Australian Skeptics Inc

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Australian Skeptics Inc investigates paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint. You can find them at https://www.skeptics.com.au/

Tough day for doomsday: A note to those who believed it

On Thursday evening, we missed the apocalypse. While we might laugh at the doomsday that wasn’t, there were some who took it very seriously.

 

 

This Thursday, September 20th 2018 at 9pm, a tsunami wreaked havoc along the NSW coast from Newcastle in the north to Nowra in the south. Huge regions of Sydney were devastated including the seaside suburbs of Cronulla, Bondi and Manly. The Tsunami surge also wiped out inner harbour suburbs such as Balmain and Kirribilli, destroyed the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as the airport and flooded the central business district. Waves reached as far inland as Parramatta.

More destruction followed immediately after with an earthquake destroying more suburbs such as Newtown. It is estimated that the loss of life numbers around 400,000 with the government imposing a state of Martial Law.

Missed this news? Didn’t notice the destruction last night? Not surprising as, once again, dire predictions of doom failed to eventuate.

The above disaster comes from a flyer placed in many letterboxes in Sydney in the months leading up to the 20th of September. Not only that, a lone figure of a man, complete with microphone and amplifier, was seen around the Sydney Town Hall on several occasions loudly proclaiming this prediction. Behind him stood a banner that read, “WARNING!! Tsunami to hit Sydney 20th September 2018 – Impact at 9pm – 400,000 lives lost – Everyone that calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved – Jesus is Lord”. His warnings were punctuated with calls to be saved in the name of Jesus, songs of praise and ramblings about heaven, hell and unbelievers.

While it would be easy to dismiss the self-proclaimed prophet as a “nutcase” or “lunatic”, clearly, to go to so much trouble, he was and maybe still is sincere in his opinion that Sydney was in peril. And his sincerity and message can have far-reaching and serious implications for some members of his audience.

“Thanatophobia” is the irrational fear of dying, often associated with concern about the apocalypse. This fear can overwhelm people who may be suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental disorders, and it can be exacerbated by news, social media and religious prophecies. Stress is often brought on by a feeling of being out of control, with people attempting to take back a small amount of control by doing whatever they can to prepare for what they feel is impending doom.

The “prepper” or “survivalist” movement started in the USA and has made its way to Australia, with apparently hundreds of doomsday preppers across the country making preparations for the coming apocalypse. This could be argued as being harmless, but people suffering from anxiety are at increased risk of manifesting their fears by resorting to dangerous activities such as financial self-sabotage, social isolation, alcohol and substance abuse, and self-harm. Doomsday phobias can even lead to suicidal ideation and in extreme cases, sufferers may take the only control they feel they have, and end their own lives.

Australia has had its share of predictions of doom ranging from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in 1927 (Christ was going descend from the clouds between the heads of Sydney Harbour) to the Family Radio billboards in 2011 that warned of the end come May.

While we may pity the lone prophet, we should also be aware that there are many people who, often in secret, will take the doomsday message to heart, and adjust their lives to meet the end.

 

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