Apocalypse Now: Floods, Tornadoes, Locusts

In the beginning, God created heaven and Earth, and he saw that it was good. So begins the Book of Genesis, the dramatic opener of the Old Testament.

But things went downhill from there.

God's wrath seems at work these days, as the heavens and Earth have unleashed earthquakes in China, a cyclone in Burma, killer tornadoes and record floods across the U.S. and even a plague of locusts (cicadas) in New England.

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa today, floodwaters forced the evacuation of a downtown hospital after residents of more than 3,000 homes fled for higher ground. A railroad bridge collapsed, and 100 city blocks were underwater.

"We're just kind of at God's mercy right now, so hopefully people that never prayed before this, it might be a good time to start," Linn County Sheriff Don Zeller said this week as record floods hit the Midwest. "We're going to need a lot of prayers and people are going to need a lot of patience and understanding."

By the final Book of Revelation in the New Testament, the Earth suffers "Seven Plagues" -- from disease to "intense heat" and drought, then finally a shower of deadly hailstones.

And then comes the Apocalypse, the final judgment of man and destruction of the world by fire.

Biblical imagery is all over the news these days — even including a story last week of a New York baby being enwrapped by a snake in its crib, harking back to evil lurking in the Garden of Eden.

[There was a practical explanation: the non-poisonous snake had embedded itself in a mattress shipped by Toys 'R' Us from California.]

Most theologians and scientists don't take seriously warnings that the end of the world is nigh. But many reputable scholars do lend some credence to the notion that the world is in for some kind of disaster, be it meteorological, ecological or geopolitical.

ABC News will air a dramatic two-hour broadcast in September, Earth 2100, bringing the greatest minds across the globe together to tell us what we must do to survive the next century. And what may happen if we don't.

Though tsunamis, hurricanes and heat waves may not be punishment from God, history teaches that events in the physical world trigger upheaval in society. Civilizations have risen and fallen over drought, famine and water wars.

"Only wild-eyed fundamentalists would think that recent weather phenomena have any theological significance," said John P. Meier, a New Testament scholar and professor at Notre Dame in Indiana. "The Earth has seen and will see much worse in recorded history."

The Apocalypse is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but end-of-the-world stories are also woven through some Hindu and Islamic beliefs. One Catholic University spokesman described it as "the magical mystery tour of the Bible," filled with vivid imagery: a beast-like antichrist, an angry God and the destruction of the world by fire.

Modern millennialists and eschatologists -- including Yisrayl "Buffalo Bill" Hawkins, the founder of the House of Yahweh religious sect located on a 44-acre compound outside Abilene, Texas, who predicted (incorrectly) the end of the world yesterday, June 12 — have been forecasting Doomsday for decades.

"It's been going on for millennia and they get it wrong all the time," said Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University.

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