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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Chicken Little and the Apocalypse

A number of Christians believe that we are now living in the "end times" and that recent natural disasters and upheaval in the Middle East are fulfilment of biblical prophecy.  Similarly, many people believe that recent natural disasters are evidence of the Earth suffering a potentially terminal condition called "global warming".  However, for centuries people have been claiming that the "end is nigh".

This article is not seeking to diminish the impact and tragedy associated with any disaster but is written to put these disasters into context given the sheer volume and magnitude of them over millenia. The terrible fact is that disasters have happened before and will happen again.  Our reaction should not be consumed with sensationalist "Chicken Little and the sky is falling" propaganda either from Christian zealots who believe it signifies the Second Coming of Christ or by environmental zealots who believe that these disasters prove the apocolyptic nature of global warming and climate change.

I will be addressing climate change and global warming in a separate article but I want to state briefly that whilst I don't ascribe to the current theory about the human cause of climate change and global warming, I sincerely believe that we do need to address the issues of pollution, sustainable living, logging, protection of our land, forests, oceans, water-ways and wildlife. Natural disasters, wars and disease have killed millions of people over thousands of years. What we are seeing now is nothing new, including the reaction of doom-sayers.

The earthquake and tsunamis that hit Japan on 11 March 2011 have been described as the worst in 100 years, indicating that this is not the first time that Japan has suffered earthquake and tsunami. This quake recorded 8.9 on the richter scale. In 1923 a earthquake in Japan registered 7.9 and killed 142,000.

Similarly, when category 5 Cyclone Yasi struck North Queensland in February 2011, it was the strongest cyclone to hit since 1918 when two category five cyclones struck that area within 5 weeks of each other.  The January 2011 floods in South East Queensland saw the Brisbane River peak at 4.5m, in the 1974 floods the Brisbane River peaked at 5.5m and during the 19th century, the Brisbane River peaked over 8m on two occasions.

In 1883 an Indonesian volcano, Krakatoa, erupted with such force that it was heard 5,000km away.  It is regarded as the loudest noise ever heard in the world.  The shock wave was recorded on barographs across the globe and allegedly travelled around the world seven times.  The volcano shot debris 80km into the air and the dust cloud carried as far as New York City.  Krakatoa was the most violent volcanic eruption in recorded history and killed over 40,000 people.  The resultant tsunami was 40m high and killed 36,000 people on the Java and Sundra Islands.  Tsunamis were experienced across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, affecting the west coast of North and South America and even the English Channel.  The temperature of the world dropped by 1.2 degrees and did not return to normal until 1888.  This was truly a catastrophe of epic proportions felt across the entire globe.

The world's worst natural disaster in terms of lives lost is the Chinese floods of 1931 which killed up to 2.5 million people.  In 1887, the Yellow River flood in China killed up to 2 million people.   In 1556 the Shaanxi earthquake killed 830,000 people in China and in 526AD an earthquake in Turkey killed 300,000 people.

The Earth survived.

Regarding disease, in the 14th century the Bubonic Plague (or Black Death) killed up to 100 million people - in excess of one third of Europe's population.  In fact, some estimates state that up to 60% of Europe's population were killed.  The Book of Revelation, verse 9:15 states that "the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind" and Revelations 9:18 goes on to say "by these three plagues a third of mankind was killed - by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which came out of their mouths".  With over a third of the population killed there were many who thought that this was the end of the world as prophesied in the Book of Revelation.

In the 6th century the Plague of Justinian, thought to be bubonic plague, killed between 40 and 100 million people throughout Asia, Africa and Europe; this is up to half of the world's estimated population in 600AD of 200 million.  More recently, 100 million people were killed between 1918 to 1920 from the Spanish Flu.

And then there are wars.  Many people thought that the anti-christ as prophesied in Revelation was personified in Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin. The Second World War resulted in the deaths of around 70 million people, around 3% of the world's population. The 8th century An Shi Rebellion in China resulted in 36 million deaths, roughly 15% of the world's known population.  The Thirty Years War of the 17th century killed up to 11 million people.  The wars of the Holy Crusades which were fought in the Middle East and Europe killed up to 9 million people between the 11th and 13th century.  There were some who saw the terrible tragedy of these events as fulfilment of biblical prophecy and a sign of the end times.

Most recently there are people who view the recent upheaval in the Middle East as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy and an augury of end times.  The Middle East has a long history (as do other parts of the world) of kingdoms rising and falling, of wars and rebellions. The prophet Mohammed turned the Middle East around as he conquered one city and country after another.  The rise of various Islamic empires and finally the downfall of the last great Islamic Empire, the Ottoman Empire in the 20th century were all major events for their time; events that we feel the affects of today.  Refer to the Islamic influence on Spain and other parts of Europe, on the Middle East and across the globe in India, Indonesia, Phillipines and many other countries, on politics and language, science and mathematics. Current rebellions and over-throws are but one more chapter in the rich tapestry of the Middle East.

History has shown that natural disasters, wars, famine, pestilence have affected the world for millenia and will continue to affect the world.  Whilst many people have been killed, maimed or disabled through these tragedies, the Earth goes on, people go on.

A bad year of natural disasters across the globe or upheaval in the Middle East does not indicate a fulfilment of biblical prophecy of the apocalypse, it does not mean that the "end is nigh" and it is not signalling the imminent return of Christ or the end of the world as we know it through a changing climate and global warming.

We should not live in fear of the world ending, we should not put our lives on hold, but instead continue living each day as though it matters, living each moment to its fullest.

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