by Jeff Brailey
As the Second Millennium comes to a close and we move swiftly toward the beginning of the third, many serious-minded Bible believers anticipate a monumental event that will accompany the second coming of Jesus Christ. Secular scholars and theologins alike also have entered in to the debate as have the leaders of organizations across the globe that most mainstream Christians have designated as being "cults."
Doomsday cults, many of them dangerous to their members, if not society at-large, are said to be on the rise. According to Dr. Michael Langone of the American Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to the study of cultic activity, "I am cautiously inclined to believe there has beenan increase in their number in recent years, given the number and variety of inquiries we receive on the subject."
"The best scientific evidence we have regarding prevalence (of cults) is a survey of Pennsylvania Medical Society physicians. Approximately 1500 responding physicians said they had family members involved in a cultic group," reports Langone. "Based on this survey, I conservatively estimate that several million in the U.S. are involved in cultic groups."
The closer we get to the millennium, the more attention these groups are being paid and the more attention that is paid to them, the more they apparently sprout up. Whether this attention actually reflects a genuine increase in cultic activity is open to question, according to Langone.
"There are always millennialist groups; probably hundreds existed ten years ago. They obviously don't need a millennium on which to hang their doomsday scenarios," said Dr. Langone, "for there has only been one millennium and the historical records are rather lacking."
The dangers posed by cults in general and doomsday groups in particular exists on two levels. First, the cultic groups can harm individuals in a variety of ways.
Most directly, they can cause much psychological distress. They can also cause problems in relationships with loved ones.
Second, cultic groups can contribute to confused thinking that renders young people vulnerable to "sales pitches" of dubious groups. For example, a Gallop Poll of about eight years ago found that one-third of church-going Christian teens believed in reincarnation, a belief that is incompatible with Christianity.
"I think one would be inclined to include that this finding indicates confusion on the part of these Christian yout," said Langone, "This philosophical vs. religious naivete often combines with naivete about how people can be manipulated, thereby compounding the person's vulnerability to cultic sales pitches."
In the mid-1600s, Bishop James Ussher predicted the world would end on October 23, 1997. It didn't and the doomsday clock keeps ticking.
Depending on which prophet, soothsayer or tea-leaf reader you listen to, we have between eight months and 241 years before the end of the world. Given the inexact science that End-Time Prophesy is, we probably have plenty of time to get our affairs in order.
Nostradamus predicted the "King of Terror" will arrive in mid-July 1999. Hindus believe the avatar of Krishna will be returning to the world in 2003.
The ancient Mayans are known for the incredible accuracy of their calendar. It stops on December 21, 2012.
The Jehovah's Witnesses say the Battle of Armageddon will being in 2014. The Muslim calendar ends in 2076 and the Jewish calendar gives the world until 2240.
Conventional wisdom of mainstream Christian denominations says no one knows the time or day. But smaller fundamentalist sects and groups within Christianity have made various predictins of when the second coming will occur.
Doomsday prophets can't seem to get together on any of their end-time predictions. Here are some of the more interesting prognostications by some famous and not-so-well-known soothsayers:
The most well-known end-time prophet must be Nostradamus. A 16th Century contemporary of Bishop Ussher, her wrote, "In the year 1999 and seven months will come a great king of terror from the skies..."
Is it possible horror author Stephen King will take up sky diving next summer?
Criswell predicted the world will end precisely on August 18, 1999. His crystal ball doesn't tell us how this will happen and Criswell isn't exactly known for the accuracy of his prophesies.
Past Predictions included the 1988 destruction of London, England by a meteor. Criswell also said, "I predict that by 1980 you will be able to lift your own face in your own home for only $5.00."
Many new-agers look to 20th Century prophet Edgar Cayce for their end-time predictions. The "Sleeping Prophet" predicted Armageddon will begin in 1999, followed by the new age and Christ's second coming. Cayce allowed himself some leeway in his end-time prediction, saying the battle could begin in 2001 or 2002.
Television evangelist jack Van Impe said the end will come after the year 2000. You can't pin him down on an exact date. Of course, he does sell a video for $20 that explains his apocalyptic prophesies.
Richard W. Noone, author-prophet who wrote 5/5/2000: ICE -- THE ULTIMATE DISASTER, is very precise about his date the world will end. "On May 5, of the year 2000, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be aligned with earth for the first time in 6000 years. On that date, the ice buildup at the South Pole will upset the earth's axis, sending trillions of tons of ice in the water sweeping over the surface of our planet.
Ther are other predictions that are part of dogma and doctrine of various religions and groups.
The Unarius Society, UFO disciples, believe that in the year 2000, "a Pleiadean starship will land on the rising portion of Atlantis in the Bermuda Triangle." This group previously and erroneously predicted the this would occur in 1985 -- or did we just miss it?
The Hindu calendar says we can expect a "rain of blood in towns, villages and forests from 1999 to 2003. But the avatar of Krishna will arrive and establish "The Reign of Righteousness" which will last 108 days.
Several Muslim Sufi sects have set 2076 as the end-time. That is the year 1500 in the Muslim calendar. It is also the Tricentenial of the Unuted States of America.
According to the Jewish calendar, 2240 is the year 6000 and the end time. If all the other doomsday dates fall harmlessly from the calendar, maybe, just maybe, this will mark the real year for the end of the world.
Printing presses used to be the primary tool used to spread the world that the end of the world is near. End-time tracts handed out on street corners by bearded wild-eyed prophets were the subject of many newspaper cartoons.
With the advent of that wonderful device, the radio, religious zealots took to the airwaves to spread the word to more folks than they could possible hand a tract to.
Both of these communications media are outdated now, having been replaced with websites on the internet. By typing in words like millennium, doomsday, apocalypse and armegeddon using a search engine, the inquiring end-time computer user will have access to more information than he could possbly read between now and Armageddon.
There are at least 10 websites that tout the significance of the year 2000 in end-time prophesy. More than 70 predict cataclysmic events will soon be occurring. A dozen or so thoughtful sites discuss signs that the end is near and there are more than 30 sites that study and discuss the issue from a scholarly secular point of view.
There is one certainty floating around in this sea of different end-time prophesies and that is no one knows the day or hour the world will actually end. But just as there is no limit on the number of apocalyptic end-time websites, doomsday cults are enjoying a growth and surge in popularity as we close in on the end of the Second Millennium.
Whether this popularity will continue or begin to wane after the year of 2000 remains to be seen. We do know some dangerous cults, especially those related to the Christian Identity Movement, appear to be growing rapidly,
One man's cult is another man's religion and vice versa, according to some liberal-minded new age thinkers. And many religions considered mainstream today were formerly considered cultic or "new religions." Even Christianity was considered to be astrange off-the-wall sect that sprung from Judiasm only a millennium or so ago.