Archive for August 16th, 2008
A friend of mine from high school once told me that he thought Ronald Reagan was the anti-Christ. Ronald Wilson Reagan has six letters each for his first, middle and last name — 666. He was charismatic, used religion, and people feared he wanted war. Of course, he ultimately made a peaceful end of the Cold War more likely by working with Gorbachev, even as hawks in his administration warned him not to, and died back in 2004 without causing the end of the world.
Back in 1988 I was working on a paper for a seminar in grad school comparing Charles De Gaulle and Napoleon III of France. At the University of Minnesota library I found a book published in 1860 (Napoleon III ruled from 1848 – 1870) that made a powerful case for seeing Louis Napoleon (Nap III’s real name) as the Antichrist. Everything from 666 to a myriad of prophecies were laid out, and Louis Napoleon filled all of them. The nephew of the famous Napoleon I, however, turned out not to be so dangerous. While Napoleon I conquered virtually all of Europe before he met his Waterloo, Napoleon III was so repulsed by the site of blood that in 1860 he ended a war with Austria, started to help Piedmont unify Italy, early in the fighting. Ten years later in 1870 Napoleon III surrendered quickly to Prussia in the Franco-Prussian war, ending his rule. The end of the world would have to wait.
John, writing on the island of Patmos during Nero’s reign (around 68 AD), had an obvious target: Nero and the Roman empire. This probably wasn’t the same John who wrote the gospel, though church traditions differ on that. All of the prophecies, including the number 666 describe Nero and Rome. In fact, Nero in Hebrew comes out to 666, in Latin it’s 616, and both numbers can be found in different translations of the book of Revelation. One has to wonder if the writer could fathom that his vitriol against Rome would inspire political websites as such “Barack Obama the Anti-Christ?” A John McCain ad tongue in cheek uses Obama’s quotes and visuals to arguably hint at similarities between Obama and the Antichrist. Most people will see it as criticizing Obama’s alleged arrogance, but to Christian extremists the message will be clear: there could be something Satanic about Obama.
When I was about 13 or 14 years old, visiting my Grandma in Mankato Minnesota, I was bored. She lived downtown right on Front Street (her old building no longer stands, it’s part of a mall — to people who know Mankato, it was above a store I believe called Fisher’s, which I think sold men’s clothing). So I easily could go to various stores, and at a one large store I can still picture (sort of a general store, a pre-Walmart discount place) I found a book called The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. I devoured that book, became convinced that the end of the world was near, and watched as well for signs of some coming destruction. I grew out of that within a year (and now that I’m a scholar specializing in Europe I realize how insane some of his claims about the then EC (now EU) — the future home of the Antichrist, in his opinion — actually were), but I recall the kind of excitement and sense of destiny that a belief that one is leaving in a time of cataclysmic and historic change brings.
Obviously, I consider all this “antichrist” talk silly. Martin Luther in the days of the reformation considered the Pope the antichrist, but not because he expected the world to end, only because he thought the Church immoral in saying people had to go through the Church to connect with God. Not believing any particular religious tradition, I dismiss all this all as absurd on its face. Frankly, I don’t believe there is a Christ or an anti-Christ (though I thoroughly respect and admire the moral teachings of Jesus, as well as other great moral/spiritual teachers, like the Buddha, Gandhi, Mohammad, etc.) However, I find the way people grab on to these end of the world myths as fascinating.
End of the world myths and cults have been common throughout history. Near the millenium (1000) people were so convinced the world was about to end that many sold their land and possessions and waited — only to be very disappointed. The idea one is living in tumultuous and historic times is intriguing. Look at the subheading of my blog — I clearly am not totally over the kind of thinking that led me to obsess on these issues in my early teen years. My belief that these are “times of crisis and transformation” could be a secular manifestation of the way some religious folk grab on to end of the world myths. We all want to have excitement and thrill in our lives; some get it through extreme sports, through various personal risk taking and the like. Others get it through work, family, or maybe current events.
But it’s very easy to go from that excitement to actually seeing others as evil, or the self as good. Islam for some and the West for others is a scourge that must be eradicated. This kind of thinking fed the Nazi antipathy for the Jews, Pol Pot’s desire to eliminate foreign and western influences, and many of the world’s atrocities. Getting caught up in myths makes it possible to rationalize the otherwise irrational, to shape ones’ world view in ways that make evil seem right, and right seem wrong. Mythic thinking can be secular or religious, and at its most powerful it is seen as simply being truth, the way things are.
There are many Obama supporters caught up in a myth that Obama is larger than life, and will bring radical change. Not likely. He is a politician working in a system that is not under the control of any President. The leader makes a difference, but is severely constrained. Others, both the anti-Obama “puma” types and the radical right, see Obama as this kind of evil entity who is unwarranted to be in a position to become President. It may be a mix of race, youth, inexperience or a foreign sounding name, but it comes together in a way which sees Obama as something dangerous and even evil. In fact, it seems that when Obama supporters talk to these types, especially the few “pumas” out there, the anti-Obama people accuse them of having Obama as their “messiah.” They clearly see this all in mythical terms.
Wake up call. Obama isn’t the anti-Christ. Obama and McCain are both decent men it seems, with different positions. Both will rely on advisors most people would not recognize to make big calls, both are part of a system which limits what they can do as President. It’s not good vs. evil, it’s not the end of the world either way. When people start finding themselves getting caught up in the kind of larger than life mythology of any sort, pro or con on any candidate, it’s time to go out, take a walk, avoid reading about politics for awhile, and remember that it’s just two humans competing for a job. An important job, we should take it seriously, but no matter who ends up winning, it’s OK.