Todd Strandberg is a 32-year-old supply sergeant working a desk job at Offutt Air Force Base, just outside Omaha, Nebraska. When Todd gets home from work, things pick up a bit—he sits at his computer, connects to the Internet, turns on his wide-screen TV, and for the rest of the evening, he is a one-man news-gathering organization. Every week, Todd compiles and filters news reports from around the world for an index of global trends he posts on his Web site, which has attracted more than 1 million hits since he started it in 1995.
But Todd doesn't track the sort of news other media organizations do. He looks for signs that the Rapture—a divine intervention predicted in the Bible that signals the beginning of the end of the world—is nigh. He has identified 45 categories of "prophetic indicators," ranging from Earthquakes to Oil Prices to Apostasy, and he assigns each category a score from one to five, depending on its activity for the week. The total, a number between 45 and 225, is that week's Rapture Index. Anything over 145 means we're in the "alert zone," and signals that the Rapture may be imminent. When I visited Todd in June, the index stood at a perilous 155—and rising.
Let's start off by defining our terms. What is the Rapture?
All believing Christians are going to be caught up—or "raptured"—out of the world and taken to heaven. The Bible actually describes people being taken in bodily form, "in the twinkling of an eye." Aircraft that are flying through the air will be—if both pilots are Christian— unmanned. Cars will go out of control because there is no driver.
And what's the idea behind the Rapture Index?
The Rapture is an important event that's going to transpire soon and rivet the world's attention, and I think that putting some sort of numeric evaluation on it is extremely important. You know, like the atomic scientists thought the danger of a nuclear holocaust was important enough to create their doomsday clock.
Were you a big reader of the news even before you became interested in the Rapture?
I was always interested in the news, even as a kid in school. We used to have this competition every Friday about the current news of the day and I would always clean everybody's clock in the classroom.
How did that develop into the idea of assigning a numerical value to trends in the news?
Well, our language is very ambiguous; words can have multiple meanings. Numbers mean one thing and they don't mean anything else, so by transposing current events into numerical figures, I'm able to provide a solid representation of what appears to be occurring.
And that helps you connect disparate news items to the Rapture?
Yeah—there's not only safety in numbers, there's also understanding in numbers. When one event occurs it doesn't mean anything, but when you have two or three or four events, you get a trend you can follow and an indication of reality. Once you have the big picture, finding the news becomes relatively easy. [Mainstream journalists] see these floods in South Africa and fires in Borneo and they don't see any connection. The reason I believe so strongly in the Rapture and the end times is that you see all these things predicted long ago, and when they start occurring they line up together and they reaffirm each other. That's what caused me to think, "Hey, this is it. This is what the Bible talked about, and this is what is soon to come on the scene."
What are you paying closest attention to these days?
This week I'm tracking the Climate factor of the index. I've had a heat wave and cyclones in India. There was a report that said the huge area of warm air that's been over the Asian subcontinent is now moving over the Middle East and creating record-setting high temperatures there. What I really keyed into, though, is the report that was issued this week by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and Vice President Al Gore about the record temperatures that have occurred in the United States over the past several months.
And what was Climate at last week?
The rating was a four last week, and this week it's probably going to go to a five.
What sort of biblical references are there to climate change?
There's a verse in Luke that says that one of the end-times signs is "the sea in waves roaring." And any type of abnormalities in our weather cycles that are detrimental can be considered a judgment from God.
Where do you get your news?
Well, I mostly go to the Web. I also watch a lot of news programs. The availability of information hasn't been my problem. It's the filtering of that information.
In that respect, do you see your job as being similar to that of a newspaper editor or a TV news producer?
Well, they cover news in a broad perspective, and I'm focusing on one particular event. Big media organizations have thousands of employees, and they're all focused on the topic of the day. I'm looking at this one event—the Rapture—that will someday just push all these other events aside and become the most dominant news item of that day. It will result in the destruction of everything we know and currently put our trust in.
So if you were the executive producer for "CBS Evening News," would it look a lot different than it does now?
Yeah, most certainly. You know, one thing I notice that's very strange is that the people who anchor the news--Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Bernard Shaw--are all people of a liberal slant whom one would consider agnostic.
Why do you think that is?
Well, I believe that they're put there by the devil himself.
You think Peter Jennings is actually doing the work of the devil?
Most definitely. You know, it seems like a provocative statement, but look at the mathematical possibilities here. We have four major news anchors, and every one of them is liberal and agnostic in his beliefs. What if every one of them were an albino and had orange hair? And after the Rapture, I don't think Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, or Peter Jennings is going to be providing the correct slant on the news. There's going to be so much interest in the Rapture, and the only ready source I see at this great time of panic is the Internet. Even though I plan not to be here, I'm still hoping I'll be able to provide information for people. Which is sort of a strange arrangement.
So the way you see it happening, you'll be gone but your site will still be there?
Yeah, my Web site will remain. When the Rapture takes place, I think I'll probably have more hits in one day than I've had in the past 10 years. That is really the day I am looking forward to.
So do you think your Web site is more important than the New York Times?
It's certainly not more popular--the New York Times has many more readers than I do--but someday the New York Times is going to go looking for my site.
An extended version of this interview will air on "This American Life," a radio program from WBEZ in Chicago and Public Radio International. See http://www.thislife.org for more information.