(Published in Grail World Special Issue 3/1999)
What can we expect from the turn of the millennium, which so many people are looking forward to with apprehension? Does the year 2000 mark nothing more than a round number to which we attach an unjustifiably high priority - or, as gloomy prophecies suggest, is the fate of humanity really at stake in this time? Let's try a realistic outlook on what to expect.
The turn of the millennium is a rare event that only repeats itself every thirty generations, and accordingly we tend to look for a major turning point in what at first glance is just a coincidence of our calendar.
The first great turning point associated with a millennium brought - in retrospect - the birth of Jesus. Hardly anyone took any notice of this event, which was so decisive in a Christian sense, and the calendar of that time also had nothing special to offer for the year of Jesus' birth, which is so important from today's point of view (probably minus seven years of modern chronology).
The year 1000 after Christ
But it was different a millennium later: Around the year 1000 AD, many people in the Christian West expected the end of the world, the Last Judgment, the second coming of Christ and much more. The reason for this was the announcement of the "Kingdom of a Thousand Years" in the biblical Revelation of John:
“Then I saw an angel descending from heaven; in his hand he carried the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He overpowered the dragon, the old serpent - that is the devil or Satan - and he tied him up for a thousand years. He threw it into the abyss, closed it and pressed a seal on it so that the dragon could no longer seduce the peoples until the thousand years are completed ... " (Revelation 20, 1-2).
Few passages in the Bible have caused so much confusion and so much discussion as this prophecy in Revelation to John. And a hitherto unsurpassed climax of the contradicting and complex interpretations of this passage occurred around the year 1000:
During this time of the Bible, when the church and her servants found unbroken faith, the signs of Judgment Day seemed to pile up. A star with a “fiery rod” seemed to herald the expected criminal court as well as bloody rain in Umbria or earthquakes in southern Italy, near Lake Constance, on the Rhine and in the Eifel. Even Emperor Otto III. made a barefoot pilgrimage to the grave of a martyr and then hurried to Italy to await the end of the world.
Some celebrated, others chastised each other; some let it go well, others prayed for their souls.
But the midnight hour of the last day of the old year passed without heaven opening or hell opening its abysses, and the people cheered the new millennium, which graciously gave them more time on the way to completion.
All just religious madness, blind fanaticism, ideological interpretation of misunderstood old writings?
Or even a parallel to today?
Actually, the year 2000 doesn't seem to be anything special either: It is simply the last year of the 20th century, which many confuse with the beginning of the 21st century, which actually doesn't start until January 1st, 2001.
The mysterious year 2000
The year 2000, like January 1, 2001, would only be a random date that comes about on the basis of our time calculation. Yes, even if one recognizes the birth of Jesus as a very extraordinary event in world history, the significance of the year 2000 can hardly be justified with it. Especially not when you consider that Jesus was probably born six or seven years "before Christ".
So the year 2000 is just an anniversary like so many; of importance only in those countries which have adopted the time calculation according to the Gregorian calendar? An occasion for celebrations, speeches and some retrospect, but not an outstanding natural history, astronomical, historical, intellectual history date?
Although the transition into a third millennium is a rare event for cultures, European civilization is by no means the only one that can look back on more than two millennia of eventful development. In Egypt, China, India, perhaps also in South America, civilizations have endured similar periods of time.
Even if one takes astrological aspects into account, such as the transition from the Piscean Age to the Aquarian Age, the replacement of an old epoch by a new one can be seen, but this change takes place within several decades, but not in one day and at a time Hour fixable date - and certainly not exactly in the year 2000.
So is there no deeper cause for such a strong emphasis on the millennium as it often happens? So little cause for concern, as it would have been just before the year 1000?
In fact, we have enough reasons today not to look forward to the new millennium without fear, because some things are different than 1000 years ago.
The approaching transition from the 2nd to the 3rd millennium of our era acquires a more comprehensive meaning when the development on our planet is considered.
Because many of the tendencies that can already be foreseen today will become clearly noticeable at the latest in the first decades of the 21st century, and quite a few will probably even acquire a threatening character. Of course not on time for the reference date, January 1, 2000 (or better 2001), but within a period of perhaps only two or three decades around this date.
An outlook into the 21st century
So what can we expect in the 21st century? Many developments that have been recognized for years will intensify drastically in the coming decades, and it will be difficult to keep the problems that arise under control.
* The population continues to "explode"
The earth's population continues to grow by almost 100 million people a year. In the year 2000 6.2 billion (6,200,000,000) people will populate the earth, and in the year 2025 one must reckon with a population of 8.5 billion, unless catastrophic events prevent this.
It will then be extremely difficult to feed these masses of people, to provide them with clothing and shelter, and to create schools, hospitals, and jobs to the extent required.
In developing countries - and perhaps not only there - many cities will burst at the seams and huge slums will offer unbearable living conditions; because cities are points of attraction for people who find neither work nor bread in the country.
This overpopulation is to be seen in connection with all other problems with which we have to deal already today, but especially in the future; because no other phenomenon radiates so far, influences everything else to such a drastic degree. Economic, ecological, political and social problems become less solvable the more the overpopulation increases.
* The destruction of nature
Environmental toxins, urban expansion, forests being cut down or dying, species extinction, soil and water poisoning, over-intensive use of agricultural land, pollution of the atmosphere by ozone and other greenhouse gases, destruction of the last untouched habitats, etc., etc. shape our globe more unfriendly to life every day. It can only be a matter of time - and not a very long one - before these environmental changes have a noticeable effect on our lives.
* The pillage of the earth
The reserves of fossil fuels, ores and other minerals that have been accumulated by nature over geological time will have been used up by our civilization with its exponential growth within a few centuries. As it stands now, our children and grandchildren will inherit a robbed planet on which they will have to fight for their survival with a humble civilization.
* Water is running out
Fresh water - for human needs as well as for irrigation of the fields - is already scarce in large parts of Africa, Asia and America. In the early 21st century, some countries will have reached the maximum possible freshwater consumption. From “water refugees” to the war over water, a lot is possible.
* Economic crises
The "third industrial revolution" (the information age) brings radical changes in the world economy, the consequences of which are far from being foreseeable:
a) Information society
The “informed society” will be less characterized by the fact that 100 or even 1,000 television programs can be received over fiber optic cables. It is much more important that technical knowledge will be available to everyone worldwide, and that the (know-how) lead of the western industrialized countries - for example over East Asia - is rapidly shrinking.
b) Free world trade
With the GATT (General Agreement on Tarifs and Trade) tariff and trade agreement, for which several American presidents have been very committed, the way is clear for a liberal world trade that has never been seen on this scale before.
The international competition, barely restrained by customs and other trade barriers and supported by the lowest transport costs of all time, will increase dramatically. Inexpensive products will flood the world market from regions that were previously hardly known as industrialized countries. Production will grow faster than the markets.
Highly developed industrialized countries will then hardly be able to defend themselves against cheap imports from low-wage countries, which depress wage and social costs in highly developed nations and question social achievements that have become cherished.
c) Free movement of capital
In the future, money will increasingly flow to where the greatest returns can be expected for investors. These are often low-wage countries with an inexhaustible pool of workers. Every year, many millions of people who have to work for almost any wage push into the long overcrowded labor markets.
The highly developed nations are threatened with partial de-industrialization with catastrophic effects on the employment situation and social peace, if this “Manchester capitalism” can prevail worldwide.
On a "shrinking" earth with scarce and dwindling resources, but rapidly growing population, it will become increasingly difficult to resolve economic difficulties. Especially not when one encounters this situation, which is new to mankind, with conventional recipes.
The economic theories developed in the 1930s, which might have brought the desired success back then, will have to fail in the decades ahead.
Half a century ago - just a little more than 50 years ago! - the world wasn't too overpopulated yet. There was plenty of land, seemingly inexhaustible resources, and unsaturated markets everywhere. Today the markets of the rich countries are saturated, the poor have hardly any money for essentials, the soil is becoming scarce, the raw material reserves have to be exhausted, and the environmental catastrophe is on its way.
If anything can help in such a situation, then only the greatest possible conservation of nature, preservation of ecologically healthy living spaces, consistent birth control, the most economical use of raw materials, and energy savings wherever possible.
Anyone who dreams of growth in the style of the 50s and 60s, or who wants to counter unemployment through growth rates in the gross national product, bury their heads in the sand before the signs of the times.
* Radicalization of politics
As population pressure increases, so must political tensions.
Even if the very big conflict between superpowers seems unlikely at the moment, tensions within the countries and nations are bound to intensify.
It is not unlikely that regional conflicts in the 21st century will be carried out with tactical nuclear weapons, since too many - even smaller - states already have nuclear weapons.
Some governments may act tougher externally in order to cover up internal weaknesses. With totalitarian regimes there is an increasing danger that one will dare to venture out on a foreign policy adventure in order to divert attention from internal difficulties.
Religious fanaticism appeared on the stage as an unexpected variant in world politics in the 20th century. It can spread to other countries in the 21st century.
It will not be possible to control these developments with rational considerations and the conventional means of diplomacy. Many difficulties, which in the past decades were masked by the consolation of increasing prosperity, will show themselves relentlessly in the near future.
* Endangering democracy
The less politicians find ways and means to bring the complex problems of the future under control, the more the reputation of democratic politicians and democratic institutions will suffer. Finally, desperate people may look to demagogues, ideologues or religious fanatics for the last resort, in the mistaken opinion that "it couldn't get worse ..."
We Germans in particular should know better:
It can definitely be worse than under the aegis of weak decision-making and incapable of acting, failing democrats!
A sober look at the foreseeable future of our earth definitely points to the specialty of the present day. One does not need to refer to gloomy prophecies in order to be able to recognize an approaching, momentous "turning point" in the fate of humanity.
Nevertheless, there is no lack of eschatological prophecies that can be related to our time. From the Bible to medieval seers to modern visionaries, one can collect an almost endless spectrum of more or less meaningful predictions and look for their meaning for our time.
It becomes difficult when - similar to the year 1000 - you find more precise, even time-related information and want to learn something concrete from the prophecies about the coming time or even the "end times".
It will be interesting to see whether the dates for millennium catastrophes determined from such prophecies will pass by just as silently as the year 1000.
What does the future hold?
If one is prepared to look at the many inevitable problems facing us for our world civilization with an open mind, one will have to be prepared for the fact that in the third millennium of western civilization, which is soon to begin, many things, indeed everything, will look different from what we are used to today are or as we know it from history.
From today's perspective, pessimism seems justified, and we can only hope that in the end the “good” will prevail.
But how do we personally respond to the seemingly unstoppable wave of danger that seems to come with the certainty of natural law happenings?
If you don't want to despair of the future, you actually only have two options:
Either you suppress the knowledge of the exams that are coming your way, hope that the inevitable can be postponed for a few more decades - and comfort yourself with the "proverb" time comes, advice comes ... "
Or one is ready to recognize a logical development in the inevitable, perhaps even to accept the effect of an intervention controlled by the laws of creation, which, like a serious operation, hurts, but is the necessary path to recovery. Then we also find an open-minded attitude towards the future.
It must be taken into account that the future is “open”, that is, we can still be influenced by our decisions today, as long as we boldly face the problems and then resolutely do the right thing.
We can hardly rely on politics, since the well-known weakness in decision-making of democratic politicians is seldom enough for more than delaying decisions, or even defaming the warner. Many will, for example, still remember how at that time the "Limits to Growth" (Dennis Meadows, the "Limits to Growth, Report of the Club of Rome on the Situation of Humankind", Stuttgart 1972) were disgraced with the greatest misunderstanding.
At that time it would have been high time to act!
For the individual person personally, it is true that a change in conditions for the better causes the corresponding inner change, which can be achieved neither through ideology nor through propaganda, but through one's own efforts: True insights want to be experienced internally - not externally read.
If a person wants to tread this path, even the most serious changes in his environment will ultimately promote his spiritual development, which is based on his "eternal being", not just on his earthly existence.
In no case should we forget that life is constantly changing; that nature knows no rigid, unchangeable forms, but that continuous change is typical for everything natural. No living being can permanently escape this uninterrupted compulsion to move, not even humans!
With this in mind, we should understand the challenges to be expected of the 21st century as helpful impulses that keep us from freezing in stuck structures, and so ultimately even be our blessing.
Read about it too "What apocalypse is coming?".