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Date: Thu, 20 Aug 1998 18:21:07 EDT
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subject: AANEWS for August 20, 1998

Y2K__Churches Prepare, Doomsday Chic

From AmericanAtheists News, No.469
20 August 1998

The text of Part 2, taken from issue No. 470, 20 August 1999, has been simply appended here

"But suppose, as some folks say, the sky should fall?"

(Terence: "Heautontimorumenos" IV.iii)

The end of our century and the approach of a new millennium is a historic event, and for many diverse groups it is one which resonates with special, unique meaning. A growing segment of Christians__especially many those who describe themselves as Fundamentalist, Evangelical or Pentecostal__perceive this calendric shift, the onset of the year 2000, as a prophetic event to usher in the "End Times" predicted in apocalyptic texts such as Daniel and Revelation. New agers and contemporary occultists sense the new millennium as an equally compelling benchmark in human history, although the scenarios they embrace can be different from their Christian counterparts. Pop culture new age ideology blends into its version of millennialist expectations elements of UFO/alien abduction accounts, predictions of spiritual transformation where humans rise to "a higher plane," or other artifacts of contemporary occultism. There are also secular apocalyptics who fear that human society is rapidly spinning out of control, headed for ecological catastrophe, nuclear war or some other equally devastating scenario. Often, these different doomsday "camps" appropriate thematic elements and metaphors from each other in attempting to construct a millennialist narrative.

In recent months, AANEWS has noted a startling concern or angst percolating through the religious Fundamentalist/Evangelical culture in this country concerning the Y2K or "year 2000" computer problem. We examine this phenomenon here, with special attention to how alarm over the Y2K "bug" has captured the imagination of this segment of our society, and how it serves as an expression of wider doubts about the direction of the culture at large. We note how the attention focused on Y2K serves as an "entry scenario" for wider and more diffuse apocalyptic beliefs, and how certain religious figures such as Pat Robertson manage to fit this into a seamless political and social agenda.

Among the points raised:

  • Y2K is a "real" problem, not an invention of hysterical fundamentalists. It is the willingness to embrace a series of worst-case scenarios and fit them into a larger, more elaborated apocalyptic tapestry , however, connected with Y2K that renders this an interesting topic.
  • Worry over Y2K reflects a pattern of searching for "signs" in order to confirm the onset of prophesied events leading up to the End Times and final judgment. Indeed, it has given a new lease on life for eschatologists like Hal Lindsey and other doomsday belief peddlers. Pat Robertson's concerns over Y2K are examined, as are the warnings from more extreme religious partisans such as Christian Reconstructionist Gary North. Concern over Y2K has given these individuals a wider audience than might otherwise accept their hard- shell religious doctrines.
  • Nationwide, churches have developed a sudden and curious interest in the Y2K problem, and are positioning themselves to discuss how "the role of the church" is being affected. What began as a technical consideration has blossomed into a wider expression of worry focusing on a deeper question -- the precarious instability of modernity and the human condition.
  • Some churches and religious groups, in an updated version of the cold war "duck-and-cover" mentality of the 1950s and 1960s, are urging people to stockpile food, medical supplies and other materials for the "chaos" that the Y2K problem is predicted to ignite. Companies which sell freeze-dried foods and other emergency provisions report escalating sales, much of it attributed to sudden and growing panic over the Y2K. In certain respects, this mirrors not only the doomsday angst which historians find in time of heightened apocalyptic expectations, but the "survivalist" and "bunker" mentality encountered in militia or other preparedness sects.

A word about this report is in order. In putting this story together, we encountered an enormous amount of information, everything from news reports to material on websites, in books and through other sources. Some of this already fit in with a related project, namely tracking the building "millennial consciousness" focused on the onset of the year 2000. The Y2K worry, when viewed from a certain perspective, is part of this larger phenomenon. We also consulted a number of Atheists who happened to work in the field of computer technology; and we examined reports in the technical field which discussed Y2K, though not from its cultural aspects. This is not a story about the Y2K problem per se, but rather the reaction to it by a segment of churches and faith groups; it provides insight into how these religious groups perceive the immediate future, their relationship to technology, and their expectations about the next millennium.

A Problem.... But How Big?

What is Y2K? Simply put, it is a difficulty with computer programs that will not permit or "read" the year 2000 or "00" as an accurate date. To most computers, dates like 1985, or 1999 are sorted only by the last two digits. The implications for our computer-driven society are indeed significant. Everything from the stock market to ATM machines to power plants, the IRS, billing companies and inventory systems in stores all require accurate date keeping. Smaller systems that might control your personal computer, microwaves, even the elevator in an apartment or office building can also be affected if they incorporate any form of date-keeping mechanism. A programming oddity or glitch could make a computer read January 1, 2000 (01/01/00) as the year 1900.

Companies and governments have been furiously scrambling to address the Y2K problem. Estimates on the total cost of fixing the glitch range considerably, but one source notes that over $120 billion could be spent by the time the millennium hits. One difficulty in evaluating the seriousness of the Y2K problem is that doing so completely would itself be a considerable task. Even research companies focusing on Y2K say that only about half of the nation's 250 corporate firms have disclosed adequate information about their programs in this area.

The technical aspects of the Y2K problem is one factor which seems to fuel the prevalence of "worst case" scenarios. Despite the fact that companies and government agencies seem to be devoting considerable resources to addressing this, Y2K may have been blown out of perspective. Our research encountered repeated references, for instance, to a cyber "domino effect."

"One computer goes down, and because they're all tied together on the internet, everything crashes."

This is certainly an oversimplification. We found that those employing it often used other metaphors in addition to falling dominos, including the failure of regional power grids and electrical "blackouts." Computers manage much of the nation's technical infrastructure, but they not "tied together" in a seamless network; often, they are separated by firewalls, even incompatible systems.

For our purposes, whatever the extent of the legitimate Y2K problem, certain religious groups and apocalyptic believers perceive this "Millennium Bug" as not just a technical difficulty or engineering glitch, but as an event which is part of a larger prophetic calendar and revelation, Y2K has become an object of concern comparable to natural catastrophes, AIDS, regional wars or other events which are hammered into a timetable to describe the onset of eschatological events.

Pat Robertson: Capitalizing (Shrewdly) on Doomsday

Pat Robertson's giant Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) is one of the leading groups associated with the religious right now sounding an alarm over the Y2K problem among this segment of Americans. In July, CBN aired a series of special reports beginning with "Surviving the Crisis: How to Prepare for Y2K." This was supplemented with both printed and web versions of the material.

Understanding Robertson's role in Y2K hysteria requires locating him on the theological belief spectrum. Why would he be so focused and concerned by what to many is a computer glitch? Robertson embraces a theological view known as premillennialism, the belief that Christ's return (or "Parousia") will usher in a 1,000 year period of godly rule on earth. There are "signs and wonders" which announce the onset of this event as detailed in the apocalyptic texts of the Bible, especially sources like Daniel and Revelation. Much of Robertson's writings and the content of his broadcasts are devoted to finding and discussing these "signs" which confirm the prophesies. Indeed, a wide range of Christian groups believes that the passages in the Bible are to be taken literally and describe real events which are to come. Some Christians reject this view, arguing that the verses are symbolic and metaphorical, or that the events described have already taken place.

Unlike brasher religious figures who rose and plummeted from fame by predicting the end of the world__the mid-19th century religious leader William Miller is often cited as a premier example__Robertson, while constantly finding abundant confirmation of prophecy, often hedges his bets on predicting a definitive timeline. Robertson has gone on record as expressing his belief that the Antichrist, an important actor in the apocalyptic drama, is on earth. In 1980, he declared that the Antichrist was "approximately 27-years-old...(and) being groomed to be the Satanic messiah." A similar claim was made a year later by pop-eschatologist Hal Lindsey, author of bestseller doomsday books such as "Beginning of the End," who, as we shall see, has modified his original apocalypse timetable, and incorporated fears of the Y2K problem into his latest End Times scenario. And in 1982, Robertson warned that a Soviet invasion of Israel could set off world war and the onset of Tribulation, the period when those of the true church are to be persecuted by the earthly government and false church of the Antichrist and his False Prophet sidekick.

Robertson often hedges his bet, though, deftly peppering his apocalyptic narratives in print and on the air with conditional warnings.

"Some say..."
"We can't really be sure, but..."
" It could happen..."

He also, unlike most of his evangelical and fundamentalist counterparts, "packages" his message with slick production values. CBN News, which presented the special Y2K report, has all of the superficial marks of a legitimate network news program, including professional anchors, reporters and video effects. Biblical prophesy and the rest of Robertson theological- political message are neatly packaged with slick graphics and a degree of informative reporting. Crisis__real, imaginary or exaggerated__is also an important component in Robertson's delivery. Even natural catastrophe is fitted into the televangelist's colorful and dramatic apocalyptic template. On June 8, for instance, Robertson suggested that Orlando, Florida could suffer punishment from God for displaying so much tolerance to gays. On June 24, during an airing of CBN's "700 Club," Robertson drew a link between the gay pride events in Orlando, and the fires which were breaking out across the state of Florida. And earlier this month, CBN news, in a story about the coming Olympic Games slated for Salt Lake City in 2002, warned that the area was "A Seismic Disaster in the Making."

The CBN "crisis" report, for instance, included detailed explanations of the Y2K problem, along with selected quotes from other news sources including Time magazine, and even interviews with technical experts, industry figures and political leaders. It was the emphasis or "slant," however, that often distinguishes Robertson's peculiar take on any political or social development. As with reports on the Middle East, youth crime or political scandal inside the beltway, there is a constant emphasis on the "crisis" aspect of any story, and repeated oblique and direct references to worst-case scenarios, and how this all meets the prophetic requirements of Biblical text.

CBN's initial installment on "Surviving the Crisis" touched on the need for "people to get ready" by purchasing portable heaters (propane and wood stoves), stockpiling large supplies of food and water, even buying portable generators. Similar recommendations are being made by others in the religious community who are sounding the Y2K alarm. Viewers and readers who might have found these recommendations to be extreme, an overreaction, were admonished that "it's better to be safe than sorry." Links from the CBN web site and other religious web sites devoted to Y2K lead to several companies specializing in survivalist paraphernalia, including wood burning stoves and bulk foods.

Other parts of the CBN report skillfully mixed informed reporting and even credible information with the alarmist spin which characterizes so much of Robertson's message. The June 2 installment began with a comparison of a communications satellite recently failing and the Y2K problem, suggesting "Many believe that's just a foretaste of how the Year 2000 computer problem could affect our lives." Other metaphors included the 15-day UPS strike which "cascaded throughout the country and affected thousands of businesses." CBN viewers were warned that every conceivable part of the economy, from auto production, to traffic lights, gas pumps, factory assembly lines, phones, water and gas could all fail. "Few expect the world to stop on January 1, 2000" noted a CBN reporter, "but the many disruptions to the economy could affect us all, reducing us to thousands of Lilliputians trying to tie down this Gulliver of an economy."

Other elements in the CBN report which focused on the Y2K problem incorporated dire predictions of banking system breakdowns (a scenario which fits neatly with religious right fears of currency manipulation, electronic transactions and 'the mark of the beast"), the collapse of the Internal Revenue Service ("Time Bomb for Taxpayers") and a failure of the Medicare system__this certainly being of vital concern to the older members of Robertson's constituency. In "Countdown to Chaos: Preparing for 2000," Robertson interviews Edward Yourdon, software consultant and co-author of "Time Bomb 2000: What the Year 2000 Computer Crisis Means to You." Where some reports on the Y2K problem suggest that corporations are lagging behind in their efforts to fix their computers, Yourdon covered all bases by admitting that "most of the Fortune 1000 companies that are aware of this problem are diverting between 15 and 20 percent of their resources" to addressing the glitch. This was "taking away from other investments and new computer systems they could have been building." Robertson also segued into mentioning another player in the Y2K scene, Christian Reconstructionist Gary North.

"You know, I read a flyer by a guy named Gary North, which basically said, 'I'm getting a home in the northern corner of Arkansas, because they'll be chaos in the cities and the trucks won't run, and the food won't be delivered and grocery stores will break down, etc.' And you had a a few of those warnings here in your book__what do you think? I mean, do you really think we're going to have some serious chaos in this country when this millennium turns over?"

Gary North__A Lean & Mean Version of Doomsday

Where Robertson walks a tightrope and is careful to avoid specific, definitive predictions, Gary North has emerged as one of the more rabid proponents of a doomsday scenario linked to the Y2K problem.

North is a leading spokesman for Christian Reconstructionism, an extreme theological view which holds that Christians must "take dominion" over all institutions of society, from government to the family. A tract on Reconstructionism declares that it "is a call to the Church to awaken to its biblical responsibility to subdue the earth for the glory of God... Christian Reconstruction therefore looks for and works for the rebuilding of the institutions of society according to a biblical blueprint."

That blue print is the Old Testament. Indeed, the Dominion theology of Reconstructionism calls for a total transformation of civil society, and the implementation of "bible law." As noted by sociologist Sarah Diamond in her book "Spiritual Warfare, the Politics of the Christian Right," a Reconstructed society would include wide use of capital punishment for a variety of offenses including homosexuality, apostasy, blasphemy, murder, adultery and even disrespect to parents. While they have theological differences with other religious right movements and groups, Reconstructionists agree with their ideological brethren that it is the task of Christians to "occupy" and transform all institutions in our present secular society.

Christian Reconstructionism has been described as a "hang-tough" theological position. Unlike Robertson's premillennialist theology, Reconstructionists embrace "postmillennialism." Under this view, the return of Christ will not occur until after a 1,000 year period during which Christians "subdue" the earth and its inhabitants, and reconstruct society along Old Testament lines. North's attachment to the Y2K "crisis" is somewhat at odds with other elements of Reconstructionist dogma which tend to be less frantic and more long-range in their thinking and timetable, than are the tactics of other organizations on the religious right. Even so, Reconstructionists like North can see a widespread and calamitous Y2K event as a trigger in mobilizing some Christians in preparation for establishment of Bible law throughout the culture. And his popularity as a drum beater about Y2K positions Gary North as the new leader and natural successor to the movement's aging patriarch, theologian writer Rousas John Rushdoony. Rushdoony has penned several dozen books and founded the Chalcedon Institute, a locus of Christian Reconstructionist theory and activism. Diamond quoted North as suggesting, "Rushdoony is the Marx of this movement. I'm trying very hard to be the Engels..."

North has assembled an enormous quantity of material about the Y2K problem which he distributes through publications and his web site at garynorth.com. His prediction for the post-year 2000 world is one of serious doom and gloom. "Because the year 2000 begins on a Saturday, millions of victims will not be aware of their dilemma until the following Monday or Tuesday," he writes. "They will pay no attention to advance warnings, such as this one, that they are at risk..."

North incorporates the domino effect as a metaphor in his predictions, calling it "one gigantic 'etc.'" He also mentions the "butterfly effect," a reference to scientific models involving initializing conditions in dynamic systems. North suggests that this "butterfly effect" will, for instance, trigger a run by Japanese on unliquid banks resulting in a selloff of U.S. debt related instruments. "The dollar will fall. Meanwhile, the run will spread to other nations."

Mr. North also goes into excruciating detail of how a Y2K crisis could trigger unforeseen consequences in other areas. In one projection, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shuts down atomic power plants which supply approximately 20% of the generated power in the U.S. This triggers a catastrophic series of events leading to bank failures and power black outs. "Every computer in the country (goes down), compliant or not. And if they all go down, nobody will be able to repair any of them. There is no tomorrow if the national power grid goes down on January 1, 2000."

North's scenarios essentially describe the death of technical civilization and, presumably, secular society. In one section of "Blind Man's Bluff in the Year 2000," North even attempts to incorporate stages which psychologists have identified in the psychological constitution of terminally ill patients, including "awareness," "denial," "anger," "bargaining" and "acceptance" into his description of how congregations might react to the Y2K crisis. North also predicts that in the months prior to January 1, 2000, "the world's stock markets will have crashed." due to currency withdrawals, thus triggering another series of devastating "dominos."

"I don't expect you to believe me... yet," admonishes North.

North's prophetic writings are circulating widely through much of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical community, and his materials have appeared in the burgeoning numbers of web sites, seminars and special meetings being organized by church groups. Churches in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, for example, a movement which grew out of the "Jesus Movement" of the 1970s and now has links to other groups like Promise Keepers, are offering special Y2K "preparedness seminars" across the country.

"Last Days"__One Of These Days...

Another religious activist expressing prophetic concern over Y2K is Hal Lindsey, author of best selling doomsday books like "The Late Great Planet Earth." Lindsey has focused on many of the geopolitical events which have appealed to Pat Robertson and others, such as the 1948 birth of the state of Israel, and subsequent military confrontations in the middle east. With the passage of time, however, he has also had to alter his apocalyptic timetable concerning "the last generation" and other eschatological minutia.

Despite many unsuccessful predictions of catastrophic events, such as a Soviet invasion of the middle east or war with China, Lindsey__like new age psychics__finds an inexhaustible supply of both old and virginal material to recycle and fit into ever-changing prophetic scenarios. He appears frequently in articles and programs about "the final days." Nearly thirty years after making his initial mark as the nation's foremost pop culture eschatologists, Lindsey was featured in programs such as the CBS network special "Mysteries of the Millennium" which aired in May, 1996.

Lindsey's warnings about the Y2K problem echo the scenarios hinted at by Robertson, or luridly portrayed by Gary North. His "End Times Intelligence Digest" mixes news on Y2K with themes such as "Earthquakes, famines, wars, plagues, strange weather" and "Mystery Babylon, the False Prophet, One World Church." Lindsey is also compelled to postpone and update his predictions concerning Armageddon. Unfounded, thirty-year old warnings about Russian invasions are discarded in favor of more contemporary doomsday fare. In "Planet Earth - 2000," Lindsey discusses "Berserk global weather, the crime explosion, the spread of occultism, out of control drug abuse, what does it all mean?"

Internet Prophets of Doom

As with rumors about the crash of TWA Flight 800, UFOs, miracles or political assassinations, the internet has become a lively transmission belt for warnings about the Y2K problem. Many are written from a religious perspective, and fuse the technical language of Y2K with a relentless battery of references to Biblical verses. The most extreme and calamitous scenarios and descriptions seem to characterize these cyber prophesies and alerts, as in one aptly titled "A Warning to America, Y2K disasters and much worse to come, soon." It vividly describes a Road Warrioresque, post-apocalypse future, asking...

"When the economy crumbles, you lose your job, and you can't pay your debts, to whom will you turn? When the natural disasters that are coming disrupt all kinds of production and transportation and the grocery shelves are empty, how will you feed your family? When you have no electricity or heat for months or years, what will you do...?

The blame is laid at the doorstep of the Y2K bug. "Trains and planes will not be operating... Power plants will shut down... There will be no water for bathing, drinking or toilets. Sewage plants will not operate. The telephone system will shut down..." Recipients of the Warning are urged to withdraw from stock, bond and commodities markets, "go to cash and gold and silver bullion coins," stock up on food, water and vitamins, and remember that "Guns and ammunition will be essential for self defense, especially in or near big cities."

All of this is said to fulfill Bible prophesy, especially Amos 3:7, "God does not do anything without telling His prophets first."

"Numerous Christian prophets from different churches and denominations are generally predicting the same following events..." Strangely, what follows is a list of calamities which seem to link Fundamentalist scenarios for doomsday with more arcane predictions from new age sources, including writers like the late Edgar Cayce. "Record-breaking" earthquakes hit the Pacific Rim, wipe out much of Japan... Numerous volcanic eruptions will add to the destruction." The United States literally splits in two, and major metropolitan areas such as St. Louis, New Orleans and Chicago are inundated water.

Not all Christians, including those sounding the alarm about Y2K, embrace such a catastrophic view of the future. But the "Millennium bug" is a hot topic on Christian radio where warnings about Y2K reach a large audience. Beverley LaHaye of Concerned Women for America recently completed a full week of her regular programs which were devoted to the subject. Elsewhere, in print and on the internet, there is debate on how the church or individual Christians should "respond" to the Y2K problem or "make preparations." In "What Should Christians Do About Y2K?" the faithful are reminded that "The first step in preparing a congregation is to assure them that such preparations are biblical..." Quotes from the New Testament books of Matthew, John and other sources are then used to construct "A biblical defense of Y2K preparation," actions which include stocking up food supplies in warehouses (Malachi 3:10) or fleeing life-threatening situations (as in the accounts of Peter and Paul).

Doomsday As A "Growth" Industry

"Family Preparedness Now!" promises one company experiencing booming business thanks to concern over the Y2K problem. Websites, publications and reports from Christian groups worried about the catastrophic and biblically prophesied fallout from the Millennium bug are directing the faithful to a slew of resources and companies selling everything from freeze-dried food to other "emergency" supplies like water purification systems and generators. "Dare Christ Call us to Retreat?" asks Christian Perspectives on Y2K, while suggesting the services of firms like the aptly named "Y2K Foods." The list of crises which demand an immediate order is extensive; "None of us are exempt from an emergency whether it be from natural causes such as floods, lightning caused fires, droughts, earthquakes, pests, tornadoes, hurricanes and tropical storms, or from economic and medical crises such as from job loss, injuries, chronic illness; or from political caused problems like increase in taxes, inflation and recession; or something unexpected like being stranded in your broken down vehicle in the middle of nowhere with no immediate help in sight." Those ordering the "emergency" stockpiles are purchasing "peace of mind." One firm even offers a pyramid marketing arrangement (popular in some segments of the evangelical subculture as is typified by the involvement of Amway Corporation," where a motivated doomsdayer can "Prepare 2 who Prepare 2 and EAT FREE!" For the unconvinced there are training seminars, a motivational Conference Call, and special videos.

Perhaps the best description, though, of the emergent Y2K religious mindset is typified by Gary North, who declares, "Be afraid, be very afraid."

Understanding The Hysteria...

While there are indeed legitimate concerns about the Y2K problem, it is the context in which this event is framed which challenges Atheists and others seeking to understand this new social hysteria which is now percolating through segments of the religious right. Our examination suggested several points:

  • Y2K "preparedness" reflects human doubts and our ambiguous relationship with technology. It both liberates and binds us. The alarming scenarios described by Robertson, or even luridly anticipated and welcomed by some Christian Reconstructionists or militia-survivalist groups, may be said to describe the demise of an "unnatural" order of machines, industrialization and emphasis on science and commerce. This contrast of modern and "corrupt" civilization with an earlier (and now, future) Golden Age of purification and innocence resonates in many sacred texts, including the Old Testament.
  • Y2K is a "lease on life" for many apocalyptic believers, and their spokespersons, who for years__even decades__have sought to interpret current events in terms of Biblical prophesy. Surveys have suggested that startling numbers of Americans (up to 40 million by some accounts) believe that "ours is the last generation" before the unfolding of events described in Daniel and Revelation. Given the demise of earlier apocalyptic scenarios involving the former Soviet Union and "godless communism," Y2K is a convenient candidate as a touchstone for prophetic concerns. Interestingly, Hal Lindsey has shifted his focus in writing from the moribund Soviet imperium to an Islamic Empire. This reflects the constant hunt for suitable candidates which describe the Antichrist__Nero, Adolph Hitler, Stalin, Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein...
  • In addition, the more extreme attitudes enunciated by Reconstructionists like Mr. North seem to suggest a staggering loss of life, an "accounting" and punishment of the evil and wicked while those who prepare for this calamitous eventuality__the faithful__survive. This is the essence of Tribulationism, a period of widespread agony and suffering necessary to punish the wicked and those who reject Christ. The emphasis on the collapse of city environments in particular, and the fact that safety and survivability occur in the countryside, suggests a rejection of cosmopolitanism and urbanism. Significantly, anti-modernist movements have often focused on the city as a metaphorical "cesspool" of unnatural human arrangements; sometimes, the city is identified with a demonized social group, such as blacks, gays, or Jews. Indeed, the "punishment" of the Y2K bug could serve as a substitute for divine wrath in the forms of AIDS, the Holocaust or some other form of persecution. It is noteworthy that in Pat Robertson's case, the Y2K Millennium bug__while not fatal to civilization, perhaps__underscores the inherent weakness and corruptions of urban culture. Robertson has incorporated themes from earlier anti-Semitic writings and tracts into his other materials, such as "The New World Order." Whereas these earlier sources identified the "City" as the realm of money-peddlers, degenerates, Jews or other villains, the "City" of today is transformed into the realm of commercial secularism and technology -- reliance on reason and the mind, rather than direction from god.
  • Finally, Y2K is part of a larger development, an emergent millennialist consciousness, a sense that the year 2000 (or some approximate date) is a benchmark not only in our calendar but human history as well. While the date is certainly unique to us, previous periods have been characterized by a similar sense of dread and anticipation. Often, apocalyptic yearnings betrayed deeper concerns about the human condition and fate. William Miller, who attracted tens of thousands of followers with his predictions about the end of the world in the mid-nineteenth century, lived at a time of social dislocation and change. Often, deep cultural and social changes betray themselves in outbursts of political zealotry, religious fervor or, in our case, millennialist anguish.

** (Thanks to Larry Mundinger and Don Rivers for background and help with this article__ed.)


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