As Jan. 1 Draws
Near, Doomsayers Reconsider
The Apocalypse Is Still
By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 1999; Page
A year ago, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, who have
sold more than 10
million copies of their "Left Behind" thrillers about the Apocalypse,
global upheaval on Jan. 1, 2000.
The Y2K bug could trigger "financial
meltdown," they warned readers
on their Web site, "making it possible for the Antichrist or his
. . . to dominate the world commercially until it is destroyed."
But now that the hour is upon us, the
prophets of doom are retreating.
"We don't think it relates to Y2K at all,"
Jenkins said. "And
we're bemused by people who do."
Reminded of the Web site prediction, he
said, "We regret having
talked about it." Over the last year, Jenkins said, he has been
nervous fans they have nothing to fear.
Even those who fully embraced the date as
late as last month are
now backing down. Some prophets are hedging their bets, reminding
they only said "maybe," or they never specified the Western world, or
1 exactly. Others such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell say they have read the
Y2K compliance reports and found them soothing. All are expecting a
New Year's Eve.
Grant R. Jeffrey, author of titles such as "The
and "Armageddon: Earth's Last Days," is also blase. Earlier this year,
the Toronto-based minister wrote that the Y2K bug "may set the stage
the creation of the coming world government that was prophesied to
in the last days."
Now he's downsizing his expectations. "It
will be frustrating,
like computer errors, delays in waiting for planes, that kind of
Jeffrey does not disavow his disaster
predictions, but expects
them to unfold only distantly, "in the Third World" and not quite so
"It's not a January problem," Jeffrey added. "It
will manifest itself
gradually throughout the year, like maybe in March or April or May, or
It seems that the Apocalypse has been
postponed. Now that the
date is tangible, signs of the second coming of Christ are becoming
The millions of fundamentalist Christians who seized on the Y2K bug as
proof that a techno-idolatrous world was doomed now see it as more of a
"The end times people are backing down,"
said Damian Thompson,
author of "The End of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the
a study of modern doomsday cults. "People who last year became excited
about the millennium bug are suddenly saying, 'I never said that. It
him, not me.' They're extremely nervous of having December 31st, 1999,
pinned on them forever."
Earlier this year, Falwell distributed a
packet on "The Y2K Time
Bomb," including a video, "A Christian's Guide to the Millennium Bug,"
and a Family Readiness Checklist, telling people to stock up on such
as gardening utensils, Q-tips and peanut butter and jelly.
"Y2K is God's instrument to shake this
nation, to humble this
nation," Falwell said in a television broadcast last year. "He may be
to confound our language, to jam our communications, scatter our
and judge us for our sin and rebellion for going against his lordship."
But Falwell says he has read the government and
banking reports and
he is no longer a "fatalist"; in fact, he's "encouraged." A few weeks
Falwell withdrew the video and has been toning down the visions. "I
anticipate any major problems," he said last week. "I would fly in an
When it was first revealed, the Y2K bug
suited the apocalyptic
temperament. Its timing even validated fundamentalist numerology. In
Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh dated creation to 4004 B.C., and
forward using numerical clues, predicted Christ's reign on Earth would
begin about 6,000 years later, during what became known in evangelical
circles as the Great Week.
From the mainstream to the fringes, evangelical
Christians adopted the
Y2K bug as their own. For the last two years, they have held
teaching the flock how to filter water, bag sand, and dry peas. Popular
Christian magazines have advertised gold bullion and Rapture insurance
policies (in case you were snatched up to Heaven but your loved ones
But as the day approaches, even some of
the fringe groups are
"I'm aware of hardly anyone who's still saying
1-1-2000 is the big day,"
said Ted Daniel, who runs the Millennial Center in Pennsylvania and
a close eye on doomsday cults. "It's the usual pattern: If you're a
prophet, you have to keep people excited. But once the date gets
you back off."
The Rev. Ralph Moats, for example,
relocated some of his California
followers to Montana in 1992 to prepare for doomsday. He picked a rural
road 50 miles from the nearest bank and a prophetic name, "End Times
Yet Moats sounds remarkably calm these
"God has his own schedule," he said from
his Montana home. "But
I think it will be just another New Year's Eve. I'll probably be in bed
by 10 o'clock."
Moats, like many evangelicals, has not
fundamentally changed his
temperament. The Apocalypse is still coming--just not necessarily right
The willingness to set a date and stick
with it has defined the
line between fringe and mainstream views of the Apocalypse ever since
Great Disappointment of 1844, said Stephen O'Leary, a fellow at the
for Millennial Studies in Boston. On the evening of Oct. 22,
William Miller gathered thousands of followers on an upstate New York
to await transport to Heaven. By dawn they were the townsfolk's
Modern-day Millerites are rare: Edgar
Whisenant, a former NASA
engineer, predicted the end would come in 1988; Elizabeth Clare
in 1990; and fashion designer Paco Rabanne, on Aug. 11, 1999.
In the last two months, the doomsday
prophets have rejiggered
the numbers, dating the end to later next year, or 2007, the end of the
tribulation period, or 2033, counting from Christ's death instead of
A year ago, self-described seer R. J. Smith led her
20 acolytes from
Tucson into the Arizona dessert. She was driven by a prophetic dream,
she translated into a diagram shaped like a bug. The dream showed a
Earth split, with Jesus standing astride it, she recalls.
But last month, she had a different dream,
the number 30 floating
in her head. She interpreted this as a sign that the Apocalypse won't
place until 2030. This New Year's Eve, she says, she'll barbecue and
M. J. Agee is one of the evangelical world's last
despite past disappointment. In the early '90s, Agee's inscrutable
took her to 1998, which she later revised to 1999. This December she
a 20-page apologia: "Why I thought the Rapture might be Pentecost
Her new date is this coming Spring. "I am
not saying end-time
events have to happen when I think they will," she said humbly. "I am
a prophet. This is just the way it looks to me."
Staff researcher Anton Ramkissoon contributed to
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