The Pursuit of the Millennium Still Drives So Many of Us – From Mayan Myths to Second Comings

Every once in awhile I rant.

Today’s verbal tirade is about millennial myths and millennial thinking. It seems appropriate to do this the day after the world was supposed to come to an end based on the cycles within the Mayan calendar, a milestone that many interpreted to mean the end of the planet. There were even people (see image below) going to Bugarach, a village in France near the Pyrenees, to camp out in anticipation of aliens rising from a mountain and rescuing those few who had made the pilgrimage.

On December 20, 2012, people like those in this picture gathered in the village of Bugarach  to witness the end of the World.   Source: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

On December 20, 2012, people like these (don’t you just love the hats) in this picture gathered in the village of Bugarach to witness the end of the World based on the cycles of the Mayan calendar.     Source: Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

And speaking of pilgrimages, that brings me to the topic of past millennial myths. When St. Augustine prophesied the end of the World would happen a thousand years after Jesus Christ’s sojourn on Earth, as the centuries past after the saint’s death, and we approached the Year 1000, incredible disruption occurred in the lives of those living in Western Europe and other parts of the Christianity. Kings prepared themselves for a Second Coming and the End of Days. In The Frankish Kingdom, the Holy Roman Empire and even in the Eastern Roman World we call Byzantine, the actions and deeds of humans, both great and small, reflected the expectation of a final encounter between an Antichrist and Messiah. It didn’t happen of course but throughout the 11th century many speculated on the mathematics thinking it would and that they had just got the dates wrong. Some scholars even believe the Crusades to recapture Jerusalem for Christianity was somewhat motivated by the belief in the millennium and the coming end of the World. Restoring the Holy Land to Christianity was to be the welcome mat.

St. Augustine described Christianity's destiny in terms of a thousand years. Later his words along with the Book of Revelations led to the belief that the world would end in 1000 A..D.

St. Augustine described Christianity’s destiny in terms of a thousand years. Later his words along with ideas expressed in the Book of Revelations led to the belief within the church and Western society that the World would end in 1000 A..D.

A thousand years later in our sophisticated 20th century millennial thinking returned once again. This time not only the religious were espousing the End of Days. They were joined by those in the world of bits and bytes as the crisis of Y2K approached. The latter, largely a tempest in a teapot, didn’t cause the modern technical world to grind to a halt when the calendar clicked over to January 1, 2000. Power plants didn’t stop operating. The stock market didn’t crash. Airplanes didn’t fall out of the sky. And the billions of dollars spent on remediating software from two to four digits to represent the year turned out to be largely an expense that could have been avoided by most. And as for the Christian prophesies of a millennium……I think some are still waiting.

This is an illustration from a data storage company's advertisement with an "end of world" catastrophic theme.   Source: Iomega Corporation

This is an illustration from a data storage company’s advertisement announcing the Y2K threat.          Source: Iomega Corporation

We continue to encounter millennial thinking and I suspect we will not see it end until we have passed through much of the 21st century just like it didn’t really stop until well into the 1100s back in medieval times. I keep thinking the key date will be around 2032, 2,000 years after the supposed date of Jesus’ recorded death. Once we clear 2030 we’ll see less of millennial themes, that is until the year 3000. But we still have millennialists today. They may not have found the Mayan calendar to be any more accurate a predictor than St. Augustine but we are not rid of them as of yet.

We still have lots of different millennial thinkers out there. Some of them are speaking of the end of days based on a different theme, the catastrophic view of  the consequences of global warming,  rising sea levels, hurricanes like Sandy and Katrina, and melting polar ice caps.

It’s not that I don’t believe we are undergoing profound climate change. I sincerely do. But we really need to stop panicking the way kings, knights and commoners did in the last decades of the 10th century.

Instead we need to be advocates for the continuation of days and that means we need:

  • To make sure we understand all that we are observing without the hype.
  • To get the raw data and use our software smarts to do the necessary analysis.
  • To spend the money doing even more research than we have done to date so that we can find solutions to the consequences of our  Industrial Age.

We cannot go backwards to simpler days although some profess that to be the answer.

We can’t cull the population of humans on this planet to stop a Malthusian prophesy.

We can’t simply stop producing energy when so many of us don’t have access to basic light and heat.

Yes, we are technology rich.

Yes, we have an enormous population to feed.

Yes we have a planet to nurture and protect.

So what I asking all of us to do is – a little less hype, an end to simple-minded solutions, a lot more investment in the science, a ton more in education, experimentation and knowledge sharing, and finally, a nurturing of creativity and invention so that once and for all we eliminate millennial thinking for good.


Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...