If I were a true believer in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic world view I might even be susceptible to the ‘end of times’ stories these prophets preach. Being a Taoist lets me off the hook for the most part; any part that remains ‘on the hook’ is nicely assuaged by Buddha’s Truths.
I suspect this sometimes apocalyptic sense of life is one of the deepest we humans feel. I see it manifested in various ways, and while not as literal the “May 21” end of the time story, they are nevertheless common. The stock market crashes foretell the end of the economy as we know it; extinction of species and global warming foretells the end of the planet as we know it.
These recurring stories, along with the recent Gulf oil spill and the nuclear disaster in Japan, all trigger cataclysmic perceptions in people far removed in time and space from actual events (or non-events as in the case of Armageddon-like stories).
Believers in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic world view and the Western view in general, may be especially vulnerable to apocalyptic scenarios. The Western model of creation is a one-time event. The big-bang (or God created the world in seven days) beginning is over, when is the end? It’s not surprising that really true Believes get anxious from time to time. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic end of life scenario with its heaven or hell finality is also symptomatic of the Western one-shot creation model.
Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, with their cyclic view of reality, offer those who share those beliefs a safer and saner alternative, I have to say. “Don’t freak out, you can redo life over better next time” works for the Buddhist and Hindu. For a true Taoist, life, death, beginning and end produce each other. This mysterious sameness offers a continuum of existence—immortality may be too strong a word (and perhaps Catholics would call that purgatory).
What accounts for this apocalyptic sense all humans appear to share? I imagine knowledge of our own death lies at the heart of it. The first truly long term reality of which we were aware must have been death. Other species mourn the loss of companions (pair-bond or herd), but humans have acquired an objective memory of this. We know there is an apparent END to every BEGINNING, which makes life a much more serious affair. Knowing this, we could no longer merrily merely hunt and gather our days away. We realized we had to prepare, and cognitively applied this fearsome model to many things we do.
Given all this, it is odd how we fail to take action until after the fact, like preparing adequately for earthquakes or our own health. Yet, we speed up through the intersection so as not to lose the yellow light. Perhaps we feel the former “won’t happen to us”, and in the latter we see immanent loss. Well of course! Fear rules, but only when we feel it. Of course, fear always lurks beneath the surface. Improperly placed, our fear asset is wasted. Yes, fear is a valuable survival asset, and wasting it has consequences—namely, when the people lack a proper sense of awe, then some awful visitation will descend upon them.