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Armageddon Entrepreneurs: Who's Profiting From Fear?

A successful entrepreneur is someone who sees a problem as an opportunity. So who would dare capitalize on the impending end of the world? Call them Armageddon entrepreneurs: preachers who view today’s headlines as crib notes signaling the world is approaching its final days.

These preachers scan news reports in search of events they say line up with biblical prophesies. The massive disaster in Japan last week gets instant analysis. Other natural disasters tie in with political unrest, rising oil prices, and civil wars. For many of these worriers, the big kahuna is Mideast turmoil. And that means they’re paying the closest possible attention to the latest events in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and beyond.

Smoke over industrial area after quake, Sendai, Japan.
AP
Smoke over industrial area after quake, Sendai, Japan.

Already, the first quarter of 2011 is a bull market for these end times predictors. RaptureReady.com — a website with a customized index predicting how close we are to the end — had its busiest February ever. And publisher Tyndale House has begun ramping up plans for new editions of its blockbuster “Left Behind” series.

Left Behind is a series of 16 novels dealing with predictions about the end of the world. It sold more than 65 million copies and spawned two feature films and two video games.

The series was due for a face lift, with new editions featuring new covers, said David Endrody, Tyndale’s vice president of sales. But with recent news, those plans were tweaked to reflect the latest headlines.

“We changed the back cover to a news headline approach to tie to today’s current events,” senior marketing manager Cheryl Kerwin said. “We also repackaged and updated the nonfiction [companion book] ‘Are We Living in the End Times?’ to reflect what is happening in the world today.”

Left Behind co-author Tim LaHaye has already been tying the disaster in Japan to his reading of the Bible: "The Bible tells us in Matthew 24 that one of the signs of the last days — one of the birth pangs to occur — is an increase in earthquake activity and intensity," he told WorldNetDaily.

Meanwhile, Tyndale House is reporting a bump in sales of its other titles. Take the works of just one end times-focused author. “The Twelfth Imam, Joel Rosenberg’s latest prophecy-related novel, is gaining momentum again after its initial release last year,” Endody said. “We were pleasantly surprised to find out that Joel’s Epicenter Conference in Jerusalem is totally sold out, over two months in advance of the event.”

It’s been a while since American pastors have shown this level of apocalyptic fervor. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, some suggested that event was a precursor for the return of Jesus to earth, and their belief that this would result in the end of the world. Just before the end of the last millennium, what with the inevitable heavy-duty calendar turn and the predictions of high-tech Y2K mayhem, interested believers were deluged by books, videos and conference invitations.

This latest wave of turmoil is prompting some pastors, like John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas, to use their websites to promote their ideas, along with links to materials for purchase.

Hagee is a popular televangelist and senior pastor of the 19,000 member Cornerstone Church. His website offers a DVD called “Financial Armageddon” for $12 and is signing up registrations for a prophesy seminar in Sacramento in April for $10.

Here’s a highlight from his most recent online newsletter, in which he analyses the uprising in Egypt. “Get ready! Planet earth is about to become the playground for the Anti-Christ and his New World Order. The church will be raptured before the Anti-Christ appears; and I believe he could be introduced in Europe at any time. Pray up! Pack up! ”

Some Christians guess about the return of Jesus based on Bible verses from Isaiah, Daniel, and particularly Revelation — all of which offer what could be clues about the end times.

(Only a small segment of Christians, of course, engage in these kinds of activities. Most point out that Jesus himself warned against trying to guess about when the end of the world will happen.)

Daniel Wojcik is an English professor at the University of Oregon and the author of “The End of the World As We Know It: Faith, Fatalism, and Apocalypse in America.” The current interest in the apocalypse follows a pattern, Wojcik said.

“Any time there is increased ‘activity,’ conflict, or upheaval in the Middle East, prophecy interpreters inevitably jump on current events as fulfillment of God's divine plan at the end of time,” he said.

But there are elements of this version that are different from past episodes, he said. Start with the 24-hour news cycle.

“As never before, one can find stories and images of apocalyptic crises, death, and destruction, as well as non-stop doomsday programming on television, all of which reinforce and stimulate end-time ideas,” he said.

And then there’s the Web.

“The increasing omnipotence of the Internet has contributed. With its limitless info and easy access to once-marginalized beliefs, apocalyptic ideas are everywhere,” Wojcik said. “Prophecy beliefs flourish online, and enclaves of doomsday weirdness thrive and fertilize the popular imagination.”

His favorite current doomsayer is a fellow named Harold Camping, who has predicted for several years that on May 21, 2011, righteous Christians will be lifted to Heaven — and then the world will be destroyed on October 21, 2011.

But Camping isn’t making a buck on his predictions. All the materials on his website can be downloaded for free.

RaptureReady.com, meanwhile, is racking up website page views. Its customized “Rapture Index” incorporates 45 factors — from the presence of “false Christs” to the incidence of floods — to produce a numerical index that supposedly indicates how close we are to the End Times.

The latest index is 180, not far from the all-time high of 182 on Sept. 24, 2001.

As founder Todd Strandberg wrote in his latest online analysis: “I’ve never seen a time when so many headlines are being ripped right from Bible prophecy.”

His interpretation of the Bible ties business instability closely to prophecies about the Last Days. “We think that the global economy will be saved by the Antichrist,” he said.

Strandberg started the site 24 years ago, in the days of green computer screens and 1,200 baud dialup modems. Traffic has gradually built over the years, but the past couple of months have been a bonanza, he said. In the last three months, RaptureReady’s traffic has risen 20 percent, according to Alexa.com.

His site offers books for sale and conferences to register for, but Strandberg says he doesn’t necessarily view increased interest in the end of the world as a business opportunity to be jumped on. “I never do anything different. I only pick up the fruit that falls my way,” he said. “I’ve always operated under the belief that the world will eventually come to this site.”

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