Millennium change probably won’t spell Earth’s demise
So you’re a small business owner, and you’re gnashing your teeth over this Millennium Bug thing. Are you worried that your computers might not be Y2K compliant?
Cheer up, bunky. Things could be worse.
The last time mankind faced the dawn of a new Millennium, there were no computers to worry about – also no electricity, no hospitals, a short life expectancy and a religious infrastructure with absolutely no sense of humor.
It was pretty widely believed in the year 999 that the world was coming to and end. We’re not talking about the fringes of society who are predicting a similar fate for mankind on Jan. 1, 2000. A thousand years ago, it was people in the mainstream – in Europe, at least – who really believed that it was all going to end when the calendar hit four figures.
Throughout history most civilizations have always penciled in an “End Time,” or a point of major transition. The Mayans did it. So did the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks … in Norse mythology, “Ragnarok” would signal the end of the Universe during a fierce battle of the Gods. Conveniently, however, these Apocalyptic expectations were all scheduled very far in advance – well past the life expectancy of those doing the predicting.
Then, along came Christianity. Funny thing about Christians. They contend that big things are going to happen soon. Maybe even today.
“Apocalyptic thinking speaks to the very nature of Christianity,” said
David Van Meter, a Professor of Medieval History at Boston University and co-founder of the university’s Center for Millennial Studies.
“Think about it. You have a guy who makes a very big impression. He is killed. He is risen. So the big question among Christians has always been, ‘What’s next?’ The Second Coming has always been this big carrot that is being held out. To be a Christian is to sacrifice and put off all hope of reward until the future.
“The concept is that we are on a linear progression that will terminate with the Second Coming. And the year 2000 plays right into that.”
Europe in the 10th Century was, well, a mess. There seemed to be a war or an invasion everywhere you looked. The Vikings took great delight in looting and pillaging all the way down to the Mediterranean. A favorite target was churches, which they destroyed with great zeal.
But Viking invasions trailed off around 980, and as the year 1000 approached, Europe found itself in a period of peace and relative prosperity. Societies which had centered around constructing castles and other fortifications now flowered into a sort of renaissance period.
“The year 1000 can generally be cited as the beginning of what some have called summertime in Europe,” said Dr. Frank Hartigan, a Professor of History at the University of Nevada-Reno. “It was a period of real growth. The Roman Empire had failed in the west a few centuries before, and invasions from the Germanic tribes and the Viking invaders had ended. Free from all this outside pressure, Europe began rebuilding itself.”
A top priority, of course, was the rebuilding of the churches – both in a physical and spiritual sense. New churches went up all over Europe, and never in a grander way. Some are still in use.
But more significantly, church reform around this time changed the way people viewed the world.
With church reform came renewal in the belief of the Second Coming, and many thought that the year 1000 would be the date of arrival. Or perhaps it would be in 1033 – exactly one thousand years after the crucifixion of Christ.
“There are some records pointing to the fact that many people thought the end was at hand,” Hartigan said. “There were large increases in property donations to the church leading up to the year 1000. Some of the writings even included lines such as ‘Because the end of the world
is at hand …’ “
But did people back then even know what year it was?
Professor Richard Landes, who has done extensive research on the year 1000 as co-founder of the Center for Millennial Studies, makes a case that they most certainly did.
“The use of AD was widespread throughout Europe at that time,” Landes said. “Not a monastery or church of any significance did not have Bedan Easter Tables in which the point of entry is the year Anno Domini.
“As for peasants knowing the date, that depends on whether they wanted to know it or not.”
What matters is that the church knew the date, and the church was the most significant force in Europe.
Beginning around 910, chroniclers in Europe began having elaborate visions. In 990, a chronicler in France, Ralph the Bald, reported “signs and visions of significant wonder, including leviathans off the coast.”
“Medieval Europeans were afraid of whales, they didn’t know what they were,” said Van Meter. “Many thought they were monsters. It was this fear of the unknown that took hold of much of Europe around the year 1000.”
Modern chroniclers, many of which can be found on the Internet, have their own leviathans to fear. Most people do not really understand the potential Y2K computer bug problem, and so they fear the future. Sales of weapons, non-perishable foodstuffs and even bomb shelters and bio domes are on the rise, and will only increase further as the target date 2000 gets closer.
“A lot of people look at beliefs in the end of the world as nonsense,” Van Meter said. “But to look at it in the past, people used these beliefs to inspire actual good.
“Whatever they believed (in the year 1000), they were dealing with a new way of viewing the world. They were seeing the possibilities, and a hope for something better.”
And with that in mind, we current millennial astronauts have soul mates in our year 1000 ancestors. Certainly most of our Y2K fears are bunk – experts predict that the clock will tick over to 2000 without a whole lot of technological turmoil.
But didn’t we have fun getting there? Didn’t this whole Millennium thing cause us to sit back and take stock? For decades people have been saying that computers and other machines were taking over the world. But since the Y2K scare has taken hold, mankind has literally dismantled their computers and proven that humans are still in charge.
Much the same sort of thing happened a thousand years ago – only it was religion, rather than technology, which people began to examine more closely.
“After the year 1000 came and went, and then the year 1033, people got tired of waiting,” Van Meter said. “They stopped believing in the imminent Second Coming and began making peace for themselves.
“It was the dawning of a new spirit, and a new age.”
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