Ever since I was a kid and got Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast, the weird numerology of the Book of Revelation has always weirded me out. It didn’t make much sense to me then that mainstream religion could accommodate grim eschatological ruminations; little did I know that was one of religion’s primary purposes. I remember trying to read Revelation, thinking it would be like cool, doomy sci-fi, and ending up disappointed that despite its many quotable images, it was basically incomprehensible and unreadable. I wouldn’t encounter something that inscrutable until I tried reading Spengler. Later I tried reading one of the Left Behind books in the same spirit and had to abandon that project right away. The idea of other people reading that stuff and taking it seriously was very upsetting. The U.S. functions on working compromises, yet not too far below the surface is an apocalyptic spirituality that communes with and yearns for the end-times, a mentality that cannot possibly brook the notion of compromise and enjoys a kind of ecstatic obstinacy that celebrates the failure of civic, secular society.
So, that’s probably I found this Dave Emory-ish 3qD essay by Richard Eskow about biometric ID cards and alarm bells they may sound for evangelical Christians fascinating. Did you know that every bar code bears the number of the beast? Do you know about the “tribulation period”? Are you ready to “renounce your faith” and “receive your identification”?
The essay picks up on a Bible passage, Revelation 13:17: “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.” In other words, without an ID card, you can’t participate in the economy—an idea often touted in immigration-reform debates by moderates. Eskow thus contends that immigration reform may push evangelicals to even higher levels of end-times paranoia. The fear of being marked and counted by a repressive state is not unreasonable, as much of 20th century history shows, and it must have been a pretty salient threat for early Christians under the Romans as well. Secular society has come to address that fear with a robust concept of privacy (that captains of digital industry keep telling us are anachronistic). The video clips Eskow includes of evangelicals exposing the truth about bar codes are really, really creepy—especially the second part of the second one, which is like a freaked-out, Christianized snuff film. Ditto for the clip titled “Balloons and Beheadings.”
In language and content, this law almost seems designed to trigger apocalyptic fears. And just when it seems the symbolism can’t get any worse, it gets worse. Way worse. What’s the name of the proposed “national biometric ID system”? ”Believe.” That’s an acronym for “Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.” But it might just as well be a neon sign indicating that we’ve just instituted the false One World Church, the Whore of Babylon and consorter with kings described in the prophecies and feared in church communities across rural America.
As Eskow suggests, this sort of sentiment is why Bush failed to pass immigration reform—some on the right are nativists and racists dead-set against the “pollution” of America, others are evangelicals convinced that immigration reform is a stalking horse for one-world government and the whore of Babylon.