About Me

Just a person in recovery from years of spiritual abuse at the hands of good, upstanding Christian folks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Anti-Christ is Among us Again

The 1990s was a time of intense speculation. The year 2000 was looming in the minds of virtually everyone. Cottage industries devoted to foretelling what the dawn of the new millennium would bring popped up everywhere. Anyone who remembers the Y2K hysteria knows just how much anxiety people were feeling about the events that lay just beyond December 31st, 1999, 11:59 pm.

This effect was not unfelt by those who insist on treating the Bible like a fortune teller’s crystal ball. Theologians amateur and pro were trying to line up the words of Daniel and Revelation with the headlines in the daily news. I had an extended dialogue for a while with a very sincere fellow in an AOL discussion group. He was convinced that he had identified the Anti-Christ as none other than then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He had studied the career of the vicious dictator in depth and found in his biography unmistakable parallels with prophetic verses. He was convinced that by the year 2000 Hussein would reveal himself as the long awaited false messiah who would usher in the final seven year tribulation culminating in Jesus’ return to the planet Earth.

I recall trying to persuade this obviously nice and rather intelligent person that he was
most likely in error. When confronted with my posts, though, he had a pat answer: “just wait. You’ll see I was right soon enough.”

It’s now the year 2010, and, alas, Saddam Hussein failed to live up to expectations. The deposed despot was found cowering in a farmhouse on December 14th 2003 and executed in 2006, paying the ultimate penalty for his lengthy list of crimes against humanity. I thought about my old friend on that day and wondered how he was dealing with being shown the error in his thinking. I’ve long since lost contact with him, but I wish him well.

Not to worry, of course. Those who insist on reading the biblical text in a hyper-literal fashion have fresh new candidates for the position of Anti-Christ. The expansion of the Internet since the 1990s allows them to publicize their theories to a worldwide audience. As of the time of this writing the current favorite appears to be President Barack Obama. Trying to pin the label of Christ’s ultimate enemy on our first African-American chief executive is practically an obsession with many.

Googling (is that a word?) the words “Obama Anti-Christ” returns well over one million results. One that caught my eye is www.antichristidentity.com. The site’s owner claims to have examined over 4,000 pieces of documentation regarding Obama’s link to a conspiracy to establish a one-world government. In addition he and his “research staff” have listened to 5,000 hours of Obama’s speeches, combing through them for cryptic phrases and code
words that demonstrate the president’s connection to unnamed anti-Christian organizations.

The best part: he will gladly send you his full report for the low, low price of $19.97. Better hurry, though. As the site owner warns, his page may disappear from the Internet at any time if “they” have their way.

Dissent is the sign of a healthy democracy, and disagreement with a president’s polices is not only acceptable but vital to public discourse. The insanely irrational hatred many people feel for the current occupant of the White House goes far beyond this, however.
Many of those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome have openly declared that our 44th president is the Anti-Christ. Others, while not directly assigning him that label, say that there is a 90% or better probability that he fits the bill. Still others deny that he is the one the Bible calls “the man of sin” but believe that he is paving the way for the end of the world. I recommend Googling the words "Obama verichip" for a wild and amusing trip down conspiracy lane.

A hall of fame could be devoted to the persons in the 20th century alone that were accused of being the Anti-Christ. John F. Kennedy was suspected because he was wounded in the head, as Revelation says the Beast will be. Hitler was pegged as well, though not without ample justification in my view. Henry Kissinger was a suspect. Even Ronald Wilson Reagan didn’t escape suspicion. After all, he had three names, first, middle and last, each with six letters. As if more proof was necessary! But my favorite of all comes from the 1988 book “Gorbachev: Has the Real Anti-Christ Come?” If you’re interested in studying the writer’s case you can pick up a copy of his earth-shaking tome at Amazon.com for a penny.

Whence comes all of this nonsense? Personal prejudices and our all too human tendency to demonize those with whom we disagree surely play a role. But in my opinion blame must also be assigned to a way of interpreting the Bible which fails to respect its status as an ancient yet timeless masterpiece that conveys moral and spiritual truths to its readers. Modern fundamentalists, along with many evangelicals, have torn the scriptures out of their historical and literary context, in the process trying to turn them into a Christianized version of the daily horoscope or a psychic hotline.

Jesus’ first lengthy discourse in the New Testament is the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew chapters five and seven as well as in the other Synoptic Gospels. In it he declares the value system that his movement would be based upon. When viewed in their historical context
his statements are nothing short of radical:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

The world in which Christ lived was ruled by the Roman Empire, which held itself together for 600 years through the swift and unmerciful use of force. The Romans never asked anyone's permission before conquering them. They simply marched in and claimed whatever territory caught their eye, slaughtering or enslaving any who opposed them.

Their response to dissent was as effective as it was simple: mass murder. They imported both humans and animals by the thousands into Rome itself, to be slaughtered in the Coliseum while thousands watched and cheered. There was nothing about the Romans that was merciful, peaceful or meek.

Jesus fought Rome in a way that was as brilliant as it was subtle. He didn’t attack its armies, its leaders or its wealth. He went after its values. This approach was identified correctly, albeit scornfully, by Nietzsche in his “Genealogy of Morals.”

After his Resurrection and Ascension Jesus’ followers continued his mission. In short order they caught the attention of their Roman oppressors, who disapproved of the troublesome new sect and its message of peace. The book of Acts chronicles key events in this struggle. Paul as well as other New Testament writers used the powers of faith and of the pen to undermine the glorification of cruelty and martial strength that the culture of their conquerors was based upon.

What does any of this have to do with our topic? Simply this: the prophetic writings of the New Testament were written within the context of this struggle initiated by Jesus against the dominant values system of the world. They should be understood within that context.

The literal Roman Empire fell fifteen hundred years ago. It will not return. But the worldview that underlay it is alive and well. It reappeared in the religious wars of medieval times, in the struggle for wealth and power between the Vatican and Europe’s secular rulers, and in the battle cries of despots like Napoleon and Hitler. It rears its ugly head today on every continent and in every nation and every community. Wherever one person or group seeks to exploit and control others, wherever those in authority abuse their powers for self-enrichment, wherever an adult torments a helpless child, wherever workers are denied a fair day’s pay, wherever corporate and political bosses conspire to cheat the public, wherever an animal is mistreated - there the spirit of the Empire rises once more.

So my old friend was right. Saddam Hussein was the Anti-Christ, in that he embraced the values and practices opposed by Jesus. In that sense so was Hitler,
and Idi Amin, and every major and minor tyrant in history. And where such evil tries to assert itself, God’s Spirit is present as well, moving within the human heart to resist and overcome the spirit of ancient pagan Rome, to lay its ghost to its long overdue rest.

This is the crucial message of all the New Testament: that God, through Jesus, has overcome the evils of the world, not through force, but by the sacrifice on the cross. The message of a man nailed to a tree has the power to overcome a billion swords. This struggle will continue until the time of the End, which, as Jesus himself said, is known to no one but God (Mark 13:32).

So then, who is the Anti-Christ? Simply put, whoever embraces the values of a world where power is the ultimate determinant and people are treated as the means to an end. This truth is at once liberating and troubling. For we may find that, rather than living in presidents or politicians, he dwells instead in the person in the mirror. God grant us the wisdom and courage to see ourselves as we truly are.