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Apocalypse Now? Christian Fundamentalists and COVID-19

2021-06-19, 12:01pm Op-Ed

Jan Lundius-28dc6daa62a0982e16d58130f4d6ba281624082461.jpg

Jan Lundius. Creative Commons

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Jun 17 2021 (IPS) - Getting hard to breathe
hard to believe in anything at all, but fear. Peter Gabriel, Mother of Violence
Like most male Swedes of my age, I had to enter obligatory military service for almost a year. In my barrack was a “born-again-Christian” who when he became angry shouted, “Now you mock me, but when the Last Judgement has come I will sit in heaven and smile down at you while you burn in Hell!” Since then I have wondered about the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. It was written by a frustrated Christian man who by the end of 100 CE by Roman authorities had been deported to an isolated island where he wrote a long letter to Christian congregations in Asia Minor.
After rebuking his Christian brethren, John’s language became increasingly bewildering, telling the receivers of his letter that a gate had opened in the sky, while a mighty voice commanded: “Come up here and I will show you what happens next.” Standing by God’s throne John witnesses his wrath striking the earth. Four demonic riders sweep down. One of them, “followed by the Kingdom of Death”, is given power over a quarter of the world, killing its inhabitants with famine and plague.
We are far removed from the teachings of the carpenter from Nazareth, the Jesus who preached love and compassion, answering violence by turning the other cheek and declaring that: “All those who draw the sword will die by the sword.” However in the Book of Revelation, he is depicted as carrying a scythe which he uses “to cut down his harvest”. Blood flows across the earth “in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle.” The sea turns into blood, while the sun scorches the earth. In anguish, humans bite their tongues into bleeding flesh, while carbuncles cover their bodies. The earth is cracked open by earthquakes, hail mixed with blood rains down and falling stars kill off the suffering humans.
Page after page is filled with horrors, while the “saved ones” rejoice. Not without reason, scholars who during the second century CE selected books to be included in the Christian Bible had serious doubts about this vengeful scripture. Dionysus, the patriarch of Alexandria, wrote by the beginning of 200 CE: “Some before us have set aside and rejected the book altogether, criticising it chapter by chapter, and pronouncing it without sense or argument, and maintaining that the title is fraudulent. For they say it is not the work of John, nor is it a revelation because it is covered thickly and densely by a veil of obscurity.”
It is difficult to understand how nice and pious people actually believe that this abominable and spiteful book is the unequivocal “Word of God”. I am familiar with otherwise sensible persons who believe that the vindictive Revelation advises them to avoid the COVID-19 vaccine and thus expose themselves – and even worse – their fellow human beings to mortal danger.
On websites, fundamentalist pastors and doomsday prophets refer to their favourite scripture – the Book of Revelation – in particular its thirteenth chapter, which among many oddities proclaims that “the second Beast” will force “all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so they could not buy or sell unless they had the Mark, which is the name of the Beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the Beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” It is doubtful if this statement really “calls for wisdom”, for sure it has called for idiocy.
For more than two thousand years people have counted letters in innumerable names to prove that the bearer actually is an incarnation of the Beast. Someone even assumed that former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was the Beast, since a letter count of his complete name – Ronald Wilson Reagan, resulted in 666, while his private home address had been 666 St. Cloud Road. It is not only persons that are associated with 666 – Corona has six letters and the bill presented to the U.S. House of Representatives for providing funds for COVID-testing was coincidentally labelled H.R. 6666. Anyone might find strange coincidences by combining numbers and accordingly, some people have tried to find the hidden message of the Number of the Beast. They have for example pointed out that if 666 is written with Roman numerals it becomes DCLXV and thus contains every Roman numeral except M (1000) while their value decreases from 500 to 1, D = 500, C = 100, L = 50, X = 10, V = 5, I = 1. Does it mean anything? I don’t think so.
Almost any symbol has by one or another crank been interpreted as the Mark of the Beast. During the last fifty years any serial number; social security numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers, postcodes, bank accounts, SIM cards, as well as bar codes like the Universal Product Code (UPC), and a wide variety of similar markings like the Aztec Code, data matrices, QR codes and a host of designations and symbols with similar functions, have been interpreted as Marks of the Beast.
It is almost inconceivable how religious fundamentalists prefer implausible delusions and deceptions instead of simple explanations. Like any other letter, John’s Revelation was written within a specific temporal and geographical context. If we look at the Greek word charagma, which John uses for “mark”, it equalled any mark engraved, imprinted, or branded, as well as stamped documents and coins.
During John’s lifetime, Christians were persecuted for not making offerings for the welfare of the emperor, who officially was considered a divine being. John’s contemporary emperor and fierce persecutor of Christians was undoubtedly an insensitive “beast”. Suetonius (70-122 CE) described Domitian, Roman emperor 81-96 CE, as being “hated and feared everywhere”. A megalomaniac who demanded to be referred to as “Lord and God”. Once he wined and dined with his palace steward, lavishing him with kindness, only to crucify him the day after, just to prove that “he could do so”.
With reason John and his fellow Christians considered Domitian as “Anti-Christ” and worshipping him would be to worship the Beast. When John writes that people “could not buy or sell unless they had the Mark”, it might actually mean the Roman coins, which were stamped with Domitian’s picture, as well as official documents and contracts bearing his seal. However, John furthermore stated that the “mark” would be placed on the “right hand or the forehead.” This prophecy finds its source in the Jewish scripture Psalms of Solomon, which mentions how a mark is being stamped on evil people, though visible only to God and his angels.
How can these ancient notions be connected with a COVID-19 vaccine introduced in April 2021, while the concept “vaccine” did not exist before 1796 when Edward Jenner used it to denominate his cure for smallpox? The allure of the Mark of the Beast is that it may be applied to almost anything, something that the Church Father Irenaeus had discovered already by the end of 100 CE. Any enemy, any fear, may be connected with it, most recently the so-called RFID.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) has quite recently made it possible to, at a distance, read the information contained in a tag. A tag may be a microchip small enough to through a syringe be injected under the skin. Such a chip can be used to track a person and may also contain essential information about her/him – an extremely advanced improvement of social security numbers and UPCs. RFID chips were originally operated into hands, but can now be injected into almost anybody's tissue. This while Neuralink Corporation, a neurotechnology company founded by centi-billionaire Elon Musk, is developing a “sewing machine-like” device to implant microscopically thin threads into the human brain to create a “digital layer above the cortex”. This addition to the brain is supposed to enhance brainpower through a “symbiosis” between biological and artificial intelligence. For a Christian fundamentalist, these endeavours may undeniably be connected with the Revelation’s prophecy about the Mark of the Beast as being placed on the “right hand or the forehead.”
However, microchips have nothing at all to do with vaccinating against a killer like COVID-19. To connect nanotechnology with a sentence in a two thousand years old, extremely convoluted text, which furthermore rambled against enemies of the true faith, is a harmful way of applying twisted and outright dangerous beliefs to health issues. To connect conspiracy theories with unproven, vindictive musings, which furthermore were considered as spurious by several founding fathers of Christianity, borders on criminal behaviour since it may lead to the death of at least thousands of people.
For thousands of years, bigots have imaginatively connected the Book of Revelation with current issues, which today happen to be vaccines, chip implants, and SIM cards. For the benefit of humanity, we ought instead of falling victims to ridiculous speculations, be careful not to confuse personal convictions with the assumed meanings of an ancient, religious text. If we are religiously inclined it would be better to adhere to the Golden Rule of treating others as we want to be treated ourselves. A notion that actually is common in Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and many other religions.
Bauer, Luce Oliver and E. Marshall Wilder (2020) The Microchip Revolution: A Brief History. Piscataway NJ: IEEE Xplore. Bohlinger, Tavis (2020) https://academic.logos.com/the-covid-vaccine-has-666-written-all-over-it-and-why-that-doesnt-matter-according-to-revelation/ Eusebius (1990) The History of the Church. London: Penguin Classics.
Jan Lundius holds a PhD. in History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.