Normally I’m not such a big fan of McDonalds. But there’s one just down the road a piece in Shepherdstown, where I attend college, so the last few years I’ve been a more frequent customer. Recently, perhaps out of sheer necessity, I’ve developed a taste for their mushroom and swiss angus burger. It features a more substantial and realistic simulacrum of beef than some of their other burgers, some tasty sliced mushrooms, and a generous slather of mayonnaise (I almost said “healthy slather” . . .). Since my personal health strategy is to die as young as possible to avoid those costly medical expenses later in life, I always order the large combo, which includes a huge red holster of french fries and a large plastic cup of ice that may also contain a trace amount of Coca-Cola. The total cost at my local Shepherdstown McDonalds, after tax, is $6.66.
There’s no reason to take any special notice of that, unless you’re really into symmetry in your fast food prices. I do take special note of it, though. I look forward to hearing the lady working the drive-thru say, “Six-sixty-six!” That’s because the prevailing superstition around these parts is Christianity, and it attaches a special significance to that triplet of sixes. According to chapter 13, verses 17-18 of the Book of Revelation, it’s the Number of the Beast:
And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.
Like a good portion of the Bible, this is fevered drivel that probably wouldn’t have meant a hell of a lot to the people it was actually written for, and means absolutely nothing to us. Unless you are a Christian with a paranoid streak, that is, in which case every random occurrence of three successive sixes could potentially herald the coming of the end of days. There’s plenty of room for interpretation, because as you can see, the schizophrenic shut-in who wrote Revelations never tells us what the number of the beast means, or even what it actually is.
I’ve found plenty of theories. After Googling “666 mark of the beast” I found four websites with addresses based on that phrase. They all have their own . . . interesting(?) ideas about what the number and mark of the beast means, and what to look for to make sure that you — as a good Christian, ya know — can avoid it.
Apparently, according to the first page of www.666mark-of-the-beast.org, “Prophecy minded Christians of today imagine that 666 and the mark of the beast will come from the devil and will be enforced by the Antichrist and will be used to control buying and selling, and they assume it will be centred around some kind of high tech computer technology.” Ah, but as the writer astutely points out at the end of that paragraph, “The Bible does not specifically say it will be a ‘miniature biochip’ or even that it will involve technology at all. These modern words, ‘computer,’ ‘biochip,’ ‘technology,’ ‘bar code,’ and ‘scanner’ do not appear in Revelation. People just assume that it will happen this way.”
If I felt like being a dick, I could point out that one reason why the Bible never mentions things like “miniature biochips” and “computers” is because it was written in a pre-technological culture by ordinary human beings without divine supernatural inspiration, and there was no way they could possibly have foreseen such things, which is too bad, since detailed descriptions of modern technology thousands of years before the fact would have been a neat way for God to prove that the Bible is his inspired word, and also that he, you know, exists. If I felt like being a dick.
After the writer of this 666 Mark of the Beast website scolds us for speculating on what Bible prophecy actually means, he gets to his real point:
John said that in his time there were MANY Antichrists and anyone that denies Jesus came in the flesh is antichrist. . . . This for example would include a Church that denies Jesus came in the flesh by saying that Christ took on the sinless nature of Mary’s flesh.
Ohhh, you feel it comin’? No? Let me help you out some.
John is also pointing out that Antichrist means in place of Christ and not just against Christ. So who claims to be God on Earth and places himself in place of Christ? Which Church broke away from the early Church and makes this blasphemous claim?
Care to hazard a guess? If not, don’t worry. We’re almost there.
Today in the Catholic Church they allege that every Priest has power to forgive sins. . . . No man on Earth can forgive sins. . . .
The Papacy also regularly make claims to take the place of God on Earth, which is clearly according to the Word of God blasphemous. . . . As stated previously, the beast makes many blasphemous claims and this is another Biblical definition for blasphemy and criteria for identifying the beast enforcing the mark.
Remember that the apostle John demonstrated that antichrist came from the early Church and he also demonstrated that antichrist was in place of God. Does the Pope put himself in place of Christ, and hence match the definition of antichrist?
Yeah, the whole mark of the beast thing was just an excuse to get to some good ol’ fashioned Catholic bashing! It’s always fun when they start eating their own, ain’t it? But why does this guy feel the need to take shots at Holy Mother Church? Is it because of its long-standing subjugation of women? Its dangerous and nonsensical opposition to birth control? Its very apparent material wealth, which contradicts the teachings of Jesus on the importance of meekness and humility? Its decades-long denial and concealment of an epidemic of child-rape perpetrated by priests? No, no, no, no, stupid! — because the Catholic Church’s make-believe theology is different than the author’s make-believe theology!
At least he’s got a good reason. But what about 666? What’s up with that? Our man has the answer:
So 666 is the number of a man’s name and Revelation says that this man is the head of this antichrist beast power. Since the beast power is the Papal Church, it is not hard to work out who the most prominent man of this system is. The Pope wears a triple tiered crown which signifies he is the king of Heaven and Earth and Purgatory. This of course is obviously wrong. There is a King of Kings and His name is Jesus Christ our Lord. He is King of Heaven and King of Earth and since there is no purgatory, that one can go to the Bishop of Rome. On the original crown are inscribed the words in Latin, the Papal title “VICARIUS FILII DEI”, which means “Vicar of Christ” or Substitute for Christ, which is synonymous with Antichrist, i.e., assuming the power of God on earth. The literal meaning of each word of this Papal title is as follows: VICARIUS - substituting for, or in place of, FILII - means son and DEI - means God.
And how the hell does this guy know 666 is the number of the Pope? Remember that old papal title Vicarius Filii Dei, because it’s important. Check this shit out:
V=5 F=0 D=500
I=1 I=1 E=0
C=100 L=50 I=1
Total 112 + 53 + 501 = 666
Can’t argue with that. It’s math.
There was one other thing this guy said that caught my eye:
Some believe 666 and the mark is a microchip injected into the hand or forehead. Others feel it may be connected to a credit or national health card or even a bar code or tattoo.
Last night Ashley and I were watching the “Creationism” episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (which is the best fucking show, by the way), and one of the clueless yokels who was advocating for teaching the Biblical creation account in science class somehow got on the subject of the mark of the beast and cited, as proof that such a thing is not as far-fetched as it sounds to rational people, that “everybody has tattoos!”
He’s got me there. But does that mean that every girl with one of those trendy-trashy tattoos on the small of her back is actually a willing servant of the Evil One and will spend eternity burning in the Lake of Fire? I sure hope so. But how the fuck do you decode “666” from a little butterfly inked on some college student’s ass cheek?
Maybe the mark of the beast isn’t just any tattoo, like that idiot creationist suggested, but rather a tattoo of a barcode. This is apparently a popular belief among apocalyptically-minded fundamentalists who eagerly await the day when God will swoop down from Heaven and annihilate their non-Christian friends and loved ones. It’s also commonly believed (among Bible-prophecy-reading dipshits) that the number 666 is secretly encoded in every UPC barcode. Jerry Whiting, founder of Azalea Software, writer of the delightful JetCityOrange blog, and barcode expert, explains:
The logic goes that when the shit hits the fan (Book of Revelation) no one will be able to do commerce without the mark of the beast on one’s right hand or forehead. Error one: barcodes are on boxes of corn flakes, bottles of shampoo, and six-packs of beer, not on people. I can buy any of these items with a twenty dollar bill, no UPC tattoo required. . . .
All the fuss is about the left, middle, and right guard bars within a UPC barcode. The guard bars are visual reference points that aid scanners in deciding what type of barcode is being read. In and of themselves, they don’t encode any information. There’s really no “6” in them.
Jerry also has a short page of 666 trivia that is a fuck of a lot more interesting than most of this mark of the beast stuff.
Here’s my favorite thing I’ve discovered about the number of the beast: it’s not even 666.
. . . Well, technically speaking, since there’s no beast and it’s all silly religious bullshit, there is no “number of the beast.” What I really mean is, 666 was not the original number warned about in the Book of Revelation. It appears that 666 as the number of the beast was added to the original text long after it was first written. Like many other well-known bits of scripture, it’s an obvious revision. Check out this 2005 article originally from Canada’s National Post:
A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist. . . .
The tiny fragment of 1,500-year-old papyrus is written in Greek, the original language of the New Testament, and contains a key passage from the Book of Revelation.
Where more conventional versions of the Bible give 666 as the “number of the beast,” or the sign of the anti-Christ whose coming is predicted in the book’s apocalyptic verses, the older version uses the Greek letters signifying 616.
“This is very early confirmation of that number, earlier than any other text we’ve found of that passage,” Dr. [Ellen] Aitken [a professor of early Christian history at McGill University] said. “It’s probably about 100 years before any other version.”
Why was this alteration made to the flawless and eternal Word of the Living God? For a very human reason: 666 is just easier to remember. It’s a lot more ominous, too. I’ve always thought The Omen was a splendidly awful movie, but imagine how much worse it would be if Gregory Peck had snuck into his young son’s room, clipped off a bit of his hair and discovered to his horror a mark in the shape of . . . six hundred sixteen? Yeah, that would’ve been spooky . . .
I find a lot of this strangely fascinating, but it’s all ultimately pissing in the wind. There is no antichrist, there never will be, so the meaning of the mark and number of the beast is of no more importance than, say, the answer to the riddle of the sphinx. Which is lucky for me. I’d hate to have to give up my mushroom and swiss angus burgers. At least before the heart disease sets in.