Good old Jerry Falwell has informed us that the Antichrist is alive and well and putting the finishing touches on his end-of-the-world schtick.
At a conference in Tennessee this month, the irrepressible reverend said he doesn't know who the Antichrist is, but he thinks His Evilness will appear in the next 10 years and try to pass himself off as Christ.
"Of course, he'll be Jewish," Falwell said.
Well, now, that certainly helps us narrow it down, doesn't it?
And here I've been telling all my friends and acquaintances to keep their eyes peeled for tubby WASPs named Jerry who have an inexplicable ability to tap into other people's checking accounts. Yeesh, do I feel foolish.
Jerry's gibberish is, of course, yet another example of millennium madness, two words we'll hear linked throughout this year and the next..
Brace yourself for months and months of doomsday cults, name-the-Antichrist contests, ATF raids, end-of-the-world clearance sales, and a weird head-buzzing paranoia we'll probably come to know as the apocalypso.
I'm sort of looking forward to it.
I've lived through the end of the world at least once before, and it wasn't so bad.
It happened nearly 25 years ago, when I was about 12 years old. On the way home from school one day, an older kid on the bus informed my friends and me that we might be experiencing our very last day--ever.
He said a self-proclaimed prophetess, whose name I have long ago forgotten, had predicted that on that very day, the world would come to an end. Just like that. Kablooey.
We weren't quite teen-agers yet, but most of us were capable of scoffing at this bit of news. End of the world? Oh, come on. The world wasn't going to end. Mrs. Whatsit gave us homework tonight, and Mr. Whozzat had scheduled a quiz the following day. Geesh, there was a pep rally planned for Friday. Not even God could spare us from one of those insufferable things.
So we got off the bus, said our goodbyes and walked home the same as we ever did, except that this time we had something new to laugh about -- God doing an Elmer Fudd imitation and announcing, "Thaa-thaa-thaaat's-all-folks."
I can't say for sure what the other kids did as the evening wore on, but I found myself distracted more and more by the thought that, geesh, what if this supposed prophetess was right?
Before long, I was swept into a semi-panic, experiencing a heart-in-the-throat fear that everybody and everything was about to get smeared against the windshield of the universe.
I don't recall exactly what I did that night as I struggled to make peace with the likelihood that my life was over and I hadn't even lived it yet. I was probably more pleasant to my mother, I probably didn't invest quite as much time studying for that quiz, I probably didn't get as much as sleep, and I probably apologized profusely to God for the Elmer Fudd crack.
Of course, I woke up the next morning, just as I had every other morning of my life. There was no calamity, no apocalypse, no final judgment.
I learned a valuable lesson, though, one that I've carried with me to guard against my innate human gullibility. To paraphrase Ann Landers: If it sounds like bullshit, it probably is.
It's too bad, in the days ahead, that the government can't distribute free bullshit detectors. We're going to need them.
To get a feel for just how mad the millennium madness is at this early stage, I ventured onto that ever-reliable source of semi-reliable information, the Internet.
I discovered that there's a whole parlance for doomsday on the Internet, beginning with TEOTWAWKI (or the end of the world as we know it).
There's no shortage of dire predictions.You can take your pick of prognosticators. You've got your Nostradamus, your Edgar Cayce, your Hal Lindsey, your Jack Van Impe, your Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, even your David Koresh.
You've got your space aliens, your famines, your floods, your droughts, your fires, your comets, your asteroids, your Y2K, your intergalactic repo man, and your out-with-a-bang-not-whimper.
My favorite site of all -- http://www.religioustolerance.org/end_wrld.htm -- is from Ontario, which is, arguably, the end of the world. This site offers a lengthy, but certainly not exhaustive, list of doomsday predictions that didn't quite pan out.
There were predictions in 1033 that, on the millennium anniversary of Jesus' death, that the world would end.
There was Joachim of Fiore's predication in 1190 that the Antichrist would reappear and engage in a battle to end all battles with King Richard of England.
There were the 20,000 people in Russia who burned themselves to death from 1669 to 1690 to prevent the Antichrist from getting to them first.
There were predictions by the Watchtower Society that the world would end in 1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and (whew) 1994.
There was best-selling author Hal Lindsey's prediction that the Rapture would occur in 1988.
There was the Rev. Benny Hinn's prediction that the Rapture would come in 1993.
Well, you get the idea.
There are plenty of doomsdays still awaiting us, including one pencilled in many years ago by the late TV psychic Criswell: "If you and I meet each other on the street that fateful day, Aug. 18, 1999, and we chat about what we will do on the morrow, we will open our mouths to speak and no words will come out, for we have no future...you and I will suddenly run out of time!"
Oddly enough, Criswell didn't foresee that fact that he would be cosmically cancelled, so to speak, long before his calendar hit 1999.
Perhaps the best bit of advice about millennium madness comes from the Web site's operators, who sagely note, "Past predictions of the end of the world have one factor in common: none ever came true. There is every likelihood that most (perhaps all) future predictions will not materialize either."
That goes for anything good old Jerry Falwell has to offer, too. Would that he would open his mouth to speak and decide -- for once -- to close it because he had nothing useful to say.