Are the End Times drawing nigh? Are fires and floods from heaven on the brink of seething down in wrathful purge, damning the damned and raising the faithful? Is God’s finger poised on the panic button?

It could be, but I wouldn’t cancel the beach party on the evidence. Doom forecasters have been striking out with almost miraculous regularity since the dawn of time.

Putting the history of the end of the world into a fast 400 words isn’t easy. In fact it borders on madness. It’s like stuffing the entire Labour Party into a phone booth, except weirder. I mean, you can always push a Labour-packed phone booth off a cliff; but who’s going to push 400 words off a cliff? It doesn’t make sense. Armageddon does this to you after a while.

Disaster merchants have always been around, but it was the Christians who really put death and destruction on a pedestal when they gave us the Book of Revelation.

No one knows what this book means, but it’s so horrifically spectacular it doesn’t matter. More importantly, it doesn’t give any dates, thus giving open slather to soothsayers and paving the way for twenty centuries of inaccurate predictions.

Methods of prediction vary. For some it’s a case of creative arithmetic. Dates with big simple numbers, like 500, are good too. Anything goes in number juggling.

Christians, for instance, were driven to a near frenzy of ecstatic fear as year 1000 approached. Signs and portents were sought and found. The tension grew. Sinners repented in droves and fled to the hilltops. The time was nigh! But…

No worries! The Apocalypse should have been dated from the death of Christ instead of the birth. But…

In the early 1800s a New York farmer named William Miller made a two-year study of the Bible and was astonished to discover that the world would end in 1843! He gathered a sizable flock who put up with three false-alarms before losing interest. Refugees from Miller’s movement evolved into Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists, both doomsday fanciers.

The Witnesses maintained a healthy zero batting average by striking out in 1874, 1914 and 1975. Surprisingly, few left the church, which shows you how integral reason is to religion.

Hearing voices is another popular method of predicting doomsday. This process is known as channeling. Here the “prophet”, or channel, gets “the word” first-hand from angels or devils, or nowadays, mysterious space aliens. But in either case, the amount of reliable information received adds up the same — nilch!

Objective investigators are more inclined to explain channeling in terms of multiple-personality-disorders and related mental problems, rather than invisible space lizards… but try telling that to the faithful.

Little has changed over the years. The methods are eternally the same and the results are eternally wrong.

As the year 2000 approaches I predict many predictions.

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