very near future, “every truly devout Protestant Christian will suddenly and mysteriously disappear from the face of the earth, going to meet Jesus in the clouds.”
The disappearance is called The Rapture, and it will usher in a seven year Tribulation and the reign of the world’s last tyrant, The Antichrist. At the end of the seven years, Jesus will return and annihilate the Antichrist, and the Christian faithful will reign with Jesus for a thousand years. Believers in this scenario are convinced the Christian Bible predicts all of this word for word, and a large number believe it will happen in their lifetimes.
The Muslims hold a similar belief, without the Rapture element. The Muslim equivalent of the Antichrist is called the Dajjal, and he is expected to be every bit as tyrannical and evil as his Christian counterpart. The Dajjal will be destroyed by Mahdi, the future prophet who will lead the faithful to paradise.
The Jews, meanwhile, await their Messiah, while the Hindus eagerly anticipate the birth of Kalki, the next avatar of the great god Vishnu. The Buddhists across central Asia long for the appearance of the great king Rigden Jyepo, who will ride forth from the hidden city of Shambhala to vanquish the foes of the Buddhist Dharma.
Then there are the non-religious, secular visions of the end of the world. Some UFO beliefs fit this category.
“A significant number of Americans believe,” Greer writes, “that aliens from a distant planet are visiting Earth secretly in flying saucers, and someday soon will make their presence known; some believe that the aliens will usher in a marvelous new age, others expect something more sinister; both groups have been waiting breathlessly for the alien presence to be disclosed to the public since the late 1940s, but both insist that disclosure is imminent and that history as we know it will soon be over.”
In a later chapter in the book, Greer takes up the UFO subject again.
“Though the origin and nature of the UFO phenomenon remain controversial,” he writes, “its role as raw material for the apocalypse meme is not. In the earliest days of the subculture that sprang up around UFO sightings, the idea that the flying saucers had appeared to warn Earthlings about the risk of self-destruction via nuclear war was a central topic of discussion. By the early 1950s, the seeds of the apocalypse meme hidden in that idea had sprouted into luxuriant growth, and people who believed that they were in telepathic contact with alien astronauts – and there were quite a few people who made such claims at the time – vied with one another in issuing colorful proclamations of the imminent doom from which the Space Brothers were about to save us.”
Greer tells the story of Dorothy Martin, a suburban Chicago housewife turned UFO contactee who in 1954 announced that aliens from the planet Clarion had warned her that North America would be ravaged by terrible floods on December 21 of that year. The newspapers picked up on the prediction and Martin gathered a dozen or so followers on the night of the 20th to wait, vainly, for a UFO to swoop down and carry them off into the skies. Martin’s group disintegrated after the failure of the prophecy. She went on to become a minor New Age teacher and the rest of her followers returned to their ordinary lives. A sociological study of Martin and her group called “When Prophecy Fails” was published in 1956.
There is always, of course, the mass suicides of the Heaven’s Gate cult in March of 1997 to serve as an example of when failed prophecy doesn’t end so harmlessly. Most of us are all too painfully aware of the cult’s belief that the Space Brothers would descend and lift them all to the “Evolutionary Level Above Human.”
“[Cult leader Marshall] Applewhite proclaimed in late 1996 that Comet Hale-Bopp would soon crash into Earth and annihilate the human race,” Greer writes, “and he and his followers apparently decided to make sure that in their case, at least, the prophecy would come true. It’s unlikely, to use no stronger word, that their decision to ‘shed their physical containers’ got them seats onboard the giant spaceship they believed was hovering in Hale-Bopp’s tail, but it did spare them the embarrassment of having to explain away yet another failed prediction of the end.”
Greer also skewers belief in the long anticipated date of December 21, 2012, as foretold by what he contends is a loose and misinformed interpretation of the Mayan calendar. The day will fall on a Friday, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a bit of lyric from the jazz/rock group Steely Dan: “When Black Friday comes, I’m going to dig myself a hole. I’m going to lay down in it until I satisfy my soul.” That may be the only recourse for some who anticipated a preordained doom or an awe inspiring shift in mortal consciousness. Perhaps if nothing happens, a certain part of the populace will be inconsolable for a time.
And what are we as UFO believers to make of Greer’s dismissal of ideas some of us may still hold sacred? I personally still believe the apocalypse will come, and will involve UFOs and angels and demons as well as Jesus and the Antichrist. Jesus warns us in the Gospels that “No man knows the day or the hour,” and that not even the angels will know exactly when God the Father sends the events that will make up the apocalypse. Perhaps the real danger is in trying to pinpoint a day or an hour or a month or a year when Christ has clearly warned us not to attempt to do that. That is the hubris that has led so many would-be prophets to fail utterly while at the same time misleading their gullible followers.
In the words of Bruce Springsteen, “The future hasn’t happened yet.”
For more information about this book or to purchase it from Amazon.com simply click on its title: Apocalypse Not: A History of the End of Time
[If you enjoyed this review, visit Sean Casteel’s UFO Journalist website at www.seancasteel.com to read more of his articles and interviews.]