Remember August (yes, it seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?) when the McCain campaign produced this Internet ad?
Mocking Obama's rock star aura, adorned with a shot of a cinematic Moses parting the Red Sea, the ad labeled him "The One."
After a brief chuckle, I forgot about it. That is, until a few evenings later, I was watching CNN at the gym and saw a panel of experts chatting with Campbell Brown about the "wild" rumor that Obama might be the Anti-Christ.
CNN Reporter David Mattingly linked the McCain ad with a torrent of web hits on sites speculating Obama could surely be the One--the Other One.
After I picked myself up off the YMCA floor, I forgot about the flap -- as apparently did most of the mainstream media.
But the Anti-Christ story refuses to die, having been resurrected this past week (excuse the expression) byNewsweek's Lisa Miller.
Given the depth of suspicion about Obama on the part of some American conservatives, and the deep roots of the apocalyptic tradition in Christianity, it seems fair to expect a balanced analysis of the Beastly phenomenon.
"Is Obama the AntiChrist?" ask the headline -- that's straightforward enough. But check out the subhead: "The winning lottery number in Illinois was 666, which as everyone knows, is the sign of the beast."
Where to start?
First of all, while there definitely is a "Beast" in chapter 13 (see particularly 13:8) of the Book of Revelation, it is not identified by the writer with the anti-Christ. The word, or words "anti-Christ" aren't used in Revelation -- a book that has been notoriously susceptible to diverse interpretations over the centuries.
Maybe it's just me, but...
If one accepts the notion that 666 signifies the Beast, and that the beast is commonly portrayed as the Anti-Christ -- would he announce his coming with a winning Illinois lottery ticket?
Miller's lede zooms in on the enterprising Todd Strandberg and his apocalypse biz.
On Nov. 5, Todd Strandberg was at his desk, fielding E-mails from around the world. As the editor and founder of RaptureReady.com, his job is to track current events and link them to biblical prophecy in hopes of maintaining his status as "the eBay of prophecy," the best source online for predictions and calculations concerning the end of the world. Already Barack Obama had drawn the attention of apocalypse watchers after an anonymous e-mail circulated among conservative Christians in October implying that he was the Antichrist. Former "Saturday Night Live" ingenue Victoria Jackson fueled the fire when, according to news reports, she wrote on her Web site that Obama "bears traits that resemble the anti-Christ." Now Strandberg was receiving up-to-the-minute news from his constituents in Illinois. One of the winning lottery numbers in the president-elect's home state was 666--which, as everyone knows, is the sign of the Beast (also known as the Antichrist). "It is very eerie, and I take it for a sign as to who he really is," wrote one of Strandberg's correspondents.
Miller goes on to summarize the history of American millenialism, which, she asserted, "gains prominence especially when the world grows chaotic."
Here's one intriguing sentence: "According to a 2006 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a third of white evangelicals believe the world will end in their lifetimes."
Oh oh....it's those "white evangelicals" again -- but what does anyone else think? Are we to assume (since they are the only group targeted for mention) that it's only these folks who are worried?
Miller has a few tantalizing quotes from Liberty University Law School dean Mat Stavers -- which doesn't go nearly far enough in explaining what he thinks.
Obama's own use of religious rhetoric belies his liberal positions on abortion and traditional marriage, Staver says, positions that "religious conservatives believe will threaten their freedom." The people who believe Obama is the Antichrist are perhaps jumping to conclusions, but they're not nuts: "They are expressing a concern and a fear that is widely shared," Staver says.
Is Staver saying that because Obama uses religious language he's a hypocrite--or worse? What's the "concern" and "fear?"
Then Miller returns to Strandberg -- and a modern day numerological tool he calls a "Rapture Index." Who knew?
Miller never quotes any scholars, non-conservative religious figures, or Obama supporters to rebut the idea that the President-Elect is demon spawn -- or the Devil himself. That's a pretty serious charge to leave unanswered -- even worse than being labeled a "Socialist."
The article leaves us readers ready to dismiss the "Anti-Christ" phenomenon as another piece of American weirdness.
Given its Internet legs, and the fact that the apocalpyse guessing-game has such deep roots in our culture, I'm not convinced. I'd like to see someone tackle this story in-depth -- and take it a little more seriously.
(A few years ago, on 6/6/06, a National Public Radio reporter did a super job of collecting "666 Trivia," including the fact that ancient Hebrew, Greek and other languages didn't actually have characters to indicate numbers (thus the practice of numerology) and that the number 666 is part of every UPC barcode and the sum of all the numbers of a typical roulette wheel.)