No doubt about it, 2012 and doomsday prophecies are big nowadays. According the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end sometime around December 21st, 2012. Of course, if it doesn't, that won't mean we'll be out of the woods. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ may return at any moment to destroy the armies of the Antichrist and reestablish his throne in Jerusalem, thereby ushering in a thousand years of peace. And if that doesn't occur, there's always the chance that the Mahdi will arise to institute a kingdom of justice and, alongside the returned Isa Al-Maseeh (Jesus), will fight against the Dajjal, the Antichrist of Islam. Then, of course, there's always the chance that—at least according to the Hopi Indians—a blue star will suddenly appear in the sky to signal the start of a great atomic war which will destroy the white man and other ancient races.

And if you're not a big believer in religious doomsday beliefs, there are secular and even scientific ones as well: global warming will wipe out entire species and obliterate ancient ecosystems; unlimited population growth will lead to social unrest and political chaos resulting in the collapse of whole civilizations; the next great pandemic will leave millions dead, possibly spelling the extinction of the human race; a thermonuclear war will turn the planet into a glowing, uninhabitable radioactive cinder; an asteroid, comet, giant meteor, burst of cosmic radiation, massive volcanic eruption-you name it-is going to snuff out life on the planet. It seems that the list of things that are going to destroy us appears to be growing longer and more gruesome each day.

So what's the harm, you ask? After all, it's just a few people who really believe all this stuff, right? Not really. If these beliefs were held to by small fringe groups or environmental extremists, they probably wouldn't constitute that much of a problem. However, doomsday beliefs are becoming mainstream, their influence being seen not only on bookstore shelves and the occasional made-for-TV movies and pseudoscientific docudramas that seem to permeate the cable channels, but are even finding their way in government legislation designed to prevent us from being fried, pulverized, irradiated or otherwise obliterated. Even credentialed scientists are getting in on the act, recounting the various doomsday scenarios available to us in frightening detail, complete with computer models and state-of-the-art animation. As such, whether one calls it the Second Coming, Judgment Day, or the Battle of Armageddon, or whether one believes it will come in the guise of impending environmental disaster, global political collapse, or through some sort of nuclear doomsday, end-time prophecy remains a big part of our social identity and one that is only likely to become more so as we move further into the new millennium.

The problem is that doomsday predictions can be a problem. At a minimum, it can leave one living beneath a cloud of pessimism that can color everything a gloomy shade of gray. In extreme cases, however, they can even kill (as evidenced by the Heaven's Gate suicide cult and Jonestown), which is what induced me into writing 2012: Extinction or Utopia. In it, I examine the many failed prophecies humanity has believed in the past and consider how they not only impacted their cultures but how they continue to impact our perspective on the future today in both subtle and obvious ways. It also holds those self-proclaimed prophets of the apocalypse—both living and now deceased—accountable for their predictions, for it is only in taking a critical look at these people and understanding why we embrace their ideas so readily that we can come to appreciate the power they hold over us.

But for those who don't feel like rushing out and getting my book, I thought I'd set up this page designed to explore some ideas about end-times beliefs. If anything, they will at least provide a few ready answers to some people as they try to understand what all the fuss is about. Enjoy the articles below and, as always, I look forward to hearing your opinions about what you think will happen in 2012 (or beyond).

FEATURED ARTICLES (All articles are copyrighted and the sole property of the author)