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Television `Prophets' Profit By Spreading Y2K Hysteria.

TV preacher Jerry Falwell is warning followers to stock up on canned goods and water -- as well as guns and ammunition -- to prepare for societal chaos in the year 2000 thanks to the so-called "Y2K" computer bug.

Y2K is a problem because most computers are programmed to accept dates ending in two digits, such as `98 and `99. The fear is that on midnight, Jan. 1, 2000, many computers will misread the two zeroes in "2000" and either cease functioning entirely or slow down. Governments, businesses and private organizations have been working to solve the problem.

Y2K, Falwell intones on a recently issued videotape, "may be God's instrument to shake this nation, to humble this nation ... [Y2K could] start a revival that spreads [over] the face of the Earth before the Rapture of the Church."

But the Lynchburg evangelist warns that Y2K may have a dark side as well and recommends that his followers stock up on food, water and weapons. "[I]f I'm blessed with a little food and my family is inside the house with me," Falwell observed, "I've got to be sure that I can persuade others not to mess with us."

Falwell is not the only TV preacher worded about Y2K. In Virginia Beach recently, Pat Robertson urged putting provisions aside, telling about 500 attendees at a Christian Broadcasting Network conference on the computer bug, "We are looking at a man-made global crisis of such magnitude that nobody can assess it. We should think now how we can store up supplies ... so that at the time of crisis, we can help people. It can be the church's finest hour."

Although Robertson stopped short of recommending guns, he advised attendees to be cautious when discussing their Y2K stockpiles with others. "In some areas and at some times, it is advisable to use wisdom and discretion when talking to others about your personal Y2K preparations," he said. "This may not sound particularly Christian, but there are times when it is best to be wise as serpents, while remaining harmless as doves."

Critics say Falwell and Robertson are unnecessarily frightening people and spreading misinformation. While some glitches over Y2K may be inevitable, most computer experts are not predicting anything like the societal breakdown envisioned by Falwell and Robertson.

"That's definitely going overboard," Terry Riley, executive director of Hampton Roads Technology Council, told the Virginian-Pilot. "The fact of the matter is that the sky is not going to fall."

Continued Terry, "There could be some problems that go beyond mere convenience, but I don't anticipate any national or system-wide blackouts. The magnitude of the problem doesn't begin to approach survival level. People who are talking about survival are being opportunists."

Falwell and Robertson may have personal motives for promoting Y2K hysteria: money and power. Falwell is hawking his new video, "A Christian's Guide to the Millennium Bug," for $28 over the World Wide Web. Robertson has his own video, "Preparing for the Millennium: A CBN News Special Report," available though his Christian Broadcasting Network.

Other Religious Right figures, including Tim LaHaye and TV preacher Jack Van Impe, are jumping aboard the Y2K hysteria bandwagon. In Tyler, Texas, Christian Reconstructionist Gary North has issued dire warnings of a country thrown into chaos by Y2K.

Some Christian leaders take a dim view of the Religious Right's view of Y2K. "Americans are nuts about religion, and we tend to go particularly nuts about religion in any year that ends in a double zero, and this year has three zeros, so it's even worse," the Rev. Richard Mooney of the Church of the Holy Family in Virginia Beach told the Virginian-Pilot. "I find this Year 2000 nonsense perfectly predictable and utterly non-interesting.... My advice to those who are worried about the Year 2000 problem is to buy new computers."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Words:635
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