Cafferty on apocalypticism

A few days ago, CNN’s Jack Cafferty posed the question, “What does it mean when one in seven people think the end of the world is coming?” He was responding to a Reuters poll which reported that, worldwide, “nearly 15% of people believe the world will end during their lifetime,” while “10% think the end could come as soon as this year,” based on the Mayan calendar hype.

Cafferty remarked that “for some reason this Mayan Doomsday prediction has attracted millions, maybe even billions, of believers.” Um… Billions, huh? I’d be curious to see some journalistic sourcing for that claim. Even with the qualifying “maybe” tacked onto it, it doesn’t quite mesh with the Reuters data. (Ten percent of the world’s 7  billion people do not “billions” make.)

I suspect that lurking behind Cafferty’s interest in this study is a sense that apocalypticism is irrational. If I’m reading this correctly, then the implied answer to his question, “What does it mean when one in seven people think the end of the world is coming?” is: One in seven people can’t be trusted to make rational decisions. “Only 6% of the French and 8% of the British fear Armageddon in their lifetime,” Cafferty reports, “compared to 22% in Turkey and right here in the United States.” No surprises there, really. I wonder, though, if Cafferty intends us to be startled by the pairing of Turkey and the U.S. I mean, a Muslim country, sure, you expect those folks to be backward. But how can the U.S. be at the same level? How can the American public be as benighted as Turkey?

Three of the first four responses that Cafferty used on air reflect what I’m suspecting is his own anxiety. The folks worried about the Mayan calendar “aren’t thinking logically,” says Nancy from Tennessee. (A rational voice from Tennessee! There’s hope!) “B.” warns that the 1-in-7 stat “may seem unimportant, but maybe the other six should be prepared for what that one might do out of fear, religion, or even hate.” That’s followed by Nate in North Carolina quipping that “the other six remember Y2K”–i.e., they’re being sensible.

Cafferty didn’t put on air any responses quoting the Bible as an authority in defense of apocalyptic predictions (though, predictably, some appear in the comments at the bottom of the blog). He did air, though, this possibly New-Agey, certainly environmentalist-minded comment from a Texan: “The human race cannot sustain itself on its current course of development. The 1 in 7 have ‘done the math’. It’s really quite simple, statistically speaking, without a fundamental change in consciousness the human race is doomed.” Amen, brother.

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