Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 19:01:30 EDT
Subject: AANEWS for Monday, October 25, 1999
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
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%
__ "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
__ "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
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