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Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 19:01:30 EDT
Subject: AANEWS for Monday, October 25, 1999
From: owner-aanews@atheists.org
Message-Id: <EMDMbro470923ccs@zip.mail-list.com>

subject: AANEWS for October 25, 1999

"Omega Code" Stokes Fears of End Times

From American Atheist News
25 October 1999

Poll: 40% Expecting Armageddon, 45% Jesus Due In Their Lifetime
There are 68 days remaining.

As "millennium clocks" in post offices and elsewhere tick off the final moments of the twentieth century, there are indications of growing excitement, anticipation __ even angst __ over the arrival of the year 2000. Academics and calendric purists say that the next millennium really doesn't arrive until 2001, but popular culture seems to define the new epoch as beginning when clocks hit midnight on December 31, 1999.

For many Christians, and even a good number of new agers and secular apocalyptics, the transition to the year 2000 is an event overflowing with significance. There is nothing in the Bible, of course, that directly points to the advent of the third millennium as a time of either apocalyptic expectation or preparation for the most desired events in Christendom __ the rapture of the faithful, that select group destined to fly into the sky to meet Jesus Christ, and the unfolding of other parts of an end times drama said to be foretold in books like Daniel and Revelation. The western calendar is a convoluted instrument that has been adjusted over the centuries, and Jesus Christ __ if he ever existed __ was certainly not born exactly two thousand years ago on the night of December 25.

Anticipations about the apocalypse, though __ the word means "unveiling" __ are running as deep as ever in the American psyche.

Hollywood number watchers sat up and took notice last week when the "Christian thriller" movie "Omega Code" bullied its way into the coveted top-10, raking in a respectable $2.4 million in just three days, and earning a per screen average of $7,745. By comparison, the much-hyped film "Fight Club," while playing at nearly 2,000 theaters in its debut __ over 6 times the number showing "Omega Code" __ earned an average of just $5,662.

"Omega Code" has been compared to another independent production, "The Blair Witch Project," which broke theater records this summer. While Blair Witch was funded to the tune of only $25,000, "Omega Code" is a $7.2 million movie which includes cutting-edge special effects and some name actors. It also carries a distinctly apocalyptic religious message about the "end times." The $7.2 million in funding came from Trinity Broadcasting Network, the nation's largest Christian television outreach founded by evangelist Paul Crouch. Movie producer Matthew Crouch, the founder's son, enlisted 2,000 volunteers and a network of churches across the country to promote the film. That included a $600,000 publicity campaign with "Omega Code" posters, flyers and suggestions on how to attract churchgoers.

"Omega Code" is a thriller about a villain (clearly the Antichrist) who is trying to use a stolen secret Bible code to take over the world. The plot conveniently resonates with the 1997 best-selling book by Michael Drosnin, "The Bible Code," which while rejected by historians and scholars received plenty of news play. While the idea that the Bible contains hidden codes and meaning has lingered for centuries and seduced everyone from Isaac Newton to William Miller and even David Koresh, it also seems to fit nicely with fin de siecle expectations about the end of the world.

"The timing is perfect for the movie, rounding the corner into a new millennium," declared Shane Hawell, vice president of a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based marketing firm that enlisted 2,400 pastors across the country to boost the film. "The movie gives us something a little more pro-family, more uplifting and at least points us toward hope and faith, if not God personally," he told Associated Press.

Variety's Joe Laydon described "Omega Code" as a "kind of literal-minded melodrama," complete with a cast of cutouts. Casper Van Dien plays "the world-famous, globetrotting" reporter, while Michael York is the scheming media mogul. There are lots of explosions, some gun play, along with an apocalyptic plot and prophets who quote Scripture, but all of it tame enough to qualify the movie for a PG-13 rating. It's end-of-the-world fare which is exciting the fundamentalist-evangelical subculture, but pales in the sex-and-violence department when compared to earlier celluloid ventures like "The Omen." Worth noting: the list of credits includes "biblical prophecy consultant" Hal Linsdsey, pop-culture eschatologist whose series of books, including "The Late, Great Planet Earth" began terrifying readers in the 1970s.

Michael Harpster, marketing chief for distribution, says that "The Omega Code" is "what mainstream America wants."

"How many people go to church every week? A whole lot more than go to the movies..." The proposition is questionable given reports that church-attendance figures are grossly inflated by as much as 15% - 20%, but the deeper text is that movies __ especially those with apocalyptic themes and a religious message __ may be a cultural wave of the future. "We think there's an enormous audience of Christian people who are so starved," he gushed to USA TODAY. "We wanted to tell a story that would have some resonance with people. We do blow up things, and there are guns. We're dealing with the end of time, so clearly, that would be a fairly violent event."

Other film producers and religious groups are getting the message. The "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic novels by Tim LaHaye (a founder with Jerry Falwell of the old Moral Majority) and Jerry Jenkins have sold nearly twelve million copies, and the next step is a high-production movie, "The Tribulation Force." Produced by Namesake Entertainment and Cloud Ten Pictures, a Christian movie studio founded by two Canadian broadcasters, shooting begins soon on a $17.4 million big-screen adaptation. The flic is described as a "spiritual thriller." Joe Goodman, president of Namesake told Christianity Today news service, "It's almost like creating a new genre. It's going to be very faithful to the core audience, while opening up to the spiritual craving of the secular audience, which is a big audience that exists out there for us."

As CT notes, apocalyptic films, including those with an overt, hard shell religious message, are experiencing their biggest revivals since the 1970 low-rent movie "A Thief in the Night" began playing in Bible camps, church gatherings and religious schools. Like "Omega Code," "A Thief in the Night" is a drama about the end times when Christians are swept up in the rapture, and the Antichrist unleashes his tribulation terror on those left behind.

Not all Christians are excited by the use of glitzy apocalyptic movies to convey a religious message, though. Dr. Gordon Fee, a theologian at Regent College told Christianity Today, "Theologically, the distressing point for me is that (these movies) make Christian conversion a matter of fear, rather than a matter of hearing the good news of the gospel..."

End-times jitters may be spreading beyond the fundamentalist churches and Christian theatergoers heading to "The Omega Code" for a Saturday night of popcorn and eschatological terror. A new Newsweek Magazine poll on prophecy reveals that 45% of Americans believe that the world will end in the battle at Armageddon just as the Bible supposedly forecasts __ a Cosmic Slap Down of sorts between Jesus and Satan. The largest segment buying into such an apocalyptic scenario is Evangelical Protestants (71%), but only 28% of non-Evangelical Protestants and 18% of Roman Catholics share this belief.

The poll is part of a cover story, "Prophecy: What the Bible Says About the End of the World," in the November 1 issue of Newsweek. Other apocalypse minutia from the poll...

__ 47% of those responding believe that the Antichrist is now on earth, and 45% say that Jesus will return in their lifetime.

__ 15% __ about 40 million Americans __ believe that the Second Coming will occur as early as the year 2000

__ Shockingly high numbers of people who accept this Second Coming scenario believe that Christ's return is prophesied by specific "signs" or events. They include natural disasters (83%), epidemics such as Ebola and AIDS (66%) and an increase in violence and mayhem (62%). 95% believe that they must "get right with the Lord" in anticipation of his return, and 62% feel compelled to convert non-Christians to Christianity. 68% expect to go to heaven, and 57% believe that people will be divided into respective groups sent to heaven or hell as part of the final judgment.

The Newsweek poll was conducted by Princeton Research Associates, and claims a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent points. 755 adults, 18 year and older, were interviewed.

Another poll suggests the ambivalence of many Americans, though, when they think about practical matters. This week the Pew Research Center released its study, "Americans Look to the 21st Century" and found that "Optimism reigns, technology plays a key roll." 81% said that were optimistic and happy about the future of themselves and their families, and 70% were upbeat about the fate of the nation.

__ High percentages of those surveyed predicted scientific and technological breakthrough, such as a cure for cancer (81%), a cure for AIDS (79%), environmental improvement (78%) and a landing by humans on Mars (76%). Strangely, some had to reconcile this with the Second Coming of Jesus; 44% predicted Christ would return in their lifetime, but an equal percentage said that this would not happen.

__ "Fewer, but still substantial numbers of Americans see two institutions of civil society __ small businesses and organized religion __ as key to improving life in the future (44% and 45% respectively)."

__ "American attitudes toward the role of religion vary by gender, region and self-professed theology," notes the Pew study. Fewer men than woman see organized religion playing a major role (39% and 50% respectively), and white males seem most skeptical about religious claims. Southerners, those living in rural areas and white evangelicals "stand out in the prominence they assign organized religion."

__ "A significant 44% of the population thinks that Jesus Christ will likely return to Earth during the first half of the next century. One-in-five (22%) says Christ will definitely return, a view held by 40% of African Americans and more than one-third of white evangelical Protestants."

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