Dead birds in Sweden, dead crabs in England, dead fish in the US. What in the world is going on? Andrew Carswell looks at the theories
TOM Evans, doting dad to two infant children, says he's leaving the planet on May 21, never to return. On what will otherwise be a seemingly harmless spring day in his Californian home, the 54-year-old expects he will never wake up, passing from one life to the next in the blinking of an eye, swapping the rigours of mortality for the peace of eternity.
For the record, he is not sick. And he does not intend to commit suicide. He believes his body will simply disappear. His and 200 million others.
Saturday May 21, 2011 is Judgment Day, the second coming of Christ, the end of the world as we know it -- so he believes.
And he is not alone. The same Rapture date prediction is eagerly awaited by thousands around the globe who subscribe to the fundamentalist Christian beliefs of Bible decoder and Family Radio network founder Harold Camping.
"I'm ready to go, I'm more than ready and I'm looking forward to that day. I hope in His Word. All my trust is that God's Word is true, and the evidence that I see in the Bible points to May 21," Evans tells The Daily Telegraph from his Oakland office.
Through detailed analysis and calculations based on "hidden" prophesies in the Bible, the church group has deduced the aforementioned date will be exactly 7000 years since God flooded Earth in the times of Noah, a Biblical story they believe was an embodiment of what will take place when Christ returns, sans any flooding.
Camping and his Family Radio network followers believe an earthquake on an unprecedented scale will cripple the planet that day, before God destroys what remains in a gigantic fireball sometime in October.
The 89-year-old Camping is no stranger to making such Rapture predictions for what is a pillar belief in the Christian faith, having inaccurately prophesied that the world would end in 1994. He later admitted his calculations were slightly faulty. Now he has it right, apparently.
Nor is he alone in publicly proclaiming the exact date of the apocalypse, given there have been more than 220 documented claims from renowned sources predicting mankind's last hour. Members of the restorationist Christian denomination Jehovah's Witnesses have wrongly predicted the return of Christ a record nine times, with one leader forecasting Adelaide would be wiped off the map by a giant wave in 1976. Even hallowed scientist Sir Isaac Newton had a stab, claiming the apocalypse could happen no earlier than 2060.
It's just that Camping is the only one bold enough to lock in the year 2011 as a sure bet.
But when it comes to predictions about 2012 triggering a cataclysmic event, take a ticket and get in line.
The palpable downward spiral of morality, mixed with the prevalence of war, natural disasters and near bankruptcy of the US have whipped the world's doomsday merchants into a wild frenzy.
This week, in the US state of Arkansas, fringe apocalyptic advocates from many races and religions found some more incriminating and bizarre evidence that they have added to their burgeoning file of
End of Time signs.
In the minutes leading up to the New Year, more than 5000 blackbirds fell from the sky over the small town of Beebe, just days after 100,000 dead fish floated to the surface of the Arkansas River a mere 160km away.
The strange phenomenon also occurred in Louisiana, where 500 dead birds were found roadside near Baton Rouge, while mass animal deaths have been reported in England, New Zealand and Sweden in recent days.
Cue spooky music.
Is this a sign of impending planetary doom, that even the birds and fish want out early before it gets nasty?
Investigating veterinarians say no way, citing everything from hypothermia to New Year's Eve fireworks as potential (and more sensible) explanations for the deaths.
But a range of dates have also been thrown up in recent days by doomsayers who claim it's the end of the world as we know it. Gaining notoriety because of its hyped Hollywood appearance -- Google 2012, the film -- December 21, 2012, is one potential candidate cited by faithful fear-mongers as the end of time.
The date signifies the end of the Mayan calendar, which unorthodox followers of the ancient timetable believe will be followed by Armageddon and the brutal destruction of Earth. The doom date coincides with a relic Mayan stone tablet discovered in Mexico in the 1960s that describes, in part, that 2012 will see the return to Earth of Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.
Just what does this Bolon Yokte character have in mind?
While not necessarily ascribing to annihilation theories, astrologists believe the date is also highly significant because it coincides with a series of astronomical alignments that occur roughly every 25,800 years.
University of Sydney religious studies professor Christopher Hartney says a Mayan doomsday scenario is merely a western concept, and not one conceived by the Mayan civilisation. He maintains most followers of the ancient Mayan calendar have since softened their views on the subject, preferring a less cataclysmic, and more rose-coloured view.
"The followers have refabricated their thinking. They now believe that in December 2012 there will be a significant spiritual change in the world that will bring in a new age [of] co-operation and a more intense spirituality," he says, adding that he personally is a non-believer.
"The doomsday film 2012, and then behind that references in The X Files, were suggesting that this Mayan calender running out was ominous. There was a big Hollywood spin on it. I'm sure there are still many people who still believe the doomsday scenario -- but maybe it's best to call some people in the US, certainly not here in Australia."
Even the Mayan descendants are keen to distance themselves from any talk of an apocalypse in 2012.
When asked by the Guardian newspaper in 2009 whether such a scenario would occur, Mayan Indian elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun soon set the record straight.
"I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed-up with this stuff."
A favourite of conspiracy theorists and pseudo-scientific wackos, 2012 has also been pencilled in as the year the universe's supposed forgotten planet Nibiru (or Planet X) will either collide with Earth, or at least pass by closely, knocking our planet off its axis.
Such was the vast number of inquiries made to its hotline about the Nibiru claims, NASA was forced last year to issue a statement condemning the beliefs as nothing more than an internet hoax.
"There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade," the statement said.
"For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012."
NASA likens the hysteria surrounding 2012 doomsday theories to the Y2K fever that gripped the globe in the late 1990s, before embarrassing its many believers when January 1, 2000, ticked over without incident.
As well as the Mayans, 11 other groups (whose traditions hark back to ancient times) have allegedly highlighted 2012 as a year of significance, with some forecasting doom. Others prefer the belief that it will mark the beginning of an enlightened era.
A core belief of the Dogon tribe in Mali is their ancestors' supposed interaction with an extraterrestrial race. They believe 2012 will see the return of those visitors in a spaceship that resembles a blue star.
Like the Mayan equivalent, the ancient Cherokee and Egyptian stone calendars come to an end in 2012. Followers of ancient Egyptian text believe they have also discovered a doom link to 2012, with the early civilisation describing a massive astronomical sign that appeared in the year 9792BC that caused them great concern. The followers claim there are only two dates when the planet Venus will be in retrograde through Orion while Earth's pole precession is the same -- 9792BC and AD2012.
In India, guru Kalki Bhagavan has been telling anyone who will listen 2012 will be the "deadline" for human enlightenment. He first made those claims in 1998.
Another firm believer in the 2012 apocalypse is former Washington Post writer Michael Drosnin, author of the best-selling book Bible Code. Drosnin, who correctly predicted the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 but wrongly claimed a nuclear holocaust would occur before 2006, suggests in his book that a comet may hit Earth in 2012.
Closer to home, followers of cult group Agape Ministries in Adelaide believed the world would end after microchips were implanted into everyone by the end of 2012. After police raided their headquarters and seized a cache of weapons last year, the group's leader Rocco Leo fled to Vanuatu.
Hartney says humans have long had a fascination with doomsday scenarios and predicting the end of time because such bold beliefs give a sense of certainty in an uncertain world.
"It is about the people on the fringes of society, for whatever psychological or social reason, trying to keep their followers together, keep them psychologically happy, in order to lock down on the idea that they are powerless now, but soon will be very powerful because of these massive changes," he says. "People want to manufacture certainty. So it gives us this possibility to cling to before they are finally justified."
For Tom Evans, a man preparing to meet his maker, there is no talk of 2012.
He knows his reputation is at stake, a direct cost of a blunt public declaration, of putting
a date on an event most Christians believe is unknowable. Not that his reputation is in any way above reproach. He and his Family Radio network followers have been branded heretics by many mainstream Christians, and derided as loonies by social commentators.
But he is certain of his fate.
Beneath his spiritual bravado, his long list of biblical quotes and theological reasoning, and his rockbed of faith, he still admits he is prone to weak human thinking.
"I don't think too many of us will be sleeping too well on May 20," he said.
When asked what if the May 21 predictions prove false, Evans says: "Of course I've considered it, I'm a human being. I would be lying if I said there was no part of me that had reservations. But I look at the world now, and the way the world is going, and I ask, 'Would I want my children growing up in this world?'
"And the answer is no."