Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 17:03:02 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 29, 1996
Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 17:03:02 -0500
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 29, 1996
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for December 29, 1996
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#225 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/29/96
COUNTING DOWN TO MILLENNIUM LUNACY
With New Year's Eve just days away, the arrival of 2000 isn't that far
behind. And everyone from religious groups to mystical crackpots is already
making plans for the
The Big One...
UNLIKE this coming Tuesday, New Years Eve 2000 promises to be far more
than just another round of drinks, gandiois resolutions, and maybe watching
all those folks in Times Square count down to the midnight hour from the
comfort of your living room. 2000 is a different kind of party animal, not
your typical end-of-beginning-of yearly bash. It is the end of a century as
well as the end of a millennium. And for a surprising number of diverse
groups and individuals, it is fast becoming the focal point of dreams,
wishes, expectations and dreads. Call it "millennium madness." For lots of
folks, the advent of the year 2000 can be the fulfillment of Biblical
prophecy, the dawn of Armageddon, the ushering in of a new cosmic age. You
can already choose from a number of scenarios, some of them wildly optimistic
and utopian, others repleat with Biblical harbingers of the "last days" and
"end times." For some, the year 2000 is a benchmark in social and political
agendas to change the face of the earth, while for others, it could well be
The Beginning of the End. We'll see.
There are a couple of chronological facts, though, that can't be ignored
in any discussion of millennialism. The year 2000 -- or at least our
temporal dating system -- is a human invention. It really isn't 2000 years
since the alleged birth of Christ, in part thanks to calendric changes and
reforms made centuries ago. And there is the standing argument of when
exactly temporal periods like centuries and millenia actually end and begin.
Does humanity's third millennium begin in 2000 or 2001? There seems to be no
agreement on that question, but as Dan and Gail Collins wrote in "The
Millennium Handbook," well, 2000 seems to have captured the public
imagination. 2000 "seems" to be an appropriate time to commemorate the
closing of one block of the human experience, and the beginning of a new
stage in our history.
And 2000 has emerged as the year signifying a point in history which is
supposed to signify the beginning of SOMETHING. Just what the "something" is
depends on who you deal with; but a surprising range of religious and
mystical groups see the year 2000 as laden with metaphysical, spiritual and
even apocalyptic significance. Already a number of distinct trends have
* RELIGIOUS UNITY. Despite the proliferation of religious groups and
cults, and the inevitable "turf wars" for followers in places like Latin
America, Asia and the former Soviet Union, a number of major religious groups
are in an ecumenical mood talking about outright unification or levels of
cooperation. Both might be prolematic agendas in terms of history.
The Roman Catholic Church has been conductng a major effort to woo the
various Orthodox branches which broke off centuries ago, as well as the
Anglican Church. Pope John Paul II is determined to live long enough to
shepherd his church into the next millennium, and the Vatican is sparing no
effort in capitalizing on the eschatological significance of the year 2000.
The Church has delared that year to be a Golden Jubillee, a spectacular
religious production where the Porta Sancta in St. Peter's Basilica will be
opened, and all those who pass through supposedly receive cosmic brownie
points in the form of a "special" blessing. The Vatican is also dragging a
slew of historical artifacts (of dubious authenticity) out of its storage
vaults, including the discredited Shroud of Turin and the Holy Coat of Trier.
The National Heritage Foundation in Italy now estimates that between 30 and
60 million visitors will be flocking to Rome for the Jubilee.
Attendance at other holy hot spots -- Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugore -- will
most likely soar. And the burgeoning cult of the Virgin Mary ("Marioltry")
will draw the faithful and curious to just about any location where this
elusive lady deigns to put in a peek-a-boo appearance.
Other Christian movements, while still open to the prospect of ecumenical
unity, are using the year 2000 as the focal point for their own aggressive
evangelical outreaches. Last summer's Olympic Games in Atlanta began a
four-year buildup by the AD2000 movement which hopes to organize a Global
March for Jesus. At the Olympics, a number of Christian groups pamphleted
athletes and tourists, refining their organizing and recruiting skills.The
penultimate goal is a series of mass parades in 2000 cities across the globe
with 30,000,000 participants on June 10, 2000.
Religious unity is also part of the agenda of Episcopal Bishop William E.
Swing and his United Religions movement based in San Francisco. Swing tells
supporters that they can "share a vision: that the religions of the world can
come together in prayer dialogue, and action for global good." United
Religions began in 1993 with an "interfaith service" to commemorate the 50th
anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. Among United
Religions' goals is "a permanent gathering center where the world's religions
engage in daily prayer, dialogue, and action for the good of life on this
earth" and to "establish a world religious structure for global good."
Other religious hope to cash in on millennium fervor as well. A group
calling itself Journey of the Magi plans a "six month pilgrimage of peace
that will retrace the original journey of the Magi," where participants will
ride on horses and camels and attend religious festivals.
* A SEARCH FOR NEW MESSIAHS
Apocalyptic cults are often structured around the leadership of a
charismatic, authoritarian figure who at times declares himself (or herself)
to be a messianic personality. As noted by New York Times religion writer
Gustav Niebuhr, the approach of the year 2000 with its many "declarations
that a vast metaphysical change will coincide with the turn of the
chronological odometer" has already fueled predictions of the Second Coming.
While mainstream religions tend to hedge their bets on just when the
prophetic biblical time table will begin to unfold, many new agers are
looking for alternative forms of millennialist fulfillment, and new messiahs
as well. There is Barbara Marx Hubbard's brain-wracking babble about
humanity evolving into a form of "cosmic godhood" where we all, essentially,
become deities. Another equally astounding prospect, though, is found in the
cultish movement centered around "Lord Maitreya," an avatar publicized by
British painter Benjamin Creme. Creme has been drawing large crowds wherever
he lectures, with a fascinating story of the new messiah, a World Teacher who
is about to appear on the stage of human history and govern with his select
handful of "perfected men." Creme informs his audiences that Maitreya left
his redoubt in the Himalaya Mountains in a "self created" human body, and
arrived in London in 1977. Since then, the avatar has ostensibly been
preparing for his "Day of Declaration" when he will go on worldwide
television and, according to Niebuhr, "teach the building of a new
civilization for the benefit of all."
The Maitreya legend combines artifacts of both western and eastern
mysticism, and borrows from the writings of Theosophist Helena Blavatsky who
mused about reincarnation, telepathy, and a race of avatars secluded in the
Himalayas known as The Great White Brotherhood. Still another influence is
found in Alice Bailey, a former Theosophst who broke with Blavatsky's
doctrines and began her own Arcane School; Bailey, like Creme, claimed to be
in telepathic contact with "ascended masters", and predicted a coming golden
age or "New Civilization."
* GLOBAL TRANSFORMATION
Early millennialist movements embraced the Biblical notion of a "New
Jerusalem", a social order which would arise in the end times or "final days"
as a perfect, harmonious utopia presided over by the returned Christ. For
Christians and new agers caught up in the present millennialist frenzy, the
New Jerusalem is a transformed earth based on "new" values and ethics.
Contemporary millennialist scenarios involve such diverse schemes as space
colonization, economic reform, and the creation of utopian societies or
subcultures. Many events planned in connection with the year 2000 are
outright fanciful, yet manage to tap into these enduring metaphors and
yearnins. The group World Action for the Millennium has the goal that "on
January 1st of the year 2000 all inhabitants of the planet Earth will be
linked together to receive and share for one minute a message -- expressed in
music -- that can be universally understood as a way to empower the
individual and express his or her belonging to the global community."
Another organization, Megacity 2000, seeks to use the beginning of a new
millennium to promote the use of mega-urban structures as the "dominant typ
of settlement for humanity." Meta-Nation 2000 wants to establish a
"meta-nation" in outer space "where human society can live and work in the
DOOMSDAY, APOCALYPSE, FINAL JUDGMENT
In contrast to the utopian, upbeat and dreamy millennialist plans of
certain religious and mystical groups is the "tribulation" segment of
Christians -- and a more difficult to locate smattering of new age
apocalyptics -- for whom the year 2000 is the threshold of gloom and doom.
The Aum Shinryo "Supreme Truth" sect in Japan and the Order of the Solar
Temple are considered examples of the latter, where a fusion of bizarre
religious and mystical ideologies precipitates acts of individual or
organized cultic violence. The Aum cult, for instance, believed that a
series of catastophes would devastate most of the world, after which the
Supreme Truth would establish its own government and rule. Some millennium
watchers predict that similar new age style sects, blending a lethal amalgam
of apocalyptic ideology and mysticism, will percolate in the next few years
as we approach the year 2000.
Shockingly high percentages of fundamentalist Christians believe that the
"parousia" or Second Coming will occur in their lifetime, and that the year
2000 is an important mile post on the apocalypse road humanity is travelling.
Indeed, many fundamentalists are wary of millennialist calls for ecumenical
unity, fearing this as a step toward a "one world church" colorfully
described in books like Revelation which will be presided over by the Anti
Christ and False Prophet.
A Credulous Environment
Just how widespread "millennial madness" will become is difficult to
predict, but there are indications that public discussion and awareness of
issues such as the apocalypse, or the fruition of other forms of catastrophic
prophecy, is growing. There is a proliferation of sites on the world wide
web related to the upcoming millennium expressing a range of views. And
interest in religious and new age themes remains strong. Movies, books and
television programs deal with a spectrum of mystical topics, from aliens and
ghosts to angels and "the power of prayer." The rising number of reports
about mystical apparitions (Jesus, Mary) elicits wide media coverage, and
often attract thousands of faithful. Indeed, fascination with apocalyptic
themes or the transformational prospects inherent n the new millennium are
simply part of a wider cultural assault on social values emphasizing reason,
logic and science. Millennialism may emerge as the dominant irrationalist
reaction against the unfulfilled Enlightenment agenda, as postmodernist
society barrels down the temporal road to 2000 and beyond.
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