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2000 A.D., or Numerological Idolatry?

During the remaining time until the year 2000 – counting down from January 1, 1997, there are 36 remaining months, 1095 days, 26,280 hours, 1,576,800 minutes, 94,608,000 seconds – there will be increasing discussion of its significance, and preparation for its celebration in many countries of the world. There is already much anxiety concerning a potential world-wide “computer apocalypse” due to some fundamental computer-dating problem (which could be catastrophic for businesses, governments, institutions and people who use computers), which will surely be joined, as we approach the year 2000, by millennial, apocalyptic cults and predictions, of which the year 1000, and many “end of the world” predictions during the past twenty centuries, provide ample precedents. The “end of the world”, the “apocalypse”, has been predicted, expected and awaited many times since even before Christian calendar dating formerly began, by religious groups small and large, heterodox and orthodox. Sometimes it was (and is) seen as a terrible, grand, catastrophic, divinely-ordained cosmic conclusion to mere earthly time and history; at other times expected (as the hippies often tended to do) as the beginning of the “Age of Aquarius”[1], which was – in contrast to the often dour Christian apocalyptists – most often seen as an impending earthly age of peace, love, light, harmony, etc.

Peter Ustinov
Peter Ustinov

But in fact – and early discussions of the coming year 2000 on the radio stations Voice of America and BBC make this clear – the year 2000 has largely lost its actual meaning for most of those people who shall discuss, toast and celebrate it in our secularized conclusion to the “20th century”, the “2nd millennium”. The year “2000” is now a sort of revered grand number– a sort of mysterious, cosmic, mystical cipher – which is treated, idolatrously, as if, it in itself, were some sort of grand event and terminus – rather than a date in religious time – in the history of the cosmos and time. For good example, on the BBC, on January 25, 1997, report was made of a contemporaneous conference in Spain called “Millennium 3000”. The view of the next millennium at this conference, if the radio discussion with Peter Ustinov is any representative indication, is that humanity is leaving the bad times (and its bad nature) behind, and will increasingly progress into a more peaceful age, especially with the help of technology and new means of communication. (I could not but wonder – in some amazement – if Ustinov took his evidence for this optimistic view, from the history of the 20th century! And I – if I had it – would bet a million dollars (as Americans like to say, in the way of an exaggerated, fantasy bet) that, contrary to our earthly human ideals and hopes of life and world, the future will, fortunately and unfortunately, prove him wrong.)

The transition from 11:59:59 p.m., December 31, 1999, to 00:00:01 a.m., January 2000, this author – who has observed the prediction, expectation and uneventful passing of a few such “world conclusions” in America in the past three decades – predicts, will not show any grand, unaccountable, cosmic changes in either the nations of the earth, human history or societies; nor the earth itself, nature, the atmosphere, the planets, the local galaxies, the stars, or the universe. (Though there will certainly be many who will interpret any and all “bad events” around this time in such ways.) The moment of transition, from the last nano-second of 1999 to the first nano-second of 2000, will not show earthly clocks stop; nor will the year 2000–2001 reveal extraordinary earthly cataclysms, or supernatural phenomena at some cosmic conclusion. The earth, nature, the solar system, etc., will blithely continue on their “daily” temporal way (earthquakes, storms, etc., included). They will certainly not hold their breath in hope and expectation, fear or dread during that time of transition; they shall not scream and holler, in semi-inebriated joy, at the great moment’s change. For the year 2000 is – it really need not be stated – a human calendar reckoning, the real, foundational meaning of which, as if due to some little-noted epidemic of mass amnesia or hypnosis, will largely be ignored, simplistically recalled, or completely forgotten – somewhat like numerological idolatry. It will be less the year 2000 A.D., than 2000 ad hominem[2]. There shall mostly be something more like the secular rites, rituals and sermons of the worship of grand numbers. Not the year 2000 Anno Domini, but a numerological idol, which itself has taken on a sort of social and historical significance by itself, like the worship of numbers by a people dazzled by “zeros” (0’s, 10’s, 100’s, 1000’s, 1,000,000’s, etc.), and who have forgotten or ignored its actual origin.

The year 2000 has one and only one basis of meaning: we are actually “located” in the year “2000” – if we are actually located in anytime at all anymore, and not rather chronologically lost – in relationship to the birth, life, death and (believed) resurrection of Jesus Christ: ab incarnatione Domini, anno Domini – “from the incarnation of the Lord, the year of the Lord”. (This dating – A.D. – only really came into use during the so-called “middle ages“– though, in historical fact, the historical concept “middle ages”, was based on a “Renaissance” time-reckoning which rejected the life of Jesus Christ as central to the understanding of time and history!) If we do not believe in “His” historicity; or if we lazily, or ignorantly have forgotten or abandoned – in any substantial sense – the deeper origin and meaning of the calendar which places us in the year “2000 A.D.”; or we have become such casual, secularized agnostics, that we do not much think, believe or worry about any deeper element to the calendar system – or the date “January 1, 2000” – and simply use and revere it unconsciously, then we are living in a sort of historical self-deception – locating ourselves in the history of man, of time, and the cosmos, at a “date” the religious meaning of which we ignore or disbelieve. If we disbelieve or disregard the life (and historical-human or cosmic meaning of the life of Jesus Christ) according to which the year “2000” was established and is comprehensible, then in what time do we actually live? Does this date then have any real meaning? Is it then not rather more a tradition which has lost its meaning, and which is now merely passed on and accepted culturally, and now is really rather just a convenient (or necessary) social convention? And is then the year “2000” – if we use and even celebrate it – not become rather a mere empty idol of our mass, collective, “superstitious” beliefs in numbers? If Christ did not actually live and die, then what is the real date today? (We have over the “centuries” secularized the state, and much of society, culture, education, daily life, etc. So why do we continue to think and live by a religious calendar if we do not believe in it?) And what, if any, will the real date be on “January 1, 2000 A.D.”?! Is there any real “3rd millennium” to begin? Or are we not actually lost, or temporizing, in time, due to the death or disbelief of the meaning of our calendar system, and preferring to ignore such questions as we prepare for the coming grand celebrations?!

There will of course – amidst all that will be said in the remaining time until “2000 AD” – be some talk of the life, death, resurrection and meaning of Jesus Christ, as the foundation of the Christian calendar, Christian chronology, and Christian church. Current reports even hint that the Pope will call for some sort of great multi-religious (?), ecumenical council, to meet – possibly in the “Holy City” of Jerusalem – around the time of the “millennium”. (Let us hope that it is somewhat less eventful than that meeting portrayed at the conclusion of Vladimir Solovyov’s Three Conversations (1900).) There will also be super-grand celebrations in many capitals of the nations of the world (and perhaps not only in those formerly, nominally “Christian”); herds of fools – excuse my impolite frankness – who seem to worship the Guinness World Book of Records, will pay to be first to see the light of the first day of the year “2000” in the Pacific Ocean. Cruise liners, from America and elsewhere, will take passengers to the international date line – for a hefty price – so that they can be among the certifiable first people to see the beginning of the year “2000”. Then at least one cruise ship in the USA has already announced that it will sail back across the international date-line, so that its passengers can be among the only ones in the entire history of the known universe to experience the “millennium’s” beginning twice! (Is this “Anno Domini” or numerological idolatry?) Enormous, gargantuan, spectacular, huge, incredible, astounding, astonishing, millennium-sized fireworks displays and events will occur throughout the world; world cities will perhaps compare the volumes of per capita alcohol consumption in that one evening. Surely there will be millennium “T-shirts” (of tremendous variety!); souvenirs of all credible and imaginable, incredible and unimaginable sorts will be made, marketed and consumed; probably special wines, ice-creams, hot dogs, cars, TV programs; special buildings; many, various cultic gatherings; synchronized, global meditations, etc., etc.... There will be speeches extraordinaire – announcers on radios and television programs world-wide will try, in their most grave and profound “millennial voices”, to count down to their excited, multi-billion human forums and audiences the final seconds until the “3rd millennium” begins. In short, there will be an enormous amount and variety of rites (more numerological, than Christological) and hoopla, before, during and after the great change from “1999” to “2000”. This and much, much more will occur. (Note: some “killjoys” say that the actual millennial change does not actually occur until January 1, 2001; others that it begins not in the Pacific Ocean but, naturally, in Greenwich, England!)

But, in fact, unless the foundation of this time-reckoning is at least believed or known and seriously considered, is it not all some sort of mass, celebratory, numerological self-fascination. What real meaning has the date for indifferent or disbelieving celebrants? Most will be so enthused by the great number, the great time change, that they will think little, if at all seriously, of its historical origin, and meaning to the date itself. (True, it may reside vaguely in the back of their minds; but the celebrations will help distract them from that. And common yearly celebrations of the “New Year’s Eves” in America, and elsewhere, already clearly reveal its secularized, a-religious character.) This date is either Christian – in spite of our secularized time – or most people will be acting more like superstitious numbers-worshippers. Or perhaps we are lost in time? Or rather we are continuing to lose our place in time? The majority of people will surely – with little to no serious or substantial reflection on their activities – celebrate a secularized, “numerological” New Year/New Millennium “2000”. “Happy New Year!!! Happy New Millennium!!!” they will surely secularly yell and scream.

The loss of our date in time (of our earthly, temporal calendar) due to the sober human admission of our disregard, or disbelief, in the human or cosmic significance of the life and death (and claimed resurrection) of Christ, surely entails a great human-cosmic temporal dislocation, a sort of cosmic lostness in undefined time. The earth, planets, and stars – some scientist would try to date us from the time since the “Big Bang” – will continue on their own ordered paths. But we humans – only some of whom more or less actually think or believe ourselves to be located temporally in “the twentieth century”, or even worry about this question – would need to admit that our calendar is broken; that the centerpiece is missing, or disbelieved; that the pivotal meaning is lost to our thoughts and beliefs. Whereupon we perhaps must seriously ask: in what time do we now exist – human and cosmic? If it will not be “2000 A.D.”, then what day, month and year is it even today? And how shall we then determine our date in time?

These are some thoughts which perhaps some might reflect upon and remember, as we approach the year 2000 “Anno Domini”.


First published in the magazine English, #7, February 1997, p. 1-14.


See also Remember the Celebration of “2000”? – An “Open Lesson” in Human Psychology! (English, #48, December 2000)

Notes

1. “Age of Aquarius” – this refers, of course, to a Zodiacal sign and astrological period. Yet more than this, and due especially to an American 1960’s pop song (with its lyrics of world and human harmony), this expression became associated – also in relationship to the hippies – with a new age where there would be no wars, conflicts, when, to quote the song: “when peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars”. Back to text

2. ad hominem – Latin for ‘to the man’, personal. The author here intends to distinguish a grand scheme of time from a purely human one. Back to text