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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Among the Y2K-worried there are also more secular survivalists, believers in the worst-case scenarios who, while they may be Christians too, don't know or care whether the chaos they foresee is any part of God's plan. They are just sure something bad is coming. One of the best known is Ed Yourdon, a computer theorist whose book Time Bomb 2000 is in its 12th printing. Yourdon and his wife are moving from Manhattan to an adobe house near Taos, N.M., that has solar panels and soon a windmill to provide power. "There are so many things that can go wrong in Manhattan," he says. "[In Taos] I can control my environment." Near Boulder, Colo., Paloma O'Riley, an ex-Navy computer security specialist, has helped organize more than 200 groups nationwide through her Cassandra Project, an online Y2K advice network that gets half a million hits a month at its website. "Everybody's coming to this [problem] late," she says. "Most 'contingency plans' were written 10 years ago and put on a shelf."

In the coming year, as Y2K becomes a more familiar problem, the ranks of secular Y2K survivalists may grow. But most early "roosters"--people who see apocalypse on the millennial horizon--came to their conclusions through a prism of religious belief. Though millennialism hinges upon the notion of Christ's return, there are pockets of religious Year 2000 cultism even in nations that are mostly non-Christian. Chen Tao, for instance, is a Taiwan-based group of cultists whose beliefs combine ufo lore with rough-and-ready bits of Christianity. In 1997 a group of them settled in Garland, Texas, to await the end, dressed in white outfits, including white cowboy hats. "What all these movements have in common is the belief that the world is on its last legs," says Marina Benjamin, author of Living at the End of the World. "It's crumbling, demonic, demented."

So much the better that the Y2K bug is something akin to the original sin of technological society, a mortal flaw bred in the very bones of the modern world. And that the proposed solution is a head-for-the-hills survivalism that speaks nicely to the enduring American fascination with ingenuity and self-reliance. And as it has for decades, the prospect of apocalypse now also offers the promise of escape to millions of people alienated from a civilization of intimidating global corporations, boundless personal gratification and unnerving manipulations of nature, like cloning.

History, of course, is littered with premature prophets of doom. One of America's largest millennial movements was led by William Miller, a 19th century farmer. On Oct. 22, 1844, many of his 50,000 followers took to the hilltops, waiting in vain for the appearance of Christ and an army of angels. By the latter half of that century, two end-time views had become dominant among Protestant groups. "Pre-millennialism" imagined Christ appearing on earth during the reign of the Antichrist. "Post-millennialism" taught that Christ would return only after Christians had first established their own thousand-year reign of righteousness. And a more recent splinter of post-millennialism is "Reconstructionism," founded by Rousas John Rushdoony. It holds that before Christ will return to earth, society must collapse and then be rebuilt along more godly lines.

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