And on the Good News front, this just in from Hal Lindsey: Almost all the signs are pointing to the end of the world.
The Associated Press didn't say what signs had been detected, but the leading indicator may be that Lindsey, author of "The Late Great Planet Earth," has a sequel coming out any time now and needs to drum up interest in it.
"The Late Great Planet Earth" was an apocalyptic money cow.
Lindsey, according to the AP, won't give a specific date for his latest view of the end of the world. He just says that nearly all the signs are in place now and that he's pretty sure we're all going to go boom before he dies. He's 68 so it could happen any time between now and maybe 20 years from now.
I wish he'd be more precise. Knowing exactly when the cosmic demolition is scheduled would help me plan my day. Should I go ahead and get the oil changed? Do I really need another trip to the dentist? Can I get by without mowing the lawn again or getting another haircut?
It's unsettling not to know. Every morning for the next 7300 days or so, we'll wake up wondering if this is the day, and every night we'll go to sleep wondering if we'll wake up.
I suppose being fuzzy about the precise time is an idea Lindsey got from weather forecasters. They learned long ago that their credibility went all to hell if they told us weather was definitely coming when it wasn't. So they play percentage games: a 30 percent chance of rain tomorrow, a 48 percent chance of cooler weather in October, a 75 percent chance of autumnal equinox on Sep. 21.
It wouldn't be surprising if Lindsey started using the same kind of language: a 32 percent chance of Tribulation during the early evening hours, a 27 percent chance of Armageddon over the weekend, a 23 percent chance of severe Anti-Christ episodes by the end of the month, a 42 percent chance of scattered Rapture events that may disrupt Saturday's football game.
You have to sympathize with Lindsey's predicament. Like other End Time prophets, he's playing a lose-lose game. If his prediction is wrong, everyone will notice. If it's right, no one will be around to congratulate him on his Divinely-inspired Foreknowledge.
So he's wise to avoid being pinned down to an exact time. If he said, for example, that the world will end on New Year's Day, imagine what the cynical wisenheimers would say on Jan. 2.
"Hey, Hal," they'd yell from their car windows. "What world are we in now? Seems a lot like the old one, heh, heh, heh."
So he's taking preemptive evasive action by predicting only that the world will end before he dies. That way, the earliest he can be proven wrong is the moment of his death. And who among us cynical wisenheimers would be so crass as to criticize him then? Who would say at his funeral, "Hey, Bozo, wrong again"?
The Truth, Mainly
He couldn't hear me say it anyway.
Still, I wonder if Hal has considered the tremendous psychological pressure he's letting himself in for. The closer he gets to dying, the more likely he is to fall into a profound depressive state because this lovely moist blue ball is still spinning away with its full complement of beagle puppies, grandbabies, and young lovers of all ages singing "Tonight, tonight, won't be just any night." And no cataclysm in sight.
Hal could avoid that kind of pressure if he'd be as forthright as Chen Heng-ming. Chen Heng-ming threw prognostication caution to the winds.
In case you've forgotten, Chen Heng-ming is the guy who recently led a pilgrimage of 140 followers from Taiwan to Garland, Texas.
They came to Garland, the AP reported, because they believed it sounds like "God's Land." They came wearing white clothes, white shoes, and white cowboy hats. They came because Chen Heng-ming got it his head that God was going to appear on televisionmore precisely on Channel 18 at exactly 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, March 25, 1998, so He could tell everyone how to get ready for His physical arrival at exactly 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 31, 1998.
No wiggle room there. None of this "before the end of my lifetime" stuff.
And here's the kicker:
When God didn't show up on Channel 18 at 12:01 a.m. on March 25, Chen Heng-ming said this: "Because we did not see God's message on Channel 18 tonight, my predictions of God arriving on March 31 can be considered nonsense."
That's my kind of doomster. But he won't sell many books that way.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.