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Author's Note


The history of apocalyptic fervor and millennial expectation is written by those secure in their knowledge that all previous predictions of terminal cataclysm have turned out to be false. After all, if the end of time ever arrives, it will leave behind no historians or sociologists, thus making skepticism an appealing and safe alternative. While believers prepare for the spiritual tsunami that will wash away both sins and sinners, skeptics make the assumption that it is just another wave that will eventually collapse, seeping away through the infinite sands of time. Yet no matter what we believe, we are all destined to experience the effects of the apocalypse, because it invents itself in the maelstrom of the human mind, and no logical arguments can stop the storm.

Mere observation is morally insufficient. We need to do damage control in anticipation of the apocalypse. The challenge is to respect devout religious belief while focusing societal energy on a millennial period of introspection and renewal rather than a period of fear and mistrust. We ignore apocalyptic fears and millennial expectation at our own peril, and by ignoring the trends, we put others in peril as well. Given the already evident tendency toward apocalyptic scapegoating as we approach the year 2000, it is entirely predictable that more people will be targeted as evil agents of the Satanic Antichrist, traitorous minions of the globalist new world order, or simply sinners to be disciplined and kept in line in religious campaigns of coercive purity.

In times such as these, history passes a harsh judgment on silence. Instead of waiting to see who is next on the list, we must speak out against all forms of apocalyptic demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracism, because they are toxic to democratic discourse.

Author's Note

Many of the themes and ideas expressed in this paper are the result of joint work with Matthew N. Lyons on the forthcoming Too Close for Comfort. Seminars hosted by historian Richard Landes, director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, helped me frame this discussion, as did conversations with Sara Diamond, Fred Clarkson, Philip Lamy, Aaron Katz, and Erin Miller.

{Original publication dates appear within brackets like these}

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