End times theology in the age of Obama

By Amarnath Amarasingam Kenneth Alex Randolf is a fifty-six year old former lawyer living in Seattle. When Barack Obama announced … Continued

By Amarnath Amarasingam

Kenneth Alex Randolf is a fifty-six year old former lawyer living in Seattle. When Barack Obama announced his presidential aspirations in 2008, Randolf got to work on a blog that soon attracted some attention, and was later featured on CNN. The blog presented several pages of evidence – some numerological, some astrological, some Biblical – for his overall argument: Barack Obama was the Antichrist. It is not really known how many people in the United States believe this, but what remains evident is that apocalypticism – and right-wing populism more broadly – is alive and well in the United States.

One of the individuals who first put apocalypticism on the bestseller lists in the United States was a charismatic preacher named Hal Lindsey. His book, The Late Great Planet Earth, was published in 1970 and has sold over 35 million copies to date. Apocalyptic thinking entered American politics on the back of an individual deeply inspired by Lindsey’s book. Ronald Reagan was so influenced by Lindsey’s book, that he wanted his military leaders to fully understand its significance. With Reagan’s blessing, Lindsey was invited to brief the Pentagon on the “divine implications” of their hostilities with the Soviet Union. No other president in recent history has allied apocalypticism and national security with such ease.

Speculation about the identity of the Antichrist has also been a constant presence in the United States. In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy was suspected by some writers. After his death, a few waited for Kennedy to rise from his coffin, pointing to the Book of Revelation, which states that the Beast would survive a head wound. In the 1970s, Henry Kissinger was a suspect, as well as Ayatollah Khomeini (during the hostage crisis), Saddam Hussein (during the Gulf War), and Osama bin Laden (after 9/11). Beginning during the 2008 election cycle, the Internet began teeming with speculation about Obama. Emails circulated widely and amateur videos were posted on YouTube proclaiming strange personality and numerological resemblances between Obama and Biblical statements about the Antichrist.

One of the most popular videos propounding that Obama is the Antichrist is entitled, “Did Jesus Give Us the Name of the Antichrist?” The narrator of the video points to Luke 10:18, which states, “And he said unto them, I saw Satan as lightning falling from the heights.” The video notes that Jesus probably spoke Aramaic, and since Aramaic is the “most ancient form of Hebrew” (which is false) it holds that we can translate the key terms in this verse into Hebrew to see what they really mean. The narrator says that, according to the Strong Hebrew Dictionary, the word for lightning is ‘baraq’. Similarly, the word for heights is ‘bamah’. The narrator then points out that the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, waw, is often transliterated as a ‘u’ or ‘o’ and is mostly used as a conjunction. Thus, “I saw Satan as lightening falling from the heights” would, in Hebrew, be: “I saw Satan as baraq o’bamah”. For a thorough treatment and debunking of this popular viral video, see Michael Heiser’s PaleoBabble blog.

Another viral video, one which Randolf also takes as strong evidence, argues that Obama’s name actually adds up to 666. It approaches the issue through the use of numerology and Gematria (the Hebrew system of assigning numerical value to words and phrases). According to the video, Barack in Arabic means ‘blessed’, Hussein in Arabic means ‘handsome’, and Obama is an African word meaning ‘leaning’. The video notes that when the Gematria values of blessed (246), handsome (268), and leaning (152) are added together, the sum is 666.

In addition to such obvious contributions by religious tenets, the internet must be seen as one of the main driving forces behind the persistence of apocalyptic thinking and right-wing populism more generally. This can be understood in two ways. First, the ease with which blogs, forums, and websites are created has given rise to an alternative media, existing outside traditional sources of information, and varying in size and reliability. The internet becomes hugely important for right-wing populists who nurse a deep sense that the individual is under attack, and express a fundamental distrust of those who produce knowledge and sanction truth. On the internet, any individual regardless of education or expertise can create websites, dialogue with others in forums or message boards, and produce viral video clips that may be viewed by millions of people.

Second, the internet fosters an environment in which individuals more easily interact with people who think like them. “Instead of getting together with people who are close to us physically, now we can get together with people who are close to us ideologically, psychically, emotionally, aesthetically,” says Farhad Manjoo in his book True Enough. In other words, the internet has the potential to create ghettos or enclaves where alternative viewpoints dare not enter. These enclaves only reinforce a belief among right-wing populists and apocalyptic writers that they are privy to certain kinds of knowledge that the rest of society is unable or unwilling to see. They are the embattled vanguards of a fight that the rest of the world does not even realize is taking place.

It is uncertain the extent to which online communities and enclaves, which exist only on the web, have an impact on actual politics. The internet is most powerful – as seen in the Tea Party movement – when it adds to the mobilization already taking place on the ground. When I asked Randolf whether he planned to take his views to the streets, he argued that the streets of the twenty-first century are on the internet. “If done properly and if the circumstances are just right,” he says, “it’s clearly possible to reach hundreds of millions of people on those ‘streets’. In terms of cost-effectiveness, time consumption, over-coming language and cultural and national barriers, there are no better ‘streets’ to be active on.” Randolf is optimistic, but it remains to be seen whether the rallying cries and slogans of socio-religious movements can be heard when shouted solely, or even primarily, from within the dark alleys of cyberspace.

Amarnath Amarasingam is a doctoral candidate in the Laurier-Waterloo PhD in Religious Studies in Ontario, Canada, and is the editor of Religion and the New Atheism: A Critical Appraisal.

  • PSolus

    I am probably not the anti-christ.

  • Jihadist

    I am a Prochrist in the upcoming Apocalypse in 2012. Oh wait, for some People of the Book, I am the Antichrist too and not just Barack Hussein Obama.

  • volkmare

    Amarnath Interesting how you focus on “right wing” bloggers and never mention that the left-wing bloggers are more dominant on the internet.Mark

  • GeirSmith

    Hi,

  • PSolus

    volkmare,”Amarnath Interesting how you focus on “right wing” bloggers and never mention that the left-wing bloggers are more dominant on the internet.”Can you name any “left-wing” bloggers who call Obama the antichrist?always seek to obfuscate.

  • WmarkW

    In the religion section of my local used bookstore, in the part where they stock cheap paperbacks, there’s a half-century of titles proclaiming Mao-Tse Tung, Leonid Breshnev, Anwar Sadat, Ayatolla Khomeini, Michail Gorbachev and Saddam Hussein to be the anti-Christ.Apparently the anti-Christ is anyone hated by the stupid arm of the right wing.

  • WmarkW

    But what’s more worrisome is the likelihood that support for American military involvement is correlated with a belief in biblical prophesy. They support it because they WANT nuclear war.

  • jontomus

    “…this will send a chill up your spine …”The only thing that sends a chill up my spine is the virulent insanity so widespread among you freak christians.You fear the world, you fear people who aren’t like you, you fear reality to such an extent that you swim in the fetid delusions handed down to you by preceding generations of equal cowards.You cowards have been screaming End Of The World for 2,000 years already. Nobody who can think believes you.If it’s the end of the world, if it’s time to go meet whatever maker it is you imagine exists, why not get on with already, jump off a bridge or something, leave the living world to the living.

  • areyousaying

    oooooogaaaaaaaahhh boooooogggaaaahhhh!the anti-christmuslims and marxists and Negroes, oh my!

  • areyousaying

    This whole propaganda talking point to further bash the President reeks of Rove.

  • areyousaying

    Let’s see, by the same brilliant logic.The letter “P” as in preposterous. Next, the two letters “al” as in the South, “y’al come” and then the letter “n” in the shape of an upside down sauce pan to heat tea which renders the decoding “t” which stands for “teabagger propaganda”Soap Opera Sarah’s witchdoctor has been working overtime.

  • tojby_2000

    Been There… Done That File:

  • Secular

    Before I migrated to this country, I used to read the top three news magazines namely Times, Newsweek, and Us News & World Report very regularly. Based on the quality of the reporting and the articles I surmised that I was moving to a very enlightened and reasoning society. That was a great disappointment, along with the fact that this society is lot less secular in some aspects than from where I migrated.The fact that these nut jobs like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney are serious contenders to the highest office of the land is really shocking. That a sitting president has the gall to state that he does not consider atheist as patriotic is despicable. Just for that statement he ought to have been impeached.The greatest thing going for us in this country is that the progressives and the secularists are not cowed down by these morons, whose IQs compete with their height in inches.

  • wpc09

    What many Christians forget is that the Bible is very clear about one characteristic of “antichrist”: 1 John 4:3 “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” So the spirit of antichrist was already in the world at the time of writing of the first epistle of John and it was the denial that Jesus came in the flesh – i.e. that He was a living bodily person. How did that scriptural clarity get turned into the constantly varying speculation of Hal Lindsey and others like him regarding specific individuals? The reality of prophecy is that the actual intended meaning of a prophecy can only be understood once the prophecy has been fulfilled. Christians interpreted most Jewish prophecies very differently from how Jews interpreted them. Jews awaited Elijah (the selfsame Elijah who was carried bodily into heaven according to the Old Testament) to return before the Messiah. When John the Baptist was asked if he was the selfsame Elijah, he said he was not. When Jesus was asked how He could be the Messiah unless Elijah had returned, Jesus said that John the Baptist was the return of the power and spirit of Elijah. If you believe in Jesus, His interpretation of the prophecy is the correct one. So the question is, Who has authority to demonstrate that a prophecy has been fulfilled?Barack Obama is a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ was a real person who fulfilled a divine mission. No antichrist there. But for those who oppose him, their fear is enough to confirm cosmic evil. I don’t doubt that such would turn against anyone who disagreed with either their political agenda or their scriptural distortions.Such fears have been turned against good people in many a society. We should not be surprised that we are in another period where fears of change and of the future cause people to act in ways reminiscent of the early 1950s. It’s just that “communism” is now “creeping socialism” and the enemy is “Islam” because a few fanatical men committed atrocities in the name of that religion. In the absence of a balanced ethical and spiritual approach to scripture, the search for esoteric interpretations outstrips good sense, historical context, and reason.

  • arkns

    It’s funny how I tend to agree so much with Secular here.I agree with his take that the atmosphere here is less secular than where I come from (India). For instance, in India, we do not have stores and schools blaring “Hindu values” like they do “Christian values” here in these United States. Let me tell you–it’s quite dumb and laughable too. What Christian values? What is so great about Christian values, Hindu values, Islamic values, etc if they do not embrace human values? If your values exclude diversity and has a condescending approach to other faiths, how is humanity helped? So this so-called “Christian values” is a lighter way of expressing intolerance. You at once alienate non-Christians. The mullahs do the same thing except in Arabic or Urdu or whatever their national language is. It’s simply narrow-minded. I would be equally turned off by someone espousing “Hindu values”. In a secular society, it’s a dumb concept.

  • ZZim

    Hahah, how much fun is this?I love reading about whacky conspiracy theories. Wasn’t GWB the anti-Christ a few years ago?Next thing you know they’ll be claiming the stimulus porkbarrels worked..

  • persiflage

    Unfortunately all of this right-wing lunacy will probably play out in more practical ways, helping to influence potentially damaging congressional swapouts this coming November. Replacing democrats with republicans would effectively stall out any further possibility of economic recovery – and just about the time it would be starting to pick up momentum. Anti-Christ indeed.

  • GeirSmith

    Secular, yes it’s good secularists and progressives aren’t cowed down by fundamentalists.I don’t know if you know that Chicago Knows and the whole world knows because the Lottery is known to the whole world, because Illinois’ Lottery is a big lottery so it’s printed and known to the whole world, and The New York Times, and the LA Times and the Huston Times all print and know the Illinois Lottery draw of the day, and the Draw of 666 was printed and published in all the damn papers of the whole coast to coast USA which KNOWS. Obama’s got 666 branded on his rear butt.

  • GeirSmith

    ZZIM, Bush had coast-to-coast papers print the Lottery draw of 666 in his victory papers ?Nope, he didn’t. FAIL.Obama’s Marked by heaven. They just don’t like this guy up there and they want us to throw this piece of garbage out. You see the series “Medium” ? Wow ! When Allison Dubois knows a guy has killed someone and is passing off as someone else, she doesn’t give him one little breather until she gets’m locked up, cowboy-style down there in Arizona.We got Obama’s number of 666. We’ve got this guy on heavenly file and we’re like the Medium cops who track the real culprits people don’t know about… but we have privy information from our Bible files.We got Obama’s number 666.We’ll surround the White House with “Obama Antichrist” signs and picket him (14% are polled thinking Obama IS or Might Be the Antichrist…that’s close to 50 million worldwide. We can surround the White House easy if this gets out with the message now.). If he tries to run by the back door, we’ll snitch him to the cops at the White House… psst ! He’s running scared …catch that Oba-Rabbit running across the White House lawn…. Officer…Do your god-damn duty !!!You can love your SATAN-Obama ZZIM, y’hear me ZZIM ? what does that matter to me ?You can love Charles Manson on Death Row. It doesn’t making a flying fig’s difference to me. He’ll still get the rap he’s got coming at him.

  • persiflage

    ‘We got Obama’s number 666.Hmmmm….wonder what those tea-partiers are putting in their tea?? You’ve got to kind of feel sorry for the GOP – they’re attracting the fringe whackos hiding under every other rock, and that can’t be a good thing….what would Ronald Reagan say??

  • roberttobin

    Why not get it over with and change the name of the USA to the United CHRISTIAN States of America. What with these Bible Thumping whackos and the Fundamentalist “Young Earth” Creationist Evangelicals, the name change might as well happen. I read a lot about the Poisoning of Minds in Texas and other Bible Belt States, especially in the schools where ID must be taught alongside Evolution, or preferabally without Evolution.The “Holy” Bible is the worst book of fiction ever written. It should be classified Horror/Fiction, not suitable for under 18. I have seen the effects on children in Bibled Camps in the movie “Jesus Camp”. Does any parent think their kids should be put through that trauma? They should be charged under the Law with Child Abuse. Wake up to youselves, Americans, Your country is becoming a 3rd. World Country.Robert Tobin, Atheist

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