According to the founding pastor of New York City's Times Square Church, David Wilkerson, denizens of the Big Apple should stockpile survival gear and a month's supply of non-perishable food in preparation for an "earth-shattering calamity" that could happen at any moment. The threat is not from foreign terrorists this time, but instead from God.
Wilkerson, claiming he was prompted by the Holy Spirit, recently wrote in his blog that "An earth-shattering calamity is about to happen… It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires... There will be looting — including Times Square, New York City." (Only a Manhattanite would assume that God's destruction of the world would begin with New York City).
"What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God's wrath," Wilkerson wrote. "God is judging the raging sins of America and the nations…I do not know when these things will come to pass, but I know it is not far off." He suggested that those wishing to survive should gather supplies; apparently the wrath of the most powerful being in the universe can be thwarted by extra water, a flashlight, and a case of beans.
Of course "about to happen" is pretty vague, and Christian leaders have long preached that the End Times are upon us. The Bible clearly states in several places (especially Matthew 16:28 and 24:34 KJV) that Jesus would return during the lifetime of his contemporaries, not any time soon: "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom," and "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." If the bible literalists are right, Jesus is running about two millennia late to bring Armageddon.
This is far from Wilkerson's first prophecy; in fact he has made something of a cottage industry of cranking out bible-based predictions. In 1973, Wilkerson issued a nearly identical message in a book titled "The Vision." He described the great tragedies that would befall the United States if Americans continued to pursue homosexuality, greed, and sin. Nearly 40 years later, the issues include gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research.
Most of his prophecy did not come to pass, but it is a common theme. Rev. Jerry Falwell infamously blamed pagans, abortionists, gays, lesbians, the American Civil Liberties Union and others for bringing about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In Falwell's view, God had enlisted Muslim Saudi Arabians to punish Americans for their decadent ways. In 2005, Rev. Gerhard Wagner suggested that Hurricane Katrina was "divine retribution" for New Orleans' tolerance of homosexuals and sin.
In the Middle Ages, when natural disasters occurred and personal tragedies struck, superstitious minds assumed that the gods were angry. Centuries later, stillborn children, floods, and crop failures were blamed on a witch's curse or a failure of piety. Today science has found natural causes for disasters, yet human superstition still seeks supernatural origins.
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Benjamin Radford is managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. He is author of "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us" (2003). This and other books are noted on his website.