Mark of the Beast: 666 reasons to look for religion angle in microchips installed in employees' hands

A technology company's plan to install microchips in employees' hands has been making the rounds on social media the last few days.

ABC News notes that the chips — not the chocolate kind — will allow workers "to enter the office, log into computers and even buy a snack or two with just a swipe of a hand."

"Want those vending machine snacks without digging for change? There's an implant for that!" proclaims the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth.

How convenient! (And creepy!)

My friend Alan Cochrum, a former copy editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, posted the story on my Facebook page and issued a challenge to me:

Your next religion-coverage mission, should you choose to accept it: See how many reporters pick up/report on the reaction to this in some religious circles, and how many don't or are completely baffled by it.

It sounds like Cochrum sees a potential holy ghost (or perhaps 666 of them) in these microchips.

Another GetReligion reader — Texas journalist and author Deann Alford — also called our attention to this story. In an email, she wrote:

Yes, I knew about the technology, which is routine now from pets adopted from shelters. It’s been around more than a decade. Our cats Weasley and Murph both have chips. Lusia, who went to kitty heaven in 2015 at age 21, did not.
A stunning one-big-happy-family story that has ZERO about what this ushers in. Thing is, with horrid Bible literacy rates in society, even in the church, not surprising that the journalist raises no alarms about this. The only voice of dissent included in this otherwise cheery story has to do with privacy concerns.
Without revelation from Revelation in the story, in this age of ever-rising identity theft, what’s a reader not to love about a secure way to do transactions? 

So apparently, the religion angle has something to do with Revelation. (Yikes! I am no expert on that.)

I did find one news story — via NBC News — that mentions religion:

Three Square Market is partnering with Swedish-based BioHax International to install the technology, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for the marketing of the VeriChip to medical patients.
Privacy protections were among the concerns when it was first rolled out, and fundamentalist religious groups publicly objected to the tiny tags as being the "mark of the beast" mentioned in the Bible's Book of Revelation.

OK, the Mark of the Beast enters the picture, as do — at least according to NBC — "fundamentalist religious groups." 

I asked my friend David Duncan, a preacher in Houston, for some insight. He told me he doesn't see the microchips as the Mark of the Beast but simply "the mark of a company wanting to invade my privacy."

But Duncan also shared some helpful articles with me, including a piece from a website called RealTruth.org that delves into the subject:

Despite obvious benefits, the technology causes uneasiness for many, particularly with recent concerns over privacy violations and the improper handling of sensitive data. Clearly, if someone can read it, then there is always someone who can hack into it.
For others, though, it sparks thoughts of George Orwell’s 1984 or the biblical mark of the Beast described in the book of Revelation.
Many prophecy watchers and evangelical Christians are convinced that an RFID chip inserted into one’s body is this prophesied mark. Articles, books and websites offer a cacophony of wildly different ideas on this subject. Self-proclaimed experts merely contribute to the confusion.

In a 2013 article, prominent pastor Greg Laurie — whose move to the Southern Baptist Convention recently made headlines — commented on the significance of the Beast and 666.

Meanwhile, a legal column in the Miami Herald this week offers an interesting case study under the headline "When an employee complains about the 'mark of the beast,' you better listen":

A recent federal appeals court ruling has reiterated the rights of employees when it comes to their religious beliefs — in this case, the “mark of the beast.”
Beverly R. Butcher worked for 37 years as a coal miner in West Virginia at a mine owned by Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy. In 2012, Consol installed a biometric hand scanner to track employees’ comings and goings. Butcher, a lifelong evangelical Christian, objected to use of the hand scanner. His reason? He believed that using the hand scanner would leave him branded with the mark of the beast, allowing him to be manipulated by the Antichrist.
Consol did not accommodate Butcher. Instead, the company provided him with its own interpretation of the Scriptures. In a letter to Butcher, Consol explained that because the mark of the beast is associated only with the right hand or the forehead, use of the left hand in the scanner would leave him “markless,” so to speak.
Butcher retired under protest, choosing his religious belief over his job. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought suit on behalf of Butcher. In 2015, a jury awarded Butcher nearly $600,000 in damages. Consol appealed. In a unanimous June 2017 decision, which has implications for employers in Florida and throughout the U.S., the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict and issued a terse reminder to employers about what to do when an employee raises a religious objection to an employment practice.

Yes, easy access to snacks is one aspect of the microchips story. But providing readers with the full picture will require journalists to get into Beast mode, too.

Finally, I leave you with a question — prepare to groan — from my GetReligion colleague Mark Kellner:

So who gets chip #666? #AskingForAFriend
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