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Remembering Jack Van Impe

·4 mins
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Back in the 1990s, there was a televangelist called Dr Jack Van Impe. He had a weekly TV show called Jack Van Impe Presents that was quite widely syndicated — because he paid commercial stations to broadcast it late at night when they had nothing better to show. I’m not sure what he was a doctor of; online sources suggest he got his PhD from a Christian diploma mill called Pacific International University.

When we lived in the Boston area I would watch the Jack Van Impe show from time to time on cable TV. Not because I had any interest in the religious content, but because I was fascinated by his narrative abilities.

The shows generally all followed the same basic format. Jack would start off with a few straightforward observations pulled from the news — inflation being high, or a new web site called Google, or the US launching air strikes on Iraq, that sort of thing.

He would then take a small rhetorical step towards something else related to the news story. Then another small step, and another. Each individual step would seem pretty reasonable, so I’d follow along with the chain of logic. Then about 10-15 minutes in I’d suddenly realize that he was talking about the Dalai Lama being the antichrist, or the Euro being the Mark of the Beast.

For me, that would break the spell. Obviously for his followers, it would not, so generally in the second half of the show he’d move on to showing products viewers could buy that would explain in more detail why the Pope was possessed by Satan or income taxes were preventing the Rapture.

I couldn’t help but admire the artistry. Each step of the chain carefully calibrated to appear logical, yet in the course of a few minutes the chain of logic went somewhere completely crazy — somewhere nobody would ever give a moment’s consideration to going, if he just came out and said it at the start of the show.

Jack was accompanied by his wife Rexella Van Impe, who I also found to be weirdly compelling viewing. By the time I encountered the show she had apparently had significant plastic surgery, which had left her with a narrowed and slightly unnerving facial appearance. That, combined with her name and her tendency to stare wide-eyed at the camera, made it seem like she might have a sideline making fur coats out of dalmatian puppies.

Rexella Van Impe

The Van Impe gospel mostly concerned the End Times. His beliefs were amusingly weird for a televangelist — for example, he said Christianity and Islam would merge and become Chrislam, and that the world would be divided in three with 8 hour days. He had a thing about the Club of Rome — which I also have an interest in — and the European Union.

I was reminded of Jack Van Impe because he was mentioned in a discussion thread about a new HBO documentary concerning the Y2K bug and accompanying hysteria. He got really excited about the Y2K bug and how the apparently imminent collapse of our technological civilization would help bring about the Rapture. I didn’t watch the show after 1999, so I don’t know how he managed to explain the ongoing lack of apocalypse. He apparently died in 2020 — or at least, that’s what they would have you believe.

There are “Y2K Truthers” these days who think the entire Y2K problem was made up. For the record, I was there, and we did a lot of patching and upgrading to make sure things didn’t break when Y2K happened. I was on call New Year’s Eve 1999, just in case our systems crashed, and went home early to be ready to dial in (or get a taxi to the office) to fix stuff. In the end we were OK — just one leftover bug involving a date displayed on a web page using JavaScript. There were a ton of bugs like that, because back in 1999 the JavaScript date API returned the year as a number of years since 1900. "19" + new Date().getYear(); would return the current year, until the year 2000 when you’d suddenly get 19100, because you should have used 1900 + new Date().getYear() + ""; instead. Not a big deal, but Y2K absolutely could have been a big deal if people hadn’t spent months, or even years, fixing systems beforehand.