Talking of the End

May 12, 2011

You know, right now is a good time to be living in Vienna. Why? Because, as composer Gustav Mahler supposedly put it a long time ago*:

“If one day the world should come to an end, I’ll return to Vienna because there everything happens with twenty years of delay.”

I really hope that this witty observation – alluding to the conservatism of Viennese society and its refusal to embrace anything modern, be it in music, be it in the visual arts – still holds true even today. Why? Because, apparently, the world is now coming to an end: According to US preacher Harold Camping, the end of the world is due in less than two weeks time, on May 21, about 6 p.m. local time, to be precise. On that day, Camping claims, an estimated 2% of the world’s population (i.e. the “true believers”) will be raptured to Heaven while the rest of us will die in a series of earthquakes and go to, well, the other place:

The eternal fires of hell where the devils have already put the kettle on, 15th century relief (from the makers of "The Nativity with Lemmings")**, Altamura (Italy), San Nicola

Now, you may be wondering how anyone could possibly predict the date of the Apocalypse with such precision. Let me just say that Mr. Camping’s method involves multiplying the numbers 5, 10 and 17 together. Twice. I must confess that, personally, I find this just the teensiest bit arbitrary and therefore not entirely convincing. But it seems that even Camping himself isn’t entirely convinced of it – or why else would his international broadcasting network still actively ask followers for financial support and, even with the end of the world supposedly imminent this month, still offer a friggin’ two year payment plan for donations?

So even if Camping’s prediction should prove to be right, it might just happen that to his own great surprise even Camping himself won’t be among the chosen 2% who get raptured to Heaven but rather finds himself going to this place instead:

The eternal fires of hell with a section dedicated to the punishment of hypocrites, 17th century fresco, Naples, S. Chiara

* The emphasis here really is on “supposedly” – there’s a 99% chance that Mahler never said anything like that. For some reason, though, he has become one of those famous dead people who always get poignant quotes randomly attached to their name.

** Remember our Christmas post?

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