Apocalypse now, or never?

BBC News, Dec 14, 1999

Never mind the bug, here comes the apocalypse - at least according to the cults warning of the end of the world as we know it.

Apocalypse, Armageddon, the final reckoning, you name it, 1 January 2000 will be when the righteous will survive, and the rest of us perish horribly, they claim.

From Penge to Peking, Moscow to Montreal, cultists are battening down the hatches for doomsday while the rest of us prepare for a hangover that may well feel like doomsday.

The doomsday believers range from the plain batty to the plain scary.

In the small village of Leyte in the southern Philippines, members of a religious sect have been busy constructing a warren of caves where they intend to wait out the new millennium - which they believe will bring the end of the world.

Digging in

The villagers believe that those who seek refuge will be protected from the "rain of fire" which will destroy the earth as 2000 dawns.

The sect is led by 80-year-old Ceferino Quinte, a self-proclaimed faith-healer who concluded that the world would end when the new millennium sets in after reading an article in a magazine about the year 2000.

Forewarned, Mr Quinte immediately got down to work and started digging.

But they are not the only ones nervous about facing the new dawn on New Year's Day.

Officials estimate there are nearly 1,000 cults in the US.

One group, the Freeservers Community in Kalispell, Montana, in the northern Rocky Mountains, has stored food to feed 50 people for almost three years.

That's the period during which they believe "God's angels" - also known as the "lost children" will appear on Earth.

But while many cultists are harmless Christian believers who think the end game is approaching, others may want to help it on its way.

US authorities are increasingly going on alert over the possibility that a cult or anti-government militia will choose the advent of the new millennium for a major terrorist strike somewhere in America.

They also fear a Waco-style incident when fire engulfed the headquarters of the Branch Davidians in 1993.

But most attention around the world is being paid to Jerusalem where the Israeli security services are on alert over threats to the Muslim shrine of the Dome of the Rock.

Last month Israel deported a Christian group of 21 who the Israelis said they were helping fanatics and doomsday cults carry out violent acts, believing they would hasten the Second Coming during the millennium year. They were the third group to be kicked out in a year.

Suicide warning

And while China's Falun Gong has attracted world attention recently, the authorities are bracing themselves for even more serious trouble from Christian-based millennium doomsday cults.

The country's Religious Affairs Bureau issued an internal document in November asking official Christian leaders to report any signs of preparations for millennial gatherings by such groups.

In London the Holy Tabernacle Ministry of black supremacists is preparing to welcome the return to Earth of a kindly group of aliens from the planet Risq.

The aliens will whisk away everyone except white people who will be left behind to face Armageddon because they have no souls

Almost as soon as the Millennium Dome was announced, plans were being drawn up to guard it. Police fear it could become a pilgrimage site for cults and extremists.

More than 1,500 new groups have sprung up in the UK in the past 25 years, but predicting which cults are the most likely to go into millennium meltdown, and when, is difficult.

Amanda Van Eck of the London based Inform information network on new religions, said: "There is no way you can predict what is going to happen because there is no one theology that has a specific time.

"They all disagree about what is going to happen, and when."

At least we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the prophecies of 16th-century French scholar Nostradamus were wrong. He said the "King of Terror" would arrive in the seventh month of 1999.

But fears of apocalypse are by no means centred around 1 January. Others believe the end will come next May, or that the world will not end physically, but spiritually.

But as the Bible says, "of that day and hour knoweth no man".

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