November 29, 2012

Could this be last chance to examine the end times?

Current events have added an element of reality to college courses based on predictions that the world will end on Dec. 21, the conclusion of the 'Long Count' Mayan Calendar.

Susan Snyder / The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Stuart Charme, professor of religion at Rutgers-Camden University, uses current events in his classroom to explore talk of the apocalypse, which is forecast to occur on Dec. 21.

Tom Gralish/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

Brother Joseph Dougherty, a La Salle University religion professor teaching in the Philippines, promptly replied to a question about whether he knew of any "end of the world" courses there.

"The Philippines will not participate in the end of the world," he wrote, suggesting intervention by a higher authority -- "an indult from the pope."

Restall noted that over time, there have been hundreds of scheduled doomsdays. In 1260, a friar in Italy cited the Book of Revelation. In 1843, a farmer in Vermont predicted the second coming. Then there was Y2K. And American Christian radio broadcaster Howard Camping predicted a fiery end would begin in May 2011.

And if nothing happens on Dec. 21, "people will immediately begin to move to the next date," Restall said, or philosophize that Dec. 21 is the beginning of a seven-year period that will bring about the end.

Students and faculty are making lighthearted plans for the fateful day. Several said they were attending "end of the world" parties.

"I'll probably call some friends and laugh with them," said Temple junior Samira Ford, 20, a broadcast major.

Gayle Cutler, who is auditing the Rutgers-Camden class, is booked on a flight to Israel -- a ticket she bought before the semester started and she learned the significance of the date.

"If they're flying and there's no war, I will be going," said Cutler, a retired English teacher.

Charme said that whether people believe is the least important issue.

"What's more interesting to me is what are the reasons why people take on certain beliefs that may or may not be unusual," he said.

Every day, there's fresh material on the Internet, Charme said.

In class one day last week, he shared the latest: The "rapture index" had reached its highest level -- 186. Billed as "the prophetic speedometer of end-time activity," the index considers 45 factors, such as moral standards, unemployment, drug abuse, earthquakes and "liberalism."

The Israeli conflict tipped up the anti-Semitism metric.

"What 186 really means we don't really know," Charme said, tongue-in-cheek, "other than that it's way, way, way worse than it's ever been before."


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