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The Millennium Journey: An Interdisciplinary Glance at Human Nature 

-- Jean E. Jost and Tripthi Pillai 

For all life longs for the Last Day
And there's no man but cocks his ear
To know when Michael's trumpet cries
That flesh and bone may disappear,
And there be nothing but God left.

                                                    Yeats, "The Hour Before Dawn"

The time is at hand.  Humanity is racing toward the end of the twentieth century while the very old Father Time of 1999 grins menacingly at our millennium paranoia.  Like a Salvador Dali melting clock sliding off a table, we are indeed on the cusp of a millennial moment and slipping fast. But, poised between the science we have come to rely upon for our technology and computer capability, and the superstition we have come to suspect for its naiveté and emotionalism, the planet's population nevertheless remains embroiled in a "tug-of-war" between reason and fear.  And fear is winning!

What is the nature of this precipice we are rapidly approaching, this new Millennium hearkening Armageddon, the Second Coming, the Rapture, the Antichrist, Doomsday, the Woman Clothed with the Sun, the New Heaven and Earth--"dark, flamboyant cosmic Violence"? (Grosso,  2).  Most succinctly, Michael Grosso calls the Millennium "the great hope voiced by the Book of Revelation that a last conflict between good and evil will one day end the pain of life and fix the injustice, banish death by supernatural decree, and liberate the world" (4).  In the New Jerusalem, a psychic transformation occurs as heaven comes down to liberate earth, simultaneously obliterating it: "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it" (Rev. 21:23).  As Grosso says, the result is a world with "No sea, no sun, no moon;  the world internalized, "lit up" from within, seen without shadow, without ambiguity, without evil or menace" (21).  Stephen D. O'Leary finds that "mythologies of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity all offer evidence that the desire to fix humanity in a divinely instituted order of cosmic time has played a significant role in the formation of cultures . . .  [all exhibiting] a common concern: to understand the successive human ages and their culmination in a catastrophic struggle between the forces of good and evil" (4-5). Such a dichotomous polarity of good and evil is easier for the unsophisticated mind to conceptualize than the gray area between, or the subtle refinements; it does not ask for fine discrimination in the moral realm, but places accountability at the doorstep of these opposing supernatural forces, hence exonerating humans from either complicity or power.

Although the apocalyptic view may have shaped cultures, as O'Leary suggests, the reverse may likewise be true: various cultures have conceptualized their version of the apocalypse based on their prior self-concept and worldview.  Each group or audience is motivated to understand, rationalize, or intellectualize evil by its cultural ethos, by what its members collectively believe about themselves and  their world. Collective guilt, fear, righteous indignation, or rational security may shape how a group conceptualizes itself, the  world around it, and the relationship between the two.

According to the January 27, 1997 Newsweek article "A Look Ahead to the Days of the Next Millennium: America's New Century, " "A thousand years ago, when mankind approached the end of the first millennium, some people feasted, some people prayed, some people thought the world was coming to an end . . . The portents of the future [for the third millennium] . . . seem much more favorable now than at most stages of a century disfigured with blood and ruin" (48, 49).  The ever-growing truths of science have replaced many of the fearful myths held by our ancestors, projecting a future full of promise and expectation rather than of doom and disaster.  For example, Sharon Begley asks "Will the millennium bring ways of downloading the contents of a human mind into a computer?  Our memories, personalities and thoughts are but bits and bytes of information.  All of those could conceivably be transferred to a CD-ROM.  And copied.  Or slipped into a robot" (64).  Geoffrey Cowley speculates that "The day your local tissue lab can grow you a functioning hand or heart is still decades away, but the scenario gets more plausible every week.  'In the coming century,' says Dr. Joseph Vacanti, a surgeon at Boston's Children's Hospital . . . 'I think we'll learn to generate living prosthetics for every organ in the body'" (66).  What revolutionary advances in the next millennium will offer earth's inhabitants is beyond human conjecture.  The scientific and technological successes of humanity during the past millennium have brought us to a new dimension of health, comfort, and efficiency  undreamed of by the medieval world. The quality of life for all the planet's citizens appears beyond our wildest imagination.  This conception, of course, exemplifies the rational view of change, denying the magical, mystical or fearful dimension.  Past cultures have taken both paths to understanding previous millennia, as their conception of reality and economic and political position within society determined.  The following overview gives merely a taste of previous cultural responses to impending change.

The Greek tradition which give us the words "eschatology" and "apocalypse" (eschaton "last" and apocalypse "unveiling") also presents, in O'Leary's words, "the cosmic progression from an Edenic golden age through successive ages of silver, bronze, and iron" (5),  a slowly corrupting universe ultimately in need of divine intervention.  This motif is strikingly recreated in various traditions, from opposite sides of the planet.  Perhaps it represents a deeply based psychological primal fear of disintegration, of chaos, of disorder taking over, and a way of coping with the reality of evil, through an intervening deity or Messiah who saves humanity from outside forces, other groups, or even from its own moral degeneration. Or perhaps a less emotional approach marked certain cultures, as the Greek concern with reason, ethics, and philosophical investigation of individual and communal action, spawning a more distanced, balanced view of the last days.  Further, optimism--from a deity or human wisdom--offers another chance, a new Eden, a happier post-lapsarian existence after this salvation from chaos. One might recognize a parallel in the Christian Fall and Redemption.

With this psychological framework in mind, we now turn to history.  What did our predecessors on this earth believe about their millennium--in Europe and elsewhere?  How did they conceptualize this fear of disorder?  How did our ancestors interpret their uncertain future in the relatively unscientific past? How did they cope with the dread and foreboding of such a momentous calendar?  How did they handle the impending crisis, the fear of disorder, the anticipation of the unknown?  Let us journey back to the past, perhaps on that magical horse Pegasus, or, if you prefer technology,  a Time Machine, to explore some literary, historic, religious, and socio-historical dimensions of the millennium. Just how much has humanity changed in the last thousand years as it faces a new millennium?  Can this newfangled world actually profit from the experience of its progenitors, or is it doomed to repeat the fears and mistaken assumptions of the past?

 

I. THE MILLENNIUM MYTH

According to Grosso, historically the millennium myth "tells of the end of time and the rebirth of love, the end of history and the dawn of a golden age" (1).  Thus, it is both traumatic in the end of an era--often of destruction--and celebratory, in the institution of a better one.  Its roots are deeply embedded in human consciousness, which, Grosso says, sees history as "a journey with a goal, a drama with a climax . . . a human adventure heading for a showdown, and humanity . . . on a collision course with the Eschaton, the end of the world" (1).  Obsession with this seductively elusive phenomenon encompassing both the fearful and the rational, engaging politics, history, economics, anthropology, and theology has consistently fomented catastrophic disaster, both communally and individually. By absorbing new visions and shedding the old, this myth gathers and loses momentum, becomes current, even elastic as it accrues new nuances in different ways in different times and places. Throughout, however, the myth holds that deep and radical regeneration of human society is possible (Grosso, 15), but cosmic chaos will ultimately result in cosmic regeneration.  For Grosso, "[t]he wholehearted plunge into the shadowy disorder of evil makes psychological sense only on the assumption of a countervision of redemptive power" (19). Some cultures have chosen to focus on the destruction threatening their peoples with fear and trembling, while others have waited in joyful anticipation for its salvific/ saving graces to rejuvenate, especially their physical and social ills. 

 

II. EGYPTIAN TRADITION

While later versions of apocalyptic faith are generally threatening, the early Egyptian civilization almost cherishes the notion--celebrating transition to an improved life.  Its conception of apocalypse is personal, not universal or social; it presents no Doomsday of public punishment, but an elaboration of the afterlife, in which worldly joys continue.   What Was Life Like on the Banks of the Nile: Egypt 3050-30 B.C. notes that at death, with the comforting jackal-headed guide Anubis to lead the way, one chooses certain relics of this life to accompany the soul on its inevitable, but not destructive afterlife journey.  The underworld was thought to be in the west where the sun died daily, so the western bank of the Nile was a common burial ground.   At death, the spirit, or Aka, is said to soar through the sky with the sun god by day, returning to a well-supplied tomb at night. Consider what King Tutankhamun and other royal leaders chose for their journeys:  lovely artifacts of gold and gems, various implements and signs of comfort, probably perishables and foods he enjoyed.   When the funeral procession reached the burial chamber, the mummy was set upright in its coffin as the priest touched the mummy's face three times with various tools, rubbed its face with milk, embraced the mummy, and presented it with clothing, a haunch of beef, and a bull's heart.  He then invited the corpse to enjoy the feast set before him.  Illustrations from the thirteenth-century scribe Ani's Book of the Dead reveal the spirit--in this case Ani himself--lead by the hand by Horus, standing before Osiris for the final reckoning.  In a final gesture of humility, Ani proclaims his innocence: "There is no wrongdoing in my body.  I have not wittingly told lies," and is allowed to join Osiris and achieve immortality.    Thus this view of millennium held by a culture secure in its place in the world is non-threatening and non-dangerous. The notion of a devastating catastrophe, a punishment for wrong-doing, a calling to accounts on a grand scale is absent, replaced by a personal joyful culmination.  This society, marked by an absence of guilt or fear, comfortable in its value system, secure in its interrelationships with other nations, and intrarelationships within its own group, created no vision of fear and devastation.  Its afterlife is a joyful occasion of celebration.

 

III. THE VEDIC TRADITION

The Millennium in India is perceived as an ongoing cyclic process rather than a single momentous act partaking of both fear and optimism for one's future reincarnation. It promises each individual another chance to improve his or her spiritual state. This opportunity for growth, retracing one's previous steps and correcting one's errors, is a continuing process because of free will and the ability to judge good and evil.  According to Coomaraswamy and Nivedita, 

A cycle, or Day of Brahma, a kalpa . . . is 12,000 years of the devas, or 4,320,000,000 [four billion three hundred twenty million] earth-years.  At the beginning of each Day when Brahma wakes, the "Three Worlds" so often spoken of in the myths, together with the devas, rishis, asuras, men, and creatures, are manifested afresh according to their individual deserts (karma, deeds); only those who in the previous kalpa obtained direct release (nirvana, moksha), or who passed beyond the Three Worlds to higher planes, no longer reappear.  At the close of each Day the Three Worlds, with all their creatures, are . . .  resolved into chaos (prayala), retaining only a latent germ of necessity of remanifestation.  The Night of Brahma is of equal length with the Day.  (392-93). 

If all humanity fail to correct errors, and rather pursue immediate pleasure, then the dreaded millennium will occur. This "Praylaya" denotes destruction of the present, and thus a culmination of the gods' anger or disappointment; the "Kalyuga," or black age of sin, results when creation falls to its lowest form or level. According to the Vedas, since creation began in perfect goodness, and is devolving toward evil, removing itself farther and farther from Brahma, its source, it eventually slides into the "eve of destruction" or Kalyuga, like Dali's clocks, the last stage before a new creation.

When life no longer works to benefit mankind or creation itself, Shiva, the Destructive Force among the Trimurti, brings on Praylaya by opening his third eye, located vertically between his eyebrows on his forehead; this he does only in the presence of immense evil that cannot be humanly controlled. When his eye opens, it sets the whole universe aflame purging it in the process, and thus enables the universe and mankind to start afresh.  In this, the fourth and final stage of Brahma's Day in which we are currently living, called Kali Yuga or Iron Age, according to Baba Hari Dass, "the climate is one quarter virtue and three quarters sin; human stature is 3.5 cubits [six feet]; lifespan is 100 or 120 years" (as quoted in Morales, 1996).  In this era, Brahma, the creator, will re-create, replacing the evil world after its destruction by Shiva. Lord Vishnu, the third of the Trimurti, holds creation in his hand, does not interrupt the natural flow of mankind, but functions to preserve the equilibrium.  Humanity, however, may disrupt world harmony without intervention from Vishnu because people are said to have free will, to be created in the gods' image, and to share in the divinity itself.  Vishnu can exercise his power, sharing in the godhead, but humans still possess free will and control over both personal and social realities. 

When the majority of humanity act destructively, becoming self-centered and ignoring the external world, then will Shiva open his third eye. The only escape from constant regeneration of spirit into new matter is to achieve perfection: arrive at Nirvana, returning to the divine source as a permanent part of the universe. Although the "Pralaya" may be seen as temporarily destructive, its purpose is to initiate a new, better creation as the individual reappears in an absolutely purged environment. While there is no specific date in which Pralaya is thought to occur, Shiva determines when the earth cannot hold any more evil, but needs to be destroyed and re-invented.  Again, the audience and philosophy of this belief system determines its shape: the conception gravitates toward perceiving reality as a reasonable construct rather than a fear-based, threatening one in which irrational forces determine reality.  


IV. THE JEWISH TRADITION

The only monotheistic group except for the Persians, the early Jews, since the exodus from Egypt, believed that "the will of Yahweh was concentrated on Israel" (Cohn, 19).  As a result, they reacted, as Cohn notes, "to peril, oppression and hardship by phantasies of the total triumph and boundless prosperity which Yahweh, out of his omnipotence, would bestow upon his Elect" (19-20).  Prophetical books dating from the 8th century foretell of an immense cosmic catastrophe leading to a new Palestinian Eden.  Cohn claims,

Because of their neglect of Yahweh the Chosen People must indeed be punished by famine and pestilence, war and captivity . . .  subjected to a sifting judgment so severe that it will effect a clean break with the guilty past.  There must indeed be a Day of Yahweh, a Day of Wrath, when sun and moon and stars are darkened, when the heavens are rolled together and the earth is shaken . . .  a Judgment when the misbelievers--those in Israel who have not trusted in the Lord and also Israel's enemies, the heathen nations--are judged and cast down . . . . But this is not the end:  a "saving remnant" of Israel will survive . . . . When the nation is thus regenerated and reformed Yahweh will cease from vengeance and become the Deliverer . . . dwell among them as ruler and judge.  He will reign from a rebuilt Jerusalem . . . where the poor are protected, and a harmonious and peaceful world . . . . The moon will shine as the sun and the sun's light will be increased sevenfold.  Deserts and waste lands will become fertile and beautiful . . . [with] abundance of water and provender for flocks and herds, for men there will be abundance of corn and wine and fish and fruit. . . . Freed from disease and sorrow of every kind, doing no more iniquity but living according to the law of Yahweh now written in their hearts, the Chosen People will live in joy and gladness.  (20)  

     This

This Jewish vision of the Millennium, then, begins in fear and destruction as a punishment for the sin of ignoring Yahweh, but culminates in a new and greater joy, primarily physical.  Ultimately it is an optimistic expectation for survivors of the catastrophic destruction. Contrast with the Vedic tradition is clear;  the former, psychically located in the spirit, perceives the nature of evil and human behavior as instigating forces. The latter, embroiled in physical anguish, conceives of war, cosmic harmony, and physical contentment as a punishment-and-reward system          

A second Hebrew version, from Daniel, Ch. VII, dated about 165 B.C.E., reflects the historic need of the time by offering nationalist propaganda for the lower social strata.  Having previously enjoyed peace under Persian and Ptolemaic rule, when the Syro-Greek dynasty of Seleucids conquer and outlaw Jewish religious observances, the victims undertake the Maccabean revolt. In the Hebrew myth, four beasts symbolize the four world powers--Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek.  The last, they believe, shall devour the whole earth, tread it down, and break it into pieces. When Israel overthrows Greece, personified as the son of Man, she "came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days.  And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him: his domination is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away" ( Daniel, Ch. 7, quoted by Cohn, p. 21). 

The emerging paradigm is this: "the world is dominated by an evil tyrannous power of boundless destructiveness. . . imagined not as simply human but as demonic" (Cohn, p. 21).  The fear of the people thus dominates their conception of reality.   When the tyranny of that power reaches a peak, and the sufferings of its victims become intolerable, the hour will strike, rebellion will ensue, and an eschatological Messiah will intervene, finally saving the victims. Originally envisioned as a wise, just, powerful monarch of Davidic descent, as the political situation deteriorated, the Messiah became more superhuman: the son of man riding on a cloud, personifying the nation of Israel. The holy will inherit the earth at this culminating epoch. This last kingdom will surpass all previous in glory and have no successors in a joyful, permanent resolution.  Threatening historic situations hence generate a physically based fear which ultimately will lead to a joyful physical resolution.

In yet a third Hebrew version, "the Messiah is shown as the Lion of Judah at whose roar the last and worst beast--now the Roman eagle--bursts into flame and is consumed; and again as the Son of Man who first annihilates the multitudes of the heathen with the fire and storm of his breath and then, gathering together the lost ten tribes out of alien lands, establishes in Palestine a kingdom in which a united Israel can flourish in peace and glory" (Cohn, 22).  This follows the worst empire, Rome, when the mighty warrior-Messiah routs the armies of the enemy and slaughters Israel's enemies. The age of bliss will contain no pain, disease, untimely death, violence, or hunger in an earthly Paradise either forever or for many centuries. 

Once again, the audience shapes its belief system: collective guilt for neglecting the one true god who had privileged them as the Chosen People drives the consciousness of fear, destruction, and finally forgiveness. A renewed Edenic kingdom free from Israel's long-endured, war-torn environment will result, thus motivating this apocalyptic view.

 

V. THE EARLY CHRISTIAN TRADITION

While the Egyptian, Vedic, and Jewish notions are primarily optimistic, the Christian concept may be positive for the holy, or negative for sinners.  An individual's behavior thus controls the nature of millennium, although rhetorically, fear dominates the literature. Written about 68-95 C.E., John's book of Revelation states: "Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the key of the Abyss in his hand and an enormous chain.  He overpowered the dragon, that primeval serpent which is the devil and Satan, and chained him up for a thousand years, he hurled him into the Abyss and shut the entrance and sealed it over to make sure he would not lead the nations astray again until the thousand years had passed" (John, Revelation, Chapter 20).   John proclaims that "the persecutions must end, but it goes much further and announces the coming of the overturning of the existing order. A cosmic cataclysm would generate a new heaven and a new earth;  all the pain and injustice in the world was going to be wiped away, and even the last enemy, death--the enemy that foiled even the mighty Gilgamesh--would be overcome" (Cohn, 16).  A yearning to see the present imperfect world replaced by a superior "new age" is a constant of the early Christian imagination: after the final struggle between good and evil, cosmic chaos will climax in cosmic regeneration.   Fear is the dominating theme, with the promise of salvation looming afar.

The ancient world, most directly the Hebrew one, provided raw materials for this revolutionary eschatology of the later Middle Ages. Tonally, John deviates from other new Testament writings, exuding a will to power, but no love, forgiveness, humility. His imagery is severe, harsh, foreboding, threatening, and comes out of a similar tradition, the meekness of its Messiah notwithstanding. The relatively few thirteenth-century Franciscan Spirituals, on the other hand, believed the Millennium to be an age of the Spirit, when all mankind would be united in prayer, mystical contemplation, and voluntary poverty, clearly a wish-fulfillment: desire for peace amid strife and Italian greed, especially among its prelates. For those suffering extreme, relentless insecurity, (and the early Church was a minority, a politically dangerous, radical fringe element) the millennium was violent, anarchic, and revolutionary (Cohn, 14). The audience has projected its concerns, its focus on sin and guilt, its fears, its intensity, its expectations onto a vision of apocalyptic fervor. Its vision of itself as sinful and the world as evil, an occasion of sin, has shaped its conception of the millennium.

 

VI.  THE RENAISSANCE MILLENNIUM

This tradition breaks with pre-scientific medieval Christianity in a cultural revolution which pushes artistic and scientific human achievements toward their godlike potential. Architects built visionary cities on earth. Leaders fused the Biblical and pagan to create a new wave of change driving toward a humanistic Millennium. Scholars envisioned a new image of human potential, picturing the future of humanity in godlike terms.  Magic lent inspiration to the birth of modern technology, handmaid to the godlike potential of humanity. Grosso notes that "the times produced a prophet, Girolamo Savonarola, who . . . preached a democratic Florence as the earthly locale of the new age . . . an anticipation of the European Enlightenment" (Grosso, 61).  With the printing press, the liberal arts were rejuvenated as the gospel of a pagan revival and a new humanity.  Instituting a new Eden rested upon human rather than divine power. Salvation was achieved by no extrinsic force. The audience, rejecting the previous burden of personal sin and guilt, and reveling in the burgeoning self-confidence of its new-found artistic and technological powers, experienced no fear, envisioned no destructive force to overcome, but expended its energies in new and joyful creation. 

 

VII. ON OUR DOORSTEP 

We now take a giant leap forward, noting that collectively twentieth-century America displays a similar secular view of  the millennium, defined by Webster's College Dictionary as:  "1.) a period of 1000 years; 2) the period of 1000 years during which Christ will reign on earth, Rev. 20:1-7; 3) a period of general righteousness and happiness" (860).  The collective understanding is usually optimistic, although individual interpretations, particularly by certain religious groups, may focus on destruction, annihilation (physical evil generally, but occasionally moral, or sin-laced), and redemption, namely "I can do it myself."   While most see the millennium as representing exciting change, some remain fearful, suggesting the security of the majority but the anxiety of a few.  Perhaps progress, technology, power, and a taste for the rational rather than the supernatural has shaped the modern vision.

One alteration from previous conceptions is apparent: past cultures as a group have accepted wholesale the chiliastic phenomenon promulgated by their communities or individuals in them, whereas current manifestations, often seen as signs of madness, are rejected by the majority culture. Participants are seen as deviants, unrepresentative of community, living in their private reality.

For example, Michael Grosso calls David Koresh, leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, "a man trapped by his Bible-spawned beliefs . . . who used sacred scripture to serve his own needs and advance his own ends" (4).  Neither he nor his society accepts Koresh's vision. Authorities rejected the minority's fatalism and hence prevented Davidian "prisoners from sleeping by blasting them with noise and mocking them with sounds of Tibetan chants, rabbits being slaughtered, dental drills, reveille, and Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Were Made for Walkin.' . . . They should have known that sleep deprivation causes hallucinations, a sure way to deepen Koresh's crazy belief that apocalypse was immanent and that he was the Messiah," says Grosso (5).  Jim Jones, of Kool-Aid fame in Guyana, and Charles Manson, flaunting sexual charisma and murder in California, represent other perverse, millennially-obsessed individuals, estranged from their society by their notions of  a destructive millennium.  Perhaps a more hard-boiled, sophisticated, materially based, technologically oriented audience would dismiss supernatural prognostications, labeling those who fall under their sway "naive."  However, a  recent comment on the Millennium reported in the Sunday New York Times (Nov. 29, 1998) comes from Pope John Paul II:  he has declared the year 2000 a "holy year," possibly to ward off fear, and has encouraged the re-institution of indulgences, a means of divine security for the fearful.

But the modern audience, less homogeneous, and more individualistic, determines its various conceptions of the millennium. Many are skeptical of any unusual phenomena occurring, for past prophecies have not always proven true.  Consider the following words of wisdom from Newsweek, January 27, 1997: ("Predictions: Cloudy Days in Tomorrowland", 86):

1. "The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty--a fad." President of the Michigan Savings Bank, 1903.

2.  "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?"  Harry M. Warner, Warner Bros, 1927.

3. "Computers in the future may . . . perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons."  Popular Mechanics, 1949.

4.  "Radio has no future."  Lord Kelvin, Scottish mathematician, President of the Royal Academy, 1897.

5. "[Television] won't be able to hold on to any market after the first six months.  People will soon tire of staring at a plywood box every night."  Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century-Fox, 1946.

6. "We don't like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out."  Decca Records rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

7.  "Man will never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances."  Dr. Lee de Forest, father of radio, 1967.

8.  "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."  Kenneth Olsen, President of Digital Equipment, 1977.

As these quotations indicate, past prophets held less than a stellar record of prediction, and are even comical in their miscalculations. Motivated more by a lack of imagination than either fear or rationality, these projections for the future have grossly missed their mark.  Will the following future predictions outperform the previous?

  1. In 2000, IBM predicts hard-disk drives (in PCs) will outsell television sets.

  2. The number of U.S. scheduled air passengers will increase 59% by 2007, to more than
          900 million a year.

  3. By 2000, your chance of contracting malignant melanoma will increase to 1 in 75.  In
          1935, the risk  was 1 in 1,500.

  4. In 2010, a 1997 dollar will be worth about 63 cents 

    ("After the Millennium" Newsweek. Special Issue: Beyond 2000. January 27, 1997, 73)

But the most interesting is this baseball scenario, projected for Oct. 18, 2024:

5.  The Albuquerque Gauchos stunned the Singapore Tycoons today, 17-4, in the first game of the
         new Virtual World Series.  This marked the first baseball championship to be played not on a
         field but on a computer screen. There was no stadium, no fans and--except in an electronic
         sense--no players.  Attendance, however, was far higher than expected; more than 1.9 billion
         people logged on.  (Adler, 72)

We have no definitive way of predicting the future, but past practice indicates we have often underestimated human performance.  No doubt, entertainment in the future will be more creative and stimulating than any we have conceptualized this century.  But humanists, too, may well undergo a transformation as a result of other innovations.   Meg Greenfield warns that:

the humanists' insights will probably always be more to the point than the imagery of technological marvels yet to be.  What Shakespeare [and some medievalists would add, Chaucer] uniquely knew about the human mind and heart and the timeless human predicament will be just as apt a millennium or two from now as it is today and was 400 years ago. . . . There are not and never can be any scientific rules whereby we can perfect ourselves the way we can perfect certain objects and processes in the physical world.  And in this limitation will always reside our potential glory and our potential shame.  It will always be easier to do the scientifically impossible thing . . . than to do the personally possible but difficult thing--the right thing by ourselves and by others and by the technologically amazing world we have concocted to live in. (96)

Thus, responsibility lays as heavily on our consciences today as ever before.  Further, whether from a technological or humanist viewpoint, this human-gendered predicament, in Michael Grosso's words, the "psyche's passion for regeneration, its desire to shatter the chains of death and, in Dante's phrase, to 'imparadise' our minds with love" is indeed a recurring universal experience.  Even in fear-based societies, most append a salvific conclusion to the projected destruction.   As Grosso contends, currently enmeshed  in modern technology,  "we find ourselves in an evolving universe  in which novelty and breakthrough are the rule, a universe in which time is a creative genius, the universe itself a place for producing miracles" (355).   Futuristic forces of transformation abound today as they have in the past. In Grosso's words, "Winding restlessly through the centuries from the Book of Daniel to the Renaissance, from the Enlightenment to the present, has been the idea that knowledge would one day enable our species to recreate nature and, above all, to regenerate human reality" (355).  A thousand years ago, there were no space-walks, H-bombs, microwaves, cryonics, bioengineering, virtual reality, nanotechnology, ten-dimensional space.  And, in the next thousand years, quantum leaps of progress promise an unimagined reality.  Will they bring us closer to "the dream of a new resurrection, . . . [a] genesis in which the energies of love are at last harnessed in the creation of a new world?" (Grosso, 355).  Some even predict we will beat the last enemy, death, the final destruction which so many have feared.  How will humanity beat death?  Is science the new threshold?  Or, as Grosso asks, is love "the answer to death, Eros the sole power to charm Thanatos"? (355).   A rather mighty claim! In any event, let us end appropriately with a prediction:  "The New people are coming, Like it or not, we are swept up in waves of transformation, and we are poised (let us hope) for a new Renaissance, a new Enlightenment" ( Grosso, 359).  But these are not my words; they were uttered by Joachim of Fiore 800 years ago.  It was true then.  It is true now!  Be ready and embrace the transformation bravely. The future offers hope and exciting change, to be met with reason, and not fear.

Jean E. Jost and Tripthi Pillai
Bradley University


Works Cited

"A Look Ahead to the Days of the Next Millennium: America's New Century."  Newsweek (Special Issue: Beyond 2000) (January 27, 1997), 48, 49.

Adler, Jerry. "Fast and Furious." Newsweek ( Special Edition: Beyond 2000) (Jan. 27, 1997), 72.

"After the Millennium . . . "Newsweek (Special Issue: Beyond 2000) (January 27, 1997), 73.

Begley, Sharon.  "Uncovering Secrets, Big and Small." Newsweek Special Edition (Jan. 27, 1997),  64.

Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages. ( New York: Oxford UP, 1970), 19.

Coomaraswamy, Ananda K. and Sr. Nivedita, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists.  (N.Y: Dover Press), pp. 392-93.

Crowley, Geoffrey. "Replacement Parts." Newsweek (Special Edition: Beyond 2000) (Jan. 27, 1997), 66.

Dass, Baba Hari,  as quoted in The Hindu Theory of World Cycles: In the Light of Modern Science, Joseph Morales, 1996.

Greenfield, Meg. "The Last Word: Back to the Future."  Newsweek (Special Issue: Beyond 2000) (Jan. 27, 1997), 96.

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