Wheaton - December 4, 2010
Laced with jokes about New Age gullibility, jabs at its
cynic exploiters, and appeals to critical thinking, author
and interreligious activist Jim Kenney presented a searing
critique of the proliferating and contradictory prophecies
of impending cataclysms and radical societal transformations
expected in the year 2012, a year now propelled into prominence
because of an arbitrary quirk in one of the Maya calendars.
Kenney set the critical and humorous tone of his December
2 Thursday lecture at The Theosophical Society in America
about the 2012 phenomenon with a story about the widely
popular New Age novel The Celestine Prophecy by James
Redfield, in which the author looks for and finds in Peru
a sixth century BCE Maya manuscript full of wisdom.
In 1993, Kenney recounted, he gave a lecture on The
Celestine Prophecy and intended to take a "critical
look at a careless book." Little did he know that he
was facing 200 true believers who were not charmed by his
According to Kenney, when Redfield was not able to get
the public interested in his self-published piece of fiction,
which he was initially selling from the back of his car,
he cynically repackaged the book as a tract of serious scholarship
and sales increased dramatically.
One of the problems Kenney pointed out was that Redfield
set the Maya civilization in sixth century BCE Peru, which
is inaccurate, as the Maya civilization is not to be found
in Peru and only started roughly a thousand years later.
Kenney confessed to be a serious believer in the idea that
"we do live in a rare period of dramatically accelerated
change of cultural evolution" and that, contrary to
New Age annihilationists, cultural pessimists and post-modern
skeptics, humanity has made dramatic progress if you would
just look at the relatively recent abolition of slavery,
the increased importance of human rights, "the dawning
sense that the planet is fragile," and the decreased
legitimacy of war.
His recent book, Thriving in the Crosscurrent: Clarity
and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change, published
by Quest, the publishing arm of The Theosophical Society
in America, attests to that optimism.
"Yes," Kenney exclaimed, "believers in 2012
say we're on the threshold of transformation. Change is
due! But it has nothing to do with Maya!" after which
he held up the now well-known cartoon by Dan Piraro.
"We are made to belief that something ends in December
2012." The proffered scenarios are legion and according
to Kenney their proponents can be classified as either "Annihilationists
or Transformationists" with the Annihilationists claiming
the arrival of "doomsday objects," on a collision
course with earth, which are Kenney's tongue-in-cheek "favorites."
Kenney didn't want to get too technical about the Maya
calendar in question, called the Long Count which is only
one out of five different calendar systems, but still roughly
sketched its logic. The Mayas had a 20-digit system for
counting, possibly because of people having a total of twenty
fingers and toes, and the number 13 was also important,
because that is the amount of levels of higher and lower
worlds the Mayas believed in.
The Long Count calendar ends at the unit of 13 Baktun,
which is 13x20x20=5200 cycles of 360 days, which is approximately
5.000 years, and as its "arbitrary" zero point
was set at a specific date around 3.000 BCE, the calendar
ends at December 21, 2012.
"Scholars say it doesn't end. It is just the end of
a cycle." Kenney compared all the fuss about the end
of the calendar with making a big deal out of the fact that
our own yearly calendar ends on December 31. "There
is nothing portentous about January 1. It's all arbitrary."
The next question Kenney addressed was "Who is pushing
2012?" Now names were named and culprits taken to task.
Most responsible, and making money in the process, is Jose
Arguelles, author of The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology,
who peddled a similar scheme with the Harmonic Convergence
event during the night of 16-17 August 1987, the date of
a supposed planetary alignment with transformative effects
on humanity's collective consciousness.
Number two on Kenney's list is Daniel Pinchbeck, author
of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Kenney stated
that "after 35 years of inter-religious work"
and meeting numerous religious frauds, he was now "vaccinated
against religious b.s." and Pinchbeck is "part
of the b.s."
Throughout the lecture Kenney appealed to critical thinking
and presented the virtue of discernment in sorting the wheat
from the chafe, evaluating arguments, awareness of one's
own biases, awareness of ideologues who are "impervious
to new information," and fallacies in reasoning.
According to Kenney the most prevalent fallacy in religion
is the "mythos-logos mistake," as pointed out
by historian Karen Armstrong in her study of religious fundamentalism,
Battle for God, in which more poetic, figurative
notions are taken for real, as in "love is like the
ocean" and then ending with "little bottles of
ocean water around your neck."
As a long-time Theosophist I felt that most of Kenney's
critical arguments were eminently and painfully applicable
to many of the metaphysical notions and attitudes within
the Theosophical Society, and I wondered what kind of lecture
Theosophists might receive if Kenney were allowed to direct
his b.s.-vaccinated look at Theosophy itself. It might not
be as politely received as the debunking of the 2012 myth,
with which most Theosophists present apparently had no problem.
Kenney's favorites are the 2012 "doomsday objects"
like Planet X, Niburu, Wormwood, Nemesis and other objects
like comets and asteroids. Planet X cannot be seen yet,
because it is in the shadow of the sun, according to its
spokesperson, Nancy Leader, who received some DNA from the
extraterrestrial group the Zetans from the solar system
Zeta Reticuli, enabling her to communicate with them.
Zecheria Sitchin, amateur translator of Sumerian texts
and "not taken serious" in academia, is convinced
of the existence of a 12th planet, which initially he claimed
to return in the latter part of the 21st century. But now,
according to Kenney, he has cynically jumped on the 2012
bandwagon and prophecies its return in 2012.
Kenney ended the lecture with the observation about the
2012 beliefs, that "if it opens people to transformation,
that would be ok, but we have to understand better the past
Though there was no time for questions, I did briefly discuss
with Kenney the people who might provide the best insights
into the mechanism of civilizational transformations. I
proposed philosophers of history like Oswald Spengler, Arnold
Toynbee and Caroll Quigley. He thought Toynbee would, if
alive, not agree with his own philosophy anymore. He asked
me if I had ever heard of Jean Gebser, which I could confirm.
"He's the one to look into."
Jean Gebser, author of The Ever-Present Origin,
was a German philosopher of culture whose diffuse influence,
for example on the New Age thinker Ken Wilber, has not yet
been widely recognized. Gebser posited five distinct structures
of consciousness--the archaic, the magical, the mythic,
the rational and the integral--and thought mankind was moving
from the now predominant rational attitude into the integral,
though this process is not without danger because mankind
could cling to the rational attitude and thereby self-destruct.
I asked Michael Hazdra, who was in the audience, about
his interest in 2012. He "was into it 2 years ago"
and read three books about it in a couple of weeks. He now
"is jaded with the info" and became skeptical
when it became part of pop culture and read that even Pinchbeck
himself "thought it was all crap."
In a short exchange with Betty Bland, President of The
Theosophical Society in America, we commented on the new
comfortable chairs in the auditorium and she said Kenney
"did a good job" in pointing out the need for
Paula Finnegan, program coordinator at the Theosophical
Society in America who had booked the speaker, thought Kenney
was right. "It's not the end of the world." She
had taken astronomy classes and has a science background.
"I hope humanity will transform, but 2012 is hyped
Jim Kenney's lecture, titled "2012: Or Why the World
Isn't Ending Just Yet!", can be watched online here
P.S.: Helpful chart: 2012:
End of the World? (Skeptics vs. Believers No. 1)