The End Of The World As We Know It?

The millennium bug could bite VCRs, ICBMs and more. Doomsayers say it's all in God's endgame

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It's that kind of uncertainty that some religious millennialists are seizing upon, and in the process moving quickly from the plausible to the hyperbolic. In pulpits and on videotapes, on Christian radio stations and Internet websites, there are dedicated prophets of doom. They warn of a cascade of Y2K calamities--massive power blackouts, the failure of hospital, factory and fire equipment, the collapse of banking, food shortages, riots. A Y2K article posted last year on the website of the Christian Coalition speculated that President Clinton might use the chaos that Y2K unleashes as an opportunity to seize dictatorial powers. The televangelist Pat Robertson is marketing a video called Preparing for the Millennium: A CBN News Special Report, which summarizes both the Y2K problem and Robertson's novel, The End of an Age, in which Armageddon is triggered by a meteor crash.

Then there's the popular series of novels by retired minister Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, a former sportswriter. Set in the immediate future, their four "Left Behind" novels chronicle life on the eve of the Second Coming. Genuine Christians disappear to heaven. Everyone else is abandoned to suffer a terrible earthquake, wars and the whims of the Antichrist, a.k.a. U.N. Secretary-General Nicolae Carpathia of Romania. Collectively the books have sold more than 3 million copies. LaHaye also offers maximalist warnings about Y2K. It "very well could trigger a financial meltdown," he warned recently in an online- chat event, "leading to an international depression, which would make it possible for the Antichrist or his emissaries to establish a one-world currency or a one-world economic system, which will dominate the world commercially until it is destroyed."

A cybermogul resembling Bill Gates figures as something like the Antichrist in Judgment Day 2000 by Richard Wiles, in which the breakdown of all computers leaves America vulnerable to terrorists with nuclear bombs in suitcases and a leftover Soviet doomsday machine called the Dead Hand. Wiles, 45, a onetime marketing director for Christian Broadcasting Network, believes God directed him to write his book. "In 12 months we'll know if I'm right," says Wiles. "If I'm wrong, the worst that will happen to me is I'll be tremendously embarrassed. If other people are wrong and don't listen to me, the worst that will happen is all men will perish."

This, the alarmists insist, is in fulfillment of the New Testament prophecy of the troubles that will precede Christ's Second Coming. In the Gospel of Luke, Christ warns that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines, and pestilences, and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven." In Matthew, Jesus says that when the time for his return is near, the signs will be unmistakable and the faithful will be alerted by the trumpet call of angels.

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