Date: Fri, 3 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 3, 1996 nn nn AANEW

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Date: Fri, 3 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 3, 1996 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #30 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/3/96 In This Edition... * A Special Report On CBS's "Mysteries Of The Millennium" MILLENNIUM MYSTERY OR MEDIA MISINFORMATION? (Part One of Two) On Wednesday, May 1, the CBS television network aired a special program titled "Mysteries of the Millennium." It opened with a ponderous statement: "Are you going to witness the End of the World? The Bible, Nostradamus, the Mayan Calendar, and the ancient Hopi Indians all predicted that Doomsday will be sometime in the next few years. But now modern science seems to support them." What followed was a hodge-podge of new age musings, innuendo and scientific statements taken out of context to support one thesis -- the end of the world or some other apocalyptic, transformational scenario, could well unfold in the next several years. In both the tape program version and on its web site, "Mysteries of the Millennium" develops a theme that some say will captivate the public imagination as we approach the year 2000. This millennialist anticipation is manifested through a number of social phenomena. By themselves, these events would be considered peculiar, odd, even interesting; but it is the context of such happenings which creates a feeling of anticipation and "angst." Author James Oberg, for instance, has speculated that as we approach the end of our century, we will witness widespread examples of "a synergistic climb toward panic." Cited in "Mysteries of the Millennium" were claims such as the following: * People are having dreams of an apocalypse. Tornado clouds appear, mountains rise out of the sea, earthquakes and tiday waves strike. The fact that many people have such dreams is interpreted to have profound metaphorical and eschatological significance. * The number of sightings of the Virgin Mary is growing, a virtual "explosion of apparitions" according to author Michael Brown. He cites the alleged appearances at Medjugorge, and apparitions in Africa where teenage visionaries insist that the Virgin Mary is warning humanity of impending doom if we do not "come back to God." "I believe that the end of the millennium is going to cause prophecies to come at us from across the board," says Brown who adds, "We saw this a thousand years ago in 999." * Mysteries of the Millennium claimed that religious legends throughout history have prophesized an apocalypse, such the Biblical accounts found in the Book of Revelation. Indeed, Revelation is perhaps the most significant source for those attempting to divine the exact time and events leading up to Final Judgment, including the identity of the "Antichrist." "Mysteries" viewers were told by one observer that the antichrist is alive, today, is in his forties-to-fifties, and is relatively unknown at the present time. * Scientists are warning of natural calamities, including the dire consequences if the earth is struck by an asteroid or VLB (Very Large Body.) While the program interviewed a number of reputable people in the field of Astronomy, including Brian Marsden of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the famous comet discoverer David Levy, it created the impression that such a cataclysmic event was not only possible but probable. Levy warned viewers that an impact of a body like Shoemaker-Levy (which struck Jupiter) against the earth, would have deadly consequences for the human race. The number of individuals hunting for such large, rogue bodies in the solar system is equal to the staff of a single McDonald's restaurant. Distortion of Historical, Scientific Data "Mysteries of the Millennium" joins a growing number of television "specials" dealing with paranormal fringe topics such as UFO's, alien abductions, "missing persons", miracles, psychic phenomenon and "un-explained" events. Many of these programs regurgitate the usual New Age legends about topics which have been thoroughly explored and often refuted as hoaxes, or accounted for by more prosaic explanations. Even so, the topics are continually recycled and embellished, often with new unverified claims and misinformation. Some programs like "Sightings" create the visual impression that one is watching a legitimate news program. The public is urged to contact "hotlines" and communicate their own psychic or paranormal experiences. On air, a serious commentator narrates a script , while in the background people sit at desks, talk on phones, or walk around with folders or papers. It is reminiscent of the "working" stage sets popular with major network news broadcasts, and serves to lend an air of credibility and authenticity to the program. Skeptics who criticize the outlandish claims which are stock in trad on these "specials" receive little or no rebuttal time. One program which dealt with alien abductions, for instance, provided skeptics with about one-and-a-half-minutes. (This was culled from an interview which took over three hours!). Many of the "unsolved" or "mystery" type programs even admit that they are presenting "only one possible explanation" of what might be going on, although they rarely discuss the more prosaic explanations (including outright fraud) about UFO sighting, the "Face on Mars", dowsing, crank health cures, psychic experiences and other topics. "Mysteries of the Millenium" appears to be the first major network presentation linking some of these new age subjects with the onset of the year 2000. For those watching the nascent "rise to panic" which Oberg and others have anticipated, it comes as little surprise. In literature and movies, as well as the dire predictions of pop-eschatologists like Hal Lindsey, we are indeed living in the "End Times." Social scientists like Stjepan Mestrovic and others find parallels between events in our era and previous "fin de siecle" epochs, including growing interest in the occult, a fascination with religious fundamentalism, and an erosion of rational, scientific explanations about how the world operates. Otherwise disparate events are melded into a "confluence" or "convergence" in the human imagination, constructing a new narrative of the coming apocalypse. "Mysteries of the Millennium," though, skillfully manipulated both the verbal and visual presentation, and distorted a number of facts. * Book of Revelation is often quoted by end-of-the-world prognosticators as a symbolic depiction of the "Final Days" and the Second Coming of the messiah. There have been literally hundreds of doomsday scenarios constructed around the florid allegories of this biblical text. Most reputable contemporary scholars, however, suggest that Revelation was a description of circumstances during the time of the early church, specifically during its persecution at the hands of Roman emperors. Both Nero and Domitian are considered suitable candidates for the post of the Antichrist. Other places described in Revelation were well known to believers of the early period, and already a part of Judeo-Christian history. Revelation (possibly written by John the Apostle) was less a vision of the future than it was a commentary on the author's past and present. It describes the immanent overthrow of the pagan Roman Empire and the rise of the early Church. * Scientific claims about the possibility of impact between earth and large bodies such as rogue asteroids were not fully explained. The physics behind such impacts is fairly well understood, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that global events such as the disappearance of the dinosaurs may well have been the result of an impact by a large asteroid-type body. Geologists have found evidence of such cataclysmic events in the Yucatan and elsewhere; and astronomers see similar evidence on the cratered face of our moon, Mars and other bodies in the solar system. But much of this cratering activity occured early in the history of our solar system. On earth, evidence of these impact events has been wiped away through wind erosion, shifts in the earth's crust and other forces. Such impacts do not occur with the frequency they did even 65,000,000 years ago. Comet hunter David Levy remarked that "The chances of you and I dying because of a comet impact destroying the earth are statistically the same as the chances of you and I dying on an airliner." Figures such as this are widely debated, of course, and often based upon incomplete data and statistical models; even so, that figure is somewhere around 1 out of 20,000. That means, therefore, that we have a 19,999 chance out of 20,000 of NOT having civilization come to a fiery end through an impace with a huge comet or asteroid type extraterrestrial body. Those are most heartening odds. (End of Part One, "Mysteries of the Millennium," AANEWS Special Report) ******** AANEWS is a free service of 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 more information on AA, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name, address and zip code. Additional background on this list may be obtained by contacting aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org. Put "info aanews" in the message body. You may forward, copy or quote from these dispatches, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and AANEWS. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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