Fascination with the end of the world increases during bad times

Are we doomed?

Prophecies about the end of the world have been debated by scholars, theologians and religious leaders for a long time. But it's not just them.

Pop culture also has a fascination with end times. Sociologists say the interest in books, movies and lectures on the subject increases with bad times, such as those scarred by hurricanes, famines, tsunamis, war and economic collapse.

The fascination is clear in society today with the release of recent movies. The film "2012," which opened Friday, depicts the end of the world and is stirring talk about the meaning of a Mayan calendar with the doomsday date. Another movie, "The Road," which opens Nov. 25, looks at a man and his son's post-apocalyptic struggle to survive.

Margaret Gonsoulin, a sociology professor at California State University, Fresno, says the fascination with end times in pop culture reflects a hunger for meaning in the anxiety people feel in bad times.

"They want to know about the future," she says. "But these sorts of ideas about end times mean different things to different people."

Different faiths have different visions about the end. Some don't believe it because they see life as eternal; others go so far as to predict an exact date for the end.

In general, religious convictions help protect people from a sense of anxiety and fear, Gonsoulin says.

Many Christians, for example, expect the return of Jesus Christ and the deliverance of believers to heaven when the world ends.

"That really changes people's lives here on Earth," she says. "You don't have to worry about things here. You're going to be freed. That can be exciting for some people."

Other religions teach that end times will bring the transformation of existence on Earth and the fruition of some people's vision for the world.

The Rev. Mark Hitchcock, author of a new book, "2012, the Bible, and the End of the World," says many religions have an apocalyptic view of how things will end up.

Judaism teaches the Messiah is coming, he says, while Shiite Islam teaches a hidden imam is coming. Hitchcock, pastor of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Okla., says Christianity teaches Christ is coming back, the dead will be raised and there will be a final judgment.

"How the rest of the furniture will be arranged — those are the things people quibble about," he says.

The Rev. G.L. Johnson, pastor emeritus of Peoples Church in northeast Fresno, says the Bible teaches that no one knows the date of Jesus' return, but that believers will sense the times and the seasons.

He compiled sermons that he presented on the Tribulation, the Antichrist, Armageddon, judgment and the Mark of the Beast into a book, "Is the Curtain of Prophecy Going Up?"

Johnson says, "Everyone wants to know where we're headed and how it's going to end up."

The subject can be tricky to discuss.

Tony Williams, president of men's ministry at Aphesis Apostolic Ministry on North Palm Avenue, tries to prompt people to think about it by standing on an island at Palm and Belmont avenues with a sign that reads, "The End Is Near."

He says he encounters rude motorists.

"I get flipped off," he says. "One good response is better than all the negative."

He says he is just trying to share his beliefs about "the end" so people can prepare themselves by giving their lives to God.

He has been holding the sign, mainly on Sundays, for a couple of months.

"The Holy Ghost is your ticket to heaven," he says. "I'm just trying to give a message beyond the pulpit."