The Vatican Observatory's assertion that the world isn't ending doesn't exactly soothe Tom's soul

A couple of weekends ago, my basketball team was down in Cochise County for a tournament. Between games, I took the team to Bisbee to walk around and see the sights. Plastered on a wall were posters announcing the End of the World Party featuring Buzz and the Soul Senders that will be held at the Bisbee Grand Hotel. (Bisbee would not be a bad place to spend one's last night on Earth.)

One of my players (I won't embarrass Riley by mentioning her name) was somewhat freaked out by the whole thing, saying, "How can they joke about it? What if it really is the end of the world?"

If it is, the joke will certainly be on us.

This all revolves around the belief that the Mayan calendar ends tomorrow, Dec. 21, 2012. (Another time period is supposed to start Saturday; we'll see.) I'm not at all sympathetic to the Mayans, who practiced human sacrifice and are at least partly responsible for that awful John Cusack disaster movie from last year.

I'm trying to remember how many times I've been through this sort of thing in my lifetime. Back in the 1970s, there was a group of people here in Tucson who thought that they had correctly calculated the date of The Rapture. They sold their houses and all of their belongings and walked out into the desert, where they expected to be taken up bodily into heaven. It really sucks when your math is off on something like that.

Then there were those knuckleheads who killed themselves so they could be gathered up and taken away in a spaceship. I don't remember a whole lot about that one, but I think their leader looked like the delightfully over-the-top guy from Sweet Genius on The Food Network.

I tried to calm Riley down by telling her a story. Right before the first atomic bomb was detonated in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, a significant number of Manhattan Project scientists thought that there was a chance that the nuclear explosion would be so intense that it would ignite Earth's atmosphere and kill all life on the planet. They even placed bets on it, which is hilarious because that is the biggest sucker bet of all time. If you bet that the world is NOT going to be destroyed, all you can do is win. If Earth survives, you win, and if it's destroyed, you don't have to pay off.

When that didn't help, I told Riley that I had received an email from the Vatican Observatory telling me not to worry, that the world was not coming to an end. Think about that: Can you think of a two-word phrase with more non-sequitur words than "Vatican Observatory?"

Personally, I'm pleasantly surprised that the Catholic Church even believes in astronomy. And I'm blown away by the fact that the Vatican operates an observatory in Arizona. Yes, on Mount Graham, near Safford, the Vatican operates two telescopes. Here's the best part: Right next to the Vatican's scopes on Mount Graham is something that goes by the cumbersome name of Large Binocular Telescope Near-Infrared Utility With Camera and Integral Field Unit for Extragalactic Research. It goes by the equally cumbersome acronym of Lucifer. Sharing a mountaintop in Southern Arizona are the Vatican and Lucifer. No one could make this stuff up.

The funny thing about the Vatican operating an observatory dates back to what the church did to Galileo when the scientist put forth his heliocentric ideas (about Earth orbiting around the sun). If you want to read something absolutely hilarious, Google "Catholic Church Galileo." One of the first things that comes up is on catholic.com, under Catholic Answers. They claim that the whole rebuke/torture/imprisonment thing concerning Galileo was just a big misunderstanding, like maybe a fraternity hazing gone awry.

Still, it's my church, so I get to poke fun at it. The other day, I got a scathing email from somebody who attacked my religion and then called me an anatomically impossible name that I cannot repeat here. (Plus, he misspelled it.) He was upset that I had claimed that it's easier to reason with a racist than with a vegan.

I stand by that assertion. Most racists were raised that way, so they always have a chance to mature and see things differently. Unless a kid is raised a vegan (a subtle yet heinous form of child abuse), that lifestyle was probably a choice one made later in life. And there's no zealot like a convert. Seriously, who do you think would be easier to reason with—a racist or a vegan?

(You have an equal opportunity to reason with both, seeing as how, actuarially speaking, the vegan isn't going to outlive the other person. I love that fact!)

Anyway, Riley is still wary of what might happen tomorrow. She takes her last final of the semester today, and then we have a game this afternoon. I told her that the team should have an End of the World slumber party at her house tomorrow night. She's thinking about it.

As for me, I've done a lot of what I wanted to do in my life. But between now and tomorrow, I have to find a mattress and tear the tag off.

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