as television spectacles go, it's nearly as compelling as Lyndon LaRouche's creepily conspiratorial infomercials. On "Jack Van Impe Presents," a half-hour "newscast" seen on hundreds of television stations around the world, Jack and his wife Rexella offer up a cheerful weekly preview of the coming apocalypse. The two introduce the final days with the preternatural perkiness of Regis and Kathy Lee, sorting through recent news clips in search of evidence that the end is near.
Jack is enthusiastic, buoyant, bursting with information. He proudly footnotes each assertion with passages from Revelations and the Book of Daniel. "I gotta tell you," he announces, stumbling over his words in his rush to get them out, "the LORD's coming is near!" According to Jack, Bill Clinton is the "End Times President," and we're living "in the closing hours of the final days."
Prim and cheerful, with permed blonde hair and a Home-Shopping-Network fashion sense, Rexella speaks of the end of the world as calmly as if she were announcing a potluck. "You say the Antichrist is going to try to destroy Christianity," she casually remarks to her husband. "That's interesting, Jack."
Now the Van Impes have brought the End of the World to the World Wide Web, with downloadable video clips from the show, and even a follow-along-at-home course on "Unmasking and Triumphing over the Spirit of the Antichrist."
The Van Impes are not the first to bring a message of doom and gloom to the surfing masses. But they are undoubtedly the cheeriest. The Van Impes report on the final battle with the Antichrist with infomercial unctuousness. "As bad as the present seems, it will become exceedingly worse until the super-deceiver, 'the Antichrist,' appears to begin his reign of miracles, terror, deceit, blasphemies, and lies concerning the Lord Jesus Christ," the Van Impes explain, sounding as upbeat as a K-Mart store manager announcing that the toilet paper sale will end in 15 minutes. "Learn how to increase your faith for the final hours ahead from 20 in-depth and power-packed studies."
Among the topics covered: how to maintain your faith if you're "'left behind' to endure earth's 21 global judgments"; tips on how to stand up to "the final world political dictator and his international religious co-conspirator"; useful advice about the best ways "to beat the 666 system." (Step one, I imagine, is to just say no when someone offers to tattoo the number on your forehead.)
It's tempting to dismiss the Van Impe home page as just another bad religious joke -- like the Society for Keanu consciousness. But Jack and Rexella are the mainstream, kiddies: it's you and I who are the weirdoes. According to surveys, Americans are the most religious people in the developed world, and many of them are devout believers in that good old fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone Christianity. Apocalyptic beliefs are as American as apple pie and corporate downsizing. Cotton Mather used to scare hell out of the Pilgrims with his predictions of a "terrible Conflagration" that would precede the Second Coming of the Lord. More recently, Hal Lindsay updated the Apocalypse for the Age of Aquarius in "The Late Great Planet Earth"; his book was the biggest "nonfiction" bestseller of the '70s. And Pat Robertson's new killer-meteor doomfest "The End of the Age" is threatening to become a bestseller itself.
Like those radicals who look upon each new catastrophe of capitalism as a potential herald of the coming Revolution, the Van Impes and their ilk are convinced that the worst is best after all. Even the dark clouds that are the cartoon tracts of the indefatigable Jack T. Chick have a silver lining: true believers need only stay tuned for a happy ending. "Persecution, new killer diseases, earthquakes and wars everywhere, all prove that this is the LAST GENERATION," one little Chicklet declares. "That's why I'm so excited....the darker things get in the world ...the brighter our hope becomes."
In its own way, the Van Impes' vision is as chilling as Jack Chick's: they look upon the destruction of the earth and its inhabitants as not only an inevitable but a good thing. Why should fire and brimstone worry those who are going to miss out on the last days?
Not surprisingly, the perkily prophesizing tag-team doesn't tell us exactly when the end is scheduled to come. Perhaps they're just teasing us -- and boosting their hit count by forcing us to check back often for the latest news. Or perhaps they're just being prudent -- after all, too many dates with doom have come and gone already, and the Van Impes certainly don't want to end up like Apocalypse-monger Edgar Whisenant, whose book "88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988" hasn't been selling too well of late. Heck, even Pat Robertson, who has always taken great pride in his ability to communicate with the Lord, once told his followers that "I guarantee you that by the fall of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world."
Well, 1982 came and went, and all we had to show for it was Dexy's Midnight Runners. Next time we may not be quite so lucky. "Friends, the hour is coming when every unsaved, unregenerate sinner must meet a holy God for a detailed review of his life upon planet Earth," Jack reminds us. "There will be no hope then, but there is now! [Even] the guiltiest of mortals can immediately be absolved by trusting in the merits of the shed blood of Jesus. Don't procrastinate -- do it today!"
After all, this offer is only available for a limited time.