The Truth and Lies of Doomsday

Boing Boing contributor Maggie Koerth-Baker conducted an excellent interview, “The Annotated Apocalypse,” with John Hoopes, an archeologist and professor of anthropology at University of Kansas. Hoopes gives a concise, lucid explanation of the “2012 Mayan Calendar Prophecy” that’s had everyone whose every flipped past the History Channel in a total tailspin for pretty much the last decade.

In addition to clearing the air about what is real, not real, and possible regarding the 2012 doomsday predictions, Hoopes elegantly ties in discussions about the relationships between pop culture and science and spirituality (including the theology of Harry Potter), the “production of culture,” how we actively and continuously generate myths, and our power to believe in those myths even when they are not necessarily rooted in tradition.

Those are called “synchretic beliefs,” or the “Pizza Effect.” The funny name comes from the history of pizza, which was invented by Italian immigrants living in America. “But as American tourists went to Italy in search of authentic pizza the restaurateurs were happy to oblige by inventing a history of the pizza in Italy. And now you have this “authentic” Italian pizza coming back to the U.S.”

A similar phenomenon is occurring right now with modern Mayans, who are beginning to re-imagine their own religion according to Western interpretations as though they were part of Mayan spirituality all along. But Hoopes insists:

It is authentic. Synchretic beliefs are absolutely authentic. You know, the authenticity argument is really one of, “Do these people authentically believe this,” and the reality is that many, many Maya are authentically evangelical Protestants. Yes, it’s recent. But it doesn’t mean it’s any less authentic. But there’s a difference between authenticity and tradition. And the arbiters of truth and what is tradition are changing. Ironically, this is happening at a point where we know more than we ever did before about ancient texts because we can actually read them so much better. And there’s nothing in there about aliens.

Check out the full interview, such a fascinating and insightful read!

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