I was fascinated with all things Antichrist growing up. Whether the 1972 film “A Thief in the Night” or Salem Kirban’s novel “666,” I couldn’t get enough about the end times and this villain of villains.
I was terrified to realize that Ronald Wilson Reagan had three sets of six-letter words to his name. When Pope John Paul II was shot, I pondered if this would be the survived injury that I saw my Bible as predicting the Antichrist would miraculously recover from. The one thing I was sure of was that the Antichrist would be revealed soon, what with living in the end times and all.
Imagine my great disappointment upon eventually learning that the Antichrist of the biblical book of Revelation likely was code for the Roman emperor Nero, not someone on the evening news. Thankfully biblical scholars are not often listened to, so the game of Antichrist-hunting continues to provide hours of unabated entertainment among Christian fundamentalists and others worldwide.
The idea of the ultimate evil one tricking the world into worshiping him is forever appealing, particularly when knowing that in the end he is to be defeated and cast “alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”
The idea of decoding the 666 secret and identifying his helper, “the false prophet that wrought miracles before him,” heightens the intrigue. One popular theory is that bar codes have a symbol for six at the beginning, middle and end, so the prophecy is fulfilled that we cannot buy or sell without this mark; perhaps we all will be tattooed with a barcode. Again, how crushing that the author of Revelation was signaling to Christians of his time that their persecutor Nero would be defeated, not us about bar codes.
An Internet search of “antichrist Hillary Clinton” turns up about 480,000 results, while one for “antichrist Donald Trump” turns up around 494,000. If there were any doubt that one can prove almost anything by stringing together small excerpts from any book a couple of inches thick — whether the Bible, the collected works of Shakespeare or the Quran — check out these websites.
You might as well squander time on Sudoku or Pokémon hunts as try to align micro-clues from scattered Bible verses with each wannabe leader crossing the headlines.
A more useful if devilish deduction is actually consistent with the idea of the Antichrist (i.e., contrary to the teachings of Christ) and requires far less tea-leaf reading. Asked the most important commandment, Jesus said loving God, then immediately added loving your neighbor. Asked who is a neighbor, Jesus used a parable involving the much-despised Samaritans to say it is likely the person you least find likable.
You could hear a thousand modern sermons and never guess it, but Jesus said nothing in the Bible about getting politically involved, abortion, homosexuality, protecting the environment or universal health care. Instead, the much harder assignment is loving your neighbor.
The essence of the Antichrist would thus be someone who teaches us to hate our neighbor. One who identifies a group (e.g. Samaritans) as despicable and scapegoats them. The genocidal hall of fame — with members like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot — is full of leaders constantly on a purge, forever seeking an elusive purity in ethnicity, belief or both.
Proceed with your Antichrist quest this election season. Just don’t waste time decoding names. Instead ask yourself which candidate(s) spend the most time telling us whom to hate and why, encouraging collective punishment of those impure in ethnicity or belief. Then cast them alive into a ballot box of fire, lest you too be culpable.
[This column originally appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald on October 16, 2016.]