Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 17:03:02 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 29, 1996

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Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 17:03:02 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 29, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org 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 nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #225 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/29/96 http://www.atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ e-mail: aanews@atheists.org 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 emerged... * 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 new millennium." 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. ** About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org. Internet Rpresentative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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