Politics Magazine

And the Band Played

Posted on the 11 August 2013 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

One of the more curvilinear sequences of numerals has taken on demonic attributes over the centuries. Even the most secular of people, at least in the United States, can identify 666 as some kind of bad juju. The more literate among them will be able to pin the origins more precisely to the book of Revelation, often likely as not misnamed “Revelations”—something sure to drive your New Testament professor as mad as a beast. Fans of true precision will surely want to add that it is Revelation 13.17-18 that makes the number infamous. The latter verse starts out with “Here is wisdom,” which already spells disaster, for who doesn’t want to think him or herself wise? 666 is said to be the number of a man, and is conflated with the “mark of the beast”—one of the quickest ways to bring evolution and economics into the discussion. In popular culture 666 is said to be effective in invoking the devil. This idea is not found in the Bible, but it sure makes for an easy way to identify the Prince of Darkness in movies and popular culture.

The other day I received a mysterious email at work from a “Dr. Strangelove” with the email username of “camus666ster.” Indeed, the topic was appropriately apocalyptic and it managed to make it through a pretty strenuous spam-filter. Here was something apparently supernatural during the work-day. I’m also conscious that a building visible from the window behind my desk is 666 Third Avenue, but I’m pretty certain that these two sexagesimal cousins have nothing to do with one another. It is only a certain religious sensibility that brings them together. Where else in the world do authorities have trouble with people stealing roadsigns for route 666? And why do I get the feeling that someone is watching me?

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Revelation may have had more impact on our culture than any other single book. Whether it’s checking your iPhone for the weather, or wondering what is going to happen next in the Middle East, we all want a view into the future. It is a view that some suppose old John saw while exiled on Patmos. Others recognize that Revelation was a thinly veiled contemporary account to give hope to persecuted Christians in an era of imperial violence. Either way, the book, despite some effort to keep it out, ended up having the final say in the Christian canon. In a nation where every person possesses several unique identifiers, we still look over our collective shoulders for an anonymous beast who is about to bring down society. Don’t worry, folks, I’ve got his number.


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