The odds of the world coming to an end on January 1, 2000, currently stand at 1 million to 1. That‘s according to the Costa Rica–based gambling firm NASA (www.betonsports.com), which will take your online wagers on the likelihood of various disastrous and not-so-disastrous Y2K scenarios. The site accepts bets on the odds of a commercial airliner crashing somewhere in the world due to Y2K bugs (300 to 1); a 200-plus-point drop in the stock market (30 to 1); and an increase in the number of guns sold in December 1999 (200 to 1). Oh, and the chance that aliens will land at the White House on January 1 is 100,000 to 1. Just in case you were wondering.
Folks seem to have gotten a lot cheerier about Y2K over the past few months. There are still a few stocking up on Uzis and freeze-dried foods and heading for the Ozarks, but the ranks of those considering the survivalist route have dwindled. A survey conducted in September by Internet marketing research firm Greenfield Online showed that 85 percent of respondents thought the Y2K thing was just way overhyped. And in a survey conducted by the Information Technology Association of America, only 7 percent of respondents thought they would experience major Y2K problems.
This is a far cry from, say, a year ago, when practically every TV news show, magazine and newspaper was doing a piece on stockpiling guns, buying generators and moving to Wyoming; when a fair chunk of our citizenry was plotting a run on banks and toilet paper; and when quite a few Christians were heralding Y2K as the Big One, the End Times, the Rapture, Armageddon. Irvine resident Nathan Gopen, for one, embraces the new optimism. Gopen is the owner of Diadem Productions, a software company that produces multimedia CD-ROMs devoted to books of the Bible — including Revelation. About a month ago, Gopen decided to do what he could to spread the calm among his fellow Christians and posted an essay on his company’s Web site (www.diadempro.com) titled ”Why Y2K Is OK.“
”The Bible does not specify anything significant about the year 2000. There is no specific time given for the Second Coming (in fact, Jesus specifically says it will be at a time when the unbelieving world does not expect it),“ Gopen wrote. ”However, we can state with certainty that Jesus will not appear in the year 2000, nor will the battle of Armageddon happen then. There is a well-documented set of events, trends and courses of prophecy that need to take place before the ‘grand finale’ of God‘s plan.“
”I felt that there tends to be a large bias toward Y2K panic for a lot of ministries trying to capitalize on the sensationalism of it,“ Gopen explained to me later. ”That’s kind of a sad situation. Speaking as a software engineer, I think the hype has been overstated; it‘s more constructive to give people encouragement.“
Gopen’s effort to spread what he regards as the Good News that Armageddon is not at hand mirrors a general trend in the Christian community away from wild predictions of gloom and doom. Indeed, some prominent religious figures are now backing away from their earlier apocalyptic claims about the impact of Y2K, including Jerry Falwell. In a three-part sermon delivered in August 1998 (and later released on video), Falwell suggested that Y2K was God‘s way of giving our morally and spiritually corrupt nation a divine noogie. ”It is easy to look at this wealthy, powerful nation and our wicked leadership . . . and wonder if there is any hope for America,“ he said. ”Is there any way God can get the attention of this mammoth superpower nation? I believe the answer is a resounding YES! God can send natural disasters that literally devastate us. God can send war. God can send economic collapse . . . overnight . . . instantly. God may use Y2K to crush us and prepare us for revival!“
But in May, Falwell told the editor of Christian Computing magazine that he no longer believes Y2K will be the engine of God’s wrath. ”While I expect Y2K to be annoying and somewhat disruptive, I do not expect it to be as serious as some are projecting, or as I first feared possible,“ he said in a fax to the magazine.
This renewed optimism in the Christian community is reflected in the secular community as well. Peter de Jager, the man who in 1993 first woke the world up to the potentially disastrous millennial effects of the Y2K bug, announced in August that when the clock rolls over on December 31, he‘ll be on an airplane winging its way to London. Five years ago, he quipped that the only way to get him in an airplane on that date would be to hand his wife a check for $50 million — and wait for her to cash it. Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah), the head of the Senate committee on Y2K and one of the crankiest critics of the government’s Y2K readiness, is sounding a much less dour note these days. He now predicts only short-term disruptions in U.S. operations.
All this sunny optimism — or, at the very least, reduced pessimism — must really be baking the shorts of the panic-mongers still grimly predicting doom. Gary North, the Nostradamus of Y2K, continues to maintain on his Web site (www.garynorth.com) that civilization will come to an end in the next three months or so. ”Months before Jan. 1, 2000, the world‘s stock markets will have crashed,“ he writes. (They’d better hurry.) But North is an optimist when it comes to pessimism: The January edition of Wired News pointed out that North had claimed in 1980 that nuclear war with the Soviet Union would soon destroy civilization; in 1987, it was AIDS. North makes no particular attempt to highlight his religious beliefs on his Y2K site — for good reason. North is a Christian Reconstructionist who believes that in order for the Second Coming to occur, there must first be a thousand-year reign on Earth by Christians. And, hey — it‘d sure be a lot easier to take over the government if it had already collapsed. But, as Time magazine dryly commented at the beginning of the year, North must have confidence that the U.S. Postal Service will survive the apocalypse: He’s still offering two-year subscriptions to his newsletter.
Gopen says that Christian doomsayers like North are not representative of the Christian community as a whole. ”The buying-rifles-head-for-the-hills-stockpile-weapons-fight-the-government-tooth-and-nail movement isn‘t a proper Christian attitude,“ he says. ”Unfortunately, it’s a very vocal and noticeable segment. And it casts us in a very negative light — as negative as shooting abortion doctors.
“When you sit down and study [Revelation], there‘s a very well laid-out sequence of events and signs,” he adds. “A lot of it hasn’t happened yet — the temple would already be built in Jerusalem, for example. It‘s impossible for years’ worth of stuff to happen in the next few months.”
That‘s Good News for us all, who may have more to fear from doomsdayist-induced panic than from Y2K itself.