A belief in the eschaton, by whatever name it’s called, seems inherent to human (or at least Western) consciousness. Time passes before our mortal eyes, so its termination is implicit.
That the world has become more secular, our sensibility more materialistic, has no bearing on this fact. We may not know we’re waiting for the Parousia, but all creation groans nonetheless.
So we call it by a different name, and attribute impersonal qualities to the God at whose hand heaven and earth will pass away: heat death, global warming, World War III.
World War III has been, in the last couple of years, more mentioned, and more feared, than at any point since the Cold War—and not without reason. Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
If it is fought at all. We’re equipped to destroy ourselves many times over.
If the fallout shelters don’t work and we’re all incinerated, if not a single human voice remains to beg God’s forgiveness or bid a frail farewell to all who have ever lived and died and loved and bred and slaughtered each other like pigs; if that’s really all, folks, that means, tragically, that there will be no more television.
Billionaire and philanthropist Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, prepared for just such a contingency. He envisioned a news source that would only sign on once, and last as long as mankind did.
CNN is, unfortunately, still broadcasting. This is painful, yes, but it’s better than the alternative.
But if the apocalypse had come, and had come around 1986, and the satellites broadcasting Turner’s network were blessedly intact and beaming into the living rooms of every family that could stomach it, then, just before the signal faded into snowy oblivion, soon-to-be-dead viewers would be treated to the doomsday video.
According to The Guardian, this video was commissioned by Turner himself. Mike Ballaban, a former intern at the network, told them, “It’s one of those things you only look for if you’re a really bored intern or have a lot of time on your hands.”
In CNN’s Mira archive, the tape bears a heading that reads, “TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO–HFR [hold for release] till end of the world confirmed.”
Apparently, the video’s existence, long rumored, was substantiated by Turner in 1988, who told the New Yorker that “if we don’t become extinct by exhausting the planet’s natural resources, then we’ll destroy ourselves through nuclear war.”
It was for the latter catastrophe that the doomsday video was prepared. Turner invited the New Yorker to view it. Brief as it was, Turner couldn’t bear to finish watching, and left from the room overcome with emotion.
Upon his return, he said, “I keep this tape around because when the world ends it’ll be over before we can say what we wanted to say. Before we can leave any final messages.”
What was Turner’s final message?
It was, in fact, a hymn—and a rather beautiful one, at that. Here is the doomsday video:
Yes, that’s “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” And it’s filmed at CNN’s first headquarters, the very place Turner announced the network’s launch on June 1, 1980.
While we are assured by Christ himself that Heaven and Earth will pass away, Turner’s video is now obsolete.
But there is a haunted quality to this old tape, and that song, apparently the last one played on the sinking Titanic, articulates the purest of all human desires:
A longing for union with the One who is perfect, who will make all things new.
But this desire has been obscured. To the degree we are enculturated, we are malformed. Empirical science has, indeed, done wonders for our standard of living—or at least for our life expectancy.
But the standards by which we live now, our ultimate concerns, are more limited than those of our ancestors. We labor for this life, as if there were no other.