By James Zimmerman
Mark your calendars: the end of the world is coming. No, not the literal demise of the planet, but the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. To be precise, the end is coming on April 23rd of this year. That’s actually the latest possible date; it could come even sooner.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted the end. Both at the level of official doctrine and on a personal front, Witnesses can’t seem to wrap their mind around the idea that the world might – just might – last for more than another few years.
First, they thought the End would be here in 1914:
“The ‘Time of the End,’ a period of one hundred and fifteen (115) years, from A.D. 1799 to A.D. 1914, is particularly marked in the Scriptures. -–Studies in the Scriptures, Series 3: Thy Kingdom Come, ©1891, p.23.
Then they changed it to 1918:
“The end of the harvest is due in the spring of 1918.” –The Watch Tower, May 1, 1918, p.132.
When the 1920s arrived with no sign of Armageddon’s occurrence, they anticipated:
“[T]he great jubilee cycle is due to begin in 1925. At that time the earthly phase of the kingdom shall be recognized.” –Millions Now Living Will Never Die, ©1920, p.89.
Then, with a note of caution, they next suggested 1975:
“Does it mean that Armageddon is going to be finished, with Satan bound, by 1975? It could! It could!” –The Watchtower, October 15, 1966, p.629.
As Carl Sagan once said: “It is astonishing in the face of such transparent evasions that this religion has any adherents at all.” (Broca’s Brain, p. 333)
I was born into that religion after all these prophecies had come and gone with no fulfillment. Still, the Witnesses maintained an excited expectation that the End was near. “It’s right around the corner,” some would say. Others, feeling that hyperbole wasn’t forceful enough, claimed: “It’s not around the corner anymore, we’ve turned the corner and we’re headed right towards it.”
It probably goes without saying, but such a worldview colors every aspect of one’s life. There was no need to plan for retirement as was no chance of growing old. There was no need to plan for college – because spending time and money in such a pursuit was the pinnacle of waste when Armageddon was looming. Many Witnesses indefinitely postponed reproducing, believing it would be better to wait for god’s paradise than to raise children in this wicked world. My family members offered platitudes such as: “God will bring an end to this terrible world before you even have to go to school.” And later: “You’re fortunate, the Paradise will be here before you have to get a job.”
One morning, after I had completed high school and had been working at a job for several years, I was in a car with a group of other Witnesses as we drove around the neighborhood proselytizing. One woman in the car asked: “How much longer do you think this world we last before God brings the End?” This was an odd question to pose, because the only safe answer was: “Soon, very soon,” and to guess and exact time would be to put oneself in the position of a prophet.
Nevertheless, the others in the car did give answers. The woman sitting next to me said: “Oh, I suppose it could go on for another six months or so.” Another dared to suggest we might still be living in this hedonistic, immoral world long enough to have to switch out the calendars. When it came my turn to answer, I said: “I don’t know. Maybe five years.” This immediately met with stunned looks, an audible gasp, and the one other man in the car saying: “Oh, James, that’s not good thinking,” indicating that my lack of hypervigilance might be a cause for concern.
I guess it was.
That conversation took place over ten years ago and, obviously, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness anymore. In an effort to spur me back into the fold and into the mindset of apocalyptic urgency, one of my uncles emailed me and said, in part, “I can’t believe that this system will go on for more than two to three years.”
As a life-long Witness (and one of those who has denied his desire to have children in the sincere belief this will keep him better prepared for Armageddon), my uncle undoubtedly wouldn’t say anything contrary to the Watchtower Society’s current doctrine. So I think we have it on reliable authority. He sent me the aforementioned email on April 23rd, 2007. Therefore, as a service to the public, I am making known this astonishing fact: Armageddon is coming this month. April 23rd at the latest. At 11:27 in the morning, if that helps.