The word doomsday appears so often and in so many different political, military, and religious contexts that the topic has come to puzzle many people. The word derives from the Old English phrase domes dag and refers to a day of judgment or trial in which a sentence is pronounced. It also refers to a final cosmic dissolution, “the end of the world.” In Christianity, doomsday is often associated with Armageddon, the “Mount of Slaughter” described in the Apocalypse, a visionary disclosure of what the future is supposed to hold. Although such descriptions appear in the literatures of Christianity and other religions, the actual event has been wrongly predicted so often that many scoff at the very idea or regard such descriptions as myths. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon even today to see various prophets, teachers, and religionists interpreting the social and political events of our times in such a way as to show that the end of the world is at hand.
In the fifth century, Sulpicus Severus wrote that the Roman tyrant Nero had reappeared in the world as the Antichrist and that the end of the world was nigh.
A century later Quodvultdeus identified the Book of Revelation’s Gog and Magog as the Goths and the Moors and predicted the world to end “in three years and six months.”
In a meeting with Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1191, the seer Joachim stated that the Antichrist had already been born in the world and that the day of judgment was forthcoming. (In his lifetime, Joachim’s reputation was such that he was consulted in his mountain retreat by four popes and was visited by kings, queens, and other members of royalty.)
European Christians in the thirteenth century regarded Genghis Khan, the beheader of Prester John, as an apocalyptic figure. The popular view was that the world would end in 1265.
In the 1360s, Jan Milicz pronounced Emperor Charles IV to be the Antichrist; once more doomsday was at hand.
William Miller, the founder of the movement that was to spawn the Seventh Day Adventists, predicted the world to end on April 3, 1843; July 7, 1843; March 21, 1844; and October 22, 1844.
More recently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the world to end sometime in 1975 and also on October 2, 1984. Presently there are an estimated seven to eight million evangelical Christians who expect the world to end within this generation and quite possibly in the 1980s. The most widely endorsed scenario for Armageddon is that presented by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth. (Lindsey is the bestselling author of the decade, his book having sold fifteen million copies.)
Understandably, such predictions and interpretations of the times have made people skeptical about religious pronouncements in general. In more secular circles, however, many regard the destruction of the world as quite possible, even likely.
Since the development of the atom bomb more than forty years ago, human beings have confronted the feasibility of global destruction through nuclear war. In The Fate of the Earth, Jonathan Schell gives scientific evidence from a variety of sources to show that it an all-out nuclear war were to occur, not only would no nation win but life on this planet would come to an end. And in recent weeks scientists have described how nuclear war will in all likelihood give rise to what they term a “nuclear winter.” According to this view, as firestorms sweep through the bombed cities, soot and ash will rise into the upper atmosphere of the planet to form dust blankets so thick that no sunlight will he able to reach the surface of the earth. The average temperature on earth will then drop an estimated forty degrees, disrupting the ecological balance.
Despite such dark forebodings, many feel that war can be averted. Some argue that since the superpowers know that nuclear war will assure the destruction of everyone, no one will be willing to begin the fighting. Thus the advocates of this policy of “Mutual Assured Destruction” favor the continued development of offensive nuclear weapons. President Reagan has advocated in his Strategic Defense Initiative a space-based nuclear missile defense system designed to destroy nuclear missiles far above the surface of the earth. Such a system would, presumably, dissuade the Soviets from beginning a nuclear war. Said Reagan, “I have called upon the great scientific talents of our country to turn to the cause of strengthening world peace by rendering ballistic missiles impotent and obsolete.” It would appear that from either a religious or a political/technological perspective, there is no clear consensus on the inevitability of the destruction of the world.
Based upon the teachings of the Vedas, the Krsna conscious perspective does not hold that total cosmic annihilation will occur within our lifetime. Yet, there is one “apocalypse” each of us will experience: death.
Despite the fact that no one lives forever, people act as if they will never die. The Vedic literature describes how a wise king was once asked, “What is the most amazing thing in the world?” The king replied, “Although the people of the world see that everyone must die, no one really thinks that he will die. This is the most amazing thing in the world.” Even the doomsaying evangelists live for this world and minister to their congregations in a materialistic way by promising financial miracles or by providing guidance on attaining success in materialistic endeavors. Most people today absorb themselves in pleasure-seeking, neglecting all the while inevitable death. Yet like a personal apocalypse, each person’s death is coming.
Sooner or later we will each face our day of judgment. We don’t have to study and interpret the political events of the day to recognize this fact, nor need we resort to Biblical-political wizardry. This “doomsday” will come whether or not Reagan deploys his Star Wars defense system, and whether or not the Russians or the Americans or the terrorist fanatics explode their bombs. With total devastation, our personal apocalypse will strike. For some, it will be “prophesized” by those telltale signs of mortality, disease and old age. For others, it will give no warning. But one by one we will all go to our personal doomsday. This Armageddon will occur by the agency known as time, and, personal beliefs and opinions notwithstanding, it is inevitable.
According to the Vedic scriptures, the self survives death to take on another body. And which particular body a particular soul takes is determined by that individual’s thoughts and deeds during his human incarnation. We should rectify our consciousness, therefore, in preparation for our next life. And as for the larger events of a thermonuclear Armageddon, that too may be avoided, but only if people rectify their activities and free themselves of their destined doomsday. Destiny can be changed by Krsna consciousness.—SDG