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End-of-the-world panics

Interesting signs surfacing just before the year 2000

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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet Overview
bullet Not-so-hopeful signs
bullet In Israel
bullet In the U.S.
bullet Elsewhere in the world
bullet Hopeful signs
bullet Interesting signs
bullet Related essays on this web site
bullet References used

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Overview:

As the magic year of 2000 approached -- a year that is only special because it happens to end in three zeros -- millennial fever caught hold of many people's imagination. The Trends Research Institute (Rhinebeck NY) had correctly predicted that the prophecy business would boom as the fever spreads throughout most of the world. 

Common predictions were related to:

bullet The return of Jesus Christ, 
bullet The appearance of the Antichrist
bullet A massive battle of Armageddon, which will result in a loss of billions of lives. 
bullet The arrival of visitors from outer space that will change our world in major ways. 
bullet Massive catastrophes, caused by natural forces such as earthquakes, which will destroy much of human civilization. 
bullet A technological catastrophe caused by a lack of preparedness for computer program failures.

The year 2000 arrived. Not much happened; it seemed to be a year much like other years. The real end of the second millennium came and went on 2000-DEC-31, without a ripple. There is an interesting study here, if some sociologist wishes to take it on. Back in 1993, a Yankelovich Partners poll found that 20% of Americans agreed that "...the second coming of Jesus Christ will occur sometime around the year 2000." 1,2 During 2001, the Millennial panic subsided very quickly. This must have been a devastating loss for those who expected the end. It would be interesting to study how they handled the loss and whether it left any permanent emotional scars.

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There were some not-so-hopeful signs, worldwide:

Prior to the millennium some groups predicted major disasters:

bullet Richard Landes, director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University said: "I am more worried about after 2000 than about 2000 itself...The real problem is that in the immediate period after disappointment, - the first decade of the next century - one of the tendencies of disappointed apocalyptic groups is to get nasty. They [will] look for scapegoats." 1

bullet The FBI conducted an extensive study into the possibility of religiously-inspired violence during the start of the year 2000. They called it Project Megiddo, named after the location of a war prophesized in the Biblical book of Revelation. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service issued a similar report in 1999-DEC-18. 2 They estimate that 400 "cults" that promote end-of-the-world beliefs for the year 2000 may have been stockpiling weapons in order to hasten the arrival of some form of doomsday. CSIS reports: "The approaching year 2000 AD has stimulated millennial anxiety and heightened concern that its unfolding will bring an increase in potential threats by groups that would choose to assert their apocalyptic beliefs through violence. While it is not known which cults have the potential for violence, this does not imply that possible threats posed by doomsday religious movements should be ignored, as they can quickly manifest themselves in a variety of forms."

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There were some not-so-hopeful signs in Israel 

Some groups within the anti-cult movement created concern among the public about the possibility of religiously-motivated mass suicides associated with the millennium. Their concerns seem to revolve around two possibilities:

bullet Jerusalem may have become a focal point for potential mass suicide cults, similar to Heaven's Gate.

bullet Christian terrorists might have gone to Israel to generate a massive religious conflict. Their goal would have been to trigger the war of Armageddon, and thus persuade Jesus Christ to return to earth earlier than he would have planned to do so.

Security forces in Israel expected about 3 million tourists will visit the Holy Land during the year 2000. They appeared to take these possibilities seriously. Picking the few terrorists and mentally unstable individuals out of the millions of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem proved to be a very difficult task for Israeli security. A police spokesman said: "If the Messiah doesn't show up as expected, we fear some of the disappointed believers may take matters into their own hands and hasten along the end of times.  Given all the problems we have here already, Israel can ill afford a Waco."

Some pre-millennial events in Israel were:

bullet 1999-JAN: 14 members of the Concerned Christians, formerly from Denver CO, were deported from Israel in the belief that they were planning some sort of major disturbance - perhaps triggering a religious war. 

bullet 1999-OCT-11: 25 Irish Christians were detained in Haifa and forced to leave the country. They had earlier been refused visas, which are required for visits longer than 90 days. They embarked for Israel by ship, without the visas. Security forces described them as "an extreme Christian cult" who were planning a mass suicide. Linda Hemuhin, a police spokesperson, said that there was no connection between this group and Concerned Christians. The 25 are apparently part of the Pilgrim House Community from Castletown, Wexford. They appear to have a special concern for people with mental disabilities. Eugene McCarne, a local priest, claims that the community is a "committed and dedicated Christian group" without an apocalyptic agenda. They were forced to return to their ship and were detained there until it set sail for Cyprus. Since they refused to answer any of the questions of the immigration authorities in Cyprus, they were refused entry there as well.

bullet 1999-OCT-25: 21 Christians were arrested in Israel. They were members of two groups: the House of Prayer and Solomon's Temple. Most were Americans. Spokeswoman Linda Menuhin from the Israeli police stated that "their stay could have brought, under certain circumstances, damage to public safety." The groups lived near the Mount of Olives where they expected Jesus to return very soon. The media reported that the groups planned to execute violent acts in order to induce Jesus Christ to return to earth. House of Prayer members claim that they are non-violent. 

Author's note: We have a hunch, but cannot prove, that Israeli officials over-reacted towards benign Christian groups. They may have done this in order to send a message to persuade real apocalyptic groups to stay out of the country.

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There were some not-so-hopeful signs in the U.S.

The FBI expressed some concerns about domestic activity during the year 2000:

bullet 1999-FEB: FBI director Louis Freeh issued a statement. The Bureau has determined that "extremists, [destructive] religious cults or apocalyptic groups" should be considered in the same league as "traditional terrorists." Some of the former groups look upon the year 2000 as the time for an "apocalyptic struggle" between the forces of good and evil. 3

bullet 1999-OCT-20: The "Project Megiddo" report was completed by the FBI. Megiddo is a geographical location in Israel linked to the prophesized battle of Armageddon. This conflict is discussed in the Biblical book of Revelation as the mother of all battles. The report was intended to alert U.S. law enforcement to what the FBI described was "the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic groups who attach special significance to the year 2000." An accompanying FBI statement mentioned that "The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the Year 2000 (Y2K) is very real. The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and (New World Order) conspiracy theories may produce violent acts aimed a precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible..." In this context, the "new world order" is seen as a collection of "conspiracy theories warning of a tyrannical global government, often depicted as a tool of the Anti Christ. 3 The goal of these groups was allegedly to precipitate the end of the world by first creating widespread events involving massive destruction, violence, and death. This is not a new phenomenon within Christianity. Very similar beliefs were held by a small minority of Christians during the second century, who engaged in arson.

Data for the report were collected over a nine-month period of intensive intelligence gathering by the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI, The report was "considered so sensitive and secret that it will not be made public." An FBI spokesperson stated that " Such ideologies [could] motivate:
bullet violent white supremacists who seek to initiate a race war;
bullet apocalyptic cults which anticipate a violent Armageddon;
bullet radical elements of private citizen militias who fear that the United Nations will initiate an armed takeover of the United States and subsequently establish a One World Government; and
bullet other groups or individuals which promote violent millennial agendas."

Specific groups highlighted by the report were:
bullet A number of white supremacists organizations who share a belief in Christian Identity: the concept that the white Aryan race is God's chosen people. 
bullet Black extremist groups, including factions of the Black Hebrew Israelites who were allegedly preparing for a race war at the millennium. 
bullet Extreme Christian fundamentalists who have a record of demonizing gays and lesbians.

Facilities, organizations and individuals that were considered at risk included:
bullet Military bases.
bullet UN buildings and personnel.
bullet Groups associated with African-American, Jewish, and other racial and religious minorities.
bullet Gays and lesbians.
bullet Foreign military personnel being trained at U.S. armed forces bases.

A copy of the report is available online.

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Not-so-hopeful signs, elsewhere:

A tragic mass-murder that involved the deaths of over 1,000 ex-Roman Catholics occurred in Uganda during 2000-MAR. The leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had predicted the end of the world on 1999-DEC-31. When it didn't happen, some of the membership apparently became agitated and asked for the return of the money that they had donated to the religious group. The cult leadership appear to have murdered large numbers of their followers in to avoid paying back the money. More details.

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Hopeful Signs:

The most hopeful factor was that all past predictions of the end of the world have failed. The cluster of expectations at the time of the millennium never materialized. There is every likelihood that future predictions will also not happen as predicted.

There also seemed to be a rise of rational belief that the year 2000 is simply a year that has three zeros -- it is in no way special. After all, if humans had been born with 8 fingers on each hand, then our numbering system would be based on 16 (hexadecimal), not 10 (decimal). And our year 2,000 would then just be year 8D0 in hexadecimal. Nothing special; just another year with an unremarkable number.

Harvard professor of zoology and geology Stephen Jay Gould pointed out that the word millennium was originally a Biblical apocalyptic term linked to the second coming of Jesus. 4 It is evolving into a matter-of-fact designation for the end of a 1000 year period. "The basic reason for 'millennium' switching from a description of the future to a counting in the present stems from the failure of this expected future to materialize."

Michael R LeGault, a journal editor and reviewer of science books noted: 5 "The millennial message would appear to be that knowledge based on experience has won out over knowledge based on doctrine...this knowledge is a record of both our intellectual and moral progress. And that only in rational pursuit and use of this knowledge is our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being ensured.

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Interesting signs

bullet End of the world books and movies: Apocalyptic prophecy had an increasing influence on the North American public as the millennium approached:
bullet Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' book series "Left Behind" enjoyed tremendous success. 8Over 17 million copies were sold as of 2000-JUL-27. The seventh novel in the series, "The Indwelling: The Beast takes possession," sold more than 2 million copies between its release in 2000-MAY and the end of July. "It has been No. 1 on The New Times fiction best-seller list for a month and held the top spot on the Amazon.com best-sellers list in April, based on advance orders." A total of twelve novels are expected in the series.

bullet A number of movies opened in late 1999. These include Arnold Schwarzenegger's "End of Days" and a Bible-based thriller, "The Omega Code" (described below).

bullet Psychiatrists in Israel; 1998-MAY: An unidentified news service described that  Israeli psychiatrists were preparing to deal with an influx of pilgrims with psychological problems related to the millennium. Dr. Yair Bar-El has documented the "Jerusalem Syndrome", a belief by pilgrims that they are Biblical figures (Jesus, David, the virgin Mary, even Mary Magdelene) or chosen individuals involved in a godly mission. The Givat Shaul clinic usually treats about 150 cases of the syndrome per year. About 40 require admission to hospital. By 1999-NOV, there was already an increase of about 50 to 60%. "The disorder is most notable among some protestant Christians and Jews, predominately from the United States and Europe." 6 Many hundreds of victims of this syndrome were expected in the year 2000, among the anticipated 3 million visitors to the Holy Land.

bullet Squatters in Israel; 1998: Richard Landes, head of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University recommended that Israeli authorities deny entry to visitors who do not have a round-trip ticket and a place to stay. 7 "I would say to Israeli security: the Mount of Olives might be taken over by squatters waiting for Jesus to return. If, in their disappointment, they dig in, you have an impossible situation."

bullet Christians relocating to Israel; 1998: Some Evangelical Christians from the U.S. sold their assets and relocated to the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives Hotel has written to 2,000 Christian groups in the U.S. asking "How would you like to be staying at the Mount of Olives Hotel the day that Jesus returns?" The Hotel is run by Palestinian Muslims. As of 1998-OCT, there were three known religious groups in the U.S. who are selling all of their possessions, planning to move to Jerusalem.
 
bullet ELCA pastoral letter; 1998-NOV: Ecumenical News International (ENI) reported on 1998-NOV-18:

"The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have issued a pastoral letter dismissing 'wild prophecies' that the world is about to end and declaring that the third millennium should be welcomed with hope. The statement by H. George Anderson, the church's presiding bishop, and the 65 synodical bishops of the ELCA, which has more than 5 million members,  said the letter was necessary because of growing apprehension about the turn of the millennium."

bullet Apocalyptic movie; 1999-OCT: "Omega code" was an independent movie funded by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Evangelical Christian TV network in the U.S. The plot involved a portrayal of the rapture, when "saved" Christians both alive and dead fly upwards in the air to meet Jesus. The Antichrist uses a secret Bible code to take over control of the world. The movie was promoted by a team of U.S. 2,400 pastors. Hal Lindsey, a prolific author on end-time prophecy was a Biblical prophecy consultant for the film. By OCT-25, it was rated in the top 10 grossing movies for the previous week.
 
bullet Jewish reaction to New Year's Eve: 1999-DEC-31 fell on a Friday. Sundown on Friday is the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Many Jews felt a conflict between their religious duties to celebrate the Sabbath and their desire to party on the eve of the year 2000. Jews follow three main traditions in the U.S.; each has a different approach to this conflict:
bullet Orthodox Jews rejected any secular interests in favor of Sabbath observance. The Union of Orthodox Congregations of America, the largest Orthodox synagogue umbrella group, called on its members to resist assimilating in to the American secular culture. They  threatened to cancel the kosher certificate of a New York restaurant which is frequented by Orthodox Jews if it proceeded with a New Year's millennium gathering. Israel's Orthodox rabbi's attempted to limit activities at the nation's kosher hotels and restaurants, even when those attending are non-Jewish tourists.

bullet Many Reform Jewish congregations belong to the liberal Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Most planned to end services early, and leave their congregants free to pursue secular interests as midnight approaches. UAHC communications director Emily Grotta commented: "The most prevalent model we're seeing is an early (service), and then congregants can do what they want. Reform Jews are of this world. We expect our congregants to celebrate [New Year's] even though there is no Jewish content there.''

bullet The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, who represent the conservative wing of Judaism in America has issued a handbook titled "Shabbat of the Centuries.'' They urge their members to make the New Year's weekend into a "sacred time capsule'' to be spent with family and in Jewish study.  

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References:

  1. The Center for Millennial Studies has a web site at: http://www.mille.org/
  2. "Doomsday Religious Movements, Report # 2000/03," Canadian Security Intelligence Service, at:  http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/miscdocs/200003e.html 
  3. "'Project Megiddo' warns of cult violence, religious terrorism as new millennium approaches," AANEWS, 1999-OCT-20.
  4. S.J. Gould, "Questioning the Millennium: A Rationalist's Guide to a Precisely Arbitrary Countdown.", Harmony Books, (1997) You can read a review and perhaps buy this book from amazon.com online bookstore
  5. M.R. LeGault, "Worried about the year 2000? Nature doesn't care.", The Globe and Mail newspaper, Toronto ON, 1997-NOV-15. A review of S.J. Gould's book.
  6. "Jerusalem fears disturbed pilgrims: Millennium will spur admissions, clinic says," Reuters, 1999-NOV-25.
  7. The Center for Millennial Studies deals with the the arrival of the new millennium in 2001:
    bullet Their home page is at: http://www.mille.org/
    bullet They have a list of Millennial Sites at: http://www.mille.org/sites.html
    bullet They have an essay on the year 1000 CE called "The Year 1000: Apocalyptic Year Extraordinaire, or A Year Like Any Other?" at: http://www.mille.org/1000-pg.html
  8. Tim F. Lahaye & Jerry Jenkins, "Left Behind, series of end-times books has been fabulously successful. It is written from a conservative Christian perspective, and includes beliefs in the rapture, Antichrist, etc. Ten in the series have been published by Tyndale House from 1996 to 2003. These books each have hundreds of reviews by readers on the Amazon.com web site. We have listed the paperback versions; hardcover editions are also available:
    1. "Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days " Read reviews/ buy this book "Tribulation Force: The Continuing Drama of Those Left Behind" Read reviews/ buy this book "Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist " Read reviews/ buy this book "Soul Harvest: The World takes sides" Read reviews/ buy this book "Apollyon: The Destroyer Is Unleashed " Read reviews/ buy this book
    2. "Assassins: Assignment -- Jerusalem, Target -- Antichrist" Read reviews/ buy this book
    3. "The Indwelling: The Beast takes possession,Read hundreds of reviews/ buy this book
    4. "The Mark: The beast rules the world," Read over 100 reviews / buy this book
    5. "Desecration: Antichrist takes the throne," Read reviews/ buy this book
    6. "The Remnant, On the Brink of Armageddon," (2003-FEB) Read reviews/ buy this book

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References:

  1. Poll data was mentioned in Michael Shermer, "The fire that will cleanse: Millennial meanings and the end of the world," Skeptic magazine, Vol 7, #3, 1999
  2. "Prophecy: What the Bible Says About the End of the World," Newsweek magazine, cover story, 1999-NOV-1, as reported in AANEWS for 1999-OCT-25.

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