View from the Pew
The inauspicious date raises spiritual superstition
Has anyone done a fast-forward on the calendar and discovered that THAT NUMBER is coming up?
It looms. June 6, 2006. Not just any Tuesday.
"No one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or name of the beast, or the number of his name, and his number is 666."
The Book of Revelation 13:17-18
Will people stay home? Will retail sales plummet? Will romantic assignations and doctor's appointments be canceled? What can be done to protect against 6/6/06?
One thing for sure, it's not a fortuitous day to make a new friend because God knows WHO he or she might really be.
For centuries the number has been the focus of fearful superstition because it is identified as "the name of the beast, or the number of his name, and his number is 666." That's in a passage from the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which talks about the coming of an Antichrist who will try to lead people astray from what Jesus taught and make life on earth hellish just before the end of the world.
We might think we're in an enlightened age or are a sophisticated society, but there are inhabitants of the 21st century who are scared of 666. People have chosen not to move into a place with that address. People have asked for a different Social Security number.
Only a couple of years ago, politicians succeeded in getting the federal government to renumber a highway because it was considered such an inauspicious address. The old Route 666 was an offshoot from Route 66, leading from Gallup, N.M., through parts of Colorado and Utah. What was fondly known as "triple six" by irreverent, unbelieving cowboys is now dull old Route 491.
Leave it to our consumer culture to find a way to profit from the scary serendipity of the date.
June 6 is the opening day of "The Omen," 20th Century Fox's remake of a 1976 movie about a diplomat who suspects his young son is the Antichrist.
Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins are also exploiting the date with the release of their latest book in the "Left Behind" series. Sales of the series about the Antichrist making life on Earth hellish in the "end times" have topped 40 million, according to the advance publicity.
The people who enjoy a good scare or the idea of hidden codes won't be dissuaded, but scholars and clergymen would like them to try a little dose of history when looking at the symbols and language in Revelation.
The book was written in the first century A.D., when Christians were being persecuted by the Roman Empire, said Andrew Crislip, University of Hawaii professor of religion.
"The number 666 is regarded by historians as referring to Emperor Nero," he said. "In the ancient world, in Greek and Hebrew, they used letters to indicate numbers. If you add up the letters for Nero, you get 666."
After having innumerable Christians killed, Emperor 666 committed suicide, threatening to return.
"Since Nero did not come back as the Antichrist as expected, through history it has been a significant point of apocalyptic speculation," said Crislip. "There has been a resurgence in apocalyptic movements in the past 200 years. Do you know how many doomsdays we've had? This is not the first doomsday."
Gary Manning, a professor at the Pacific Rim Bible College, said the writer of Revelation "used symbols common in their world, similar to a political cartoon. There are veiled references to Rome; for instance, the word Babylon means Rome. If you look at a political cartoon from 100 years ago, referring to politicians and culture of the time, it would be hard for us to make sense of it. The symbols wouldn't mean anything."
COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX
Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick stars as Damien in the remake of "The Omen," which will open in theaters on June 6. The 1976 movie was about a diplomat who suspects his young son is the Antichrist.
Manning said Bible scholars agree that Revelation is difficult to interpret, but "we do know it was written to Christians being severely persecuted ... written to encourage people who were about to give up. It does warn against taking on the mark of the beast. In the first century, that would have meant pledging loyalty to a persecutor, to the empire which was persecuting Christians. Today, there are some places where people are being persecuted, so Revelation can be comforting to them," Manning said.
The idea that 666 would refer to a date is "kinda silly," said Manning. "People have always passed around rumors about the end times, kind of like Christian urban myths."
The threat of a number is the kind of idea that grows because "a lot of people are not aware of church history," said the Rev. Ron Arnold, pastor of Kaimuki Christian Church. "People are all too quick to take Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and try to make an application. Speculating like that can be undermining to the credibility of the Christian message.
"People have always thought theirs is the generation that will see the return of Jesus," said Arnold. "I remember a book that came out in 1987 that had 88 reasons why Christ is coming in 1988.
"Solomon said in every generation there are gullible people. There is a tangent of people in the church who are predisposed to make those kinds of predictions.
"We tell people to center their faith in Jesus Christ and in the solid principles of Scripture," Arnold said.
The Rev. Jeff Yamashita, pastor of Waianae First Assembly of God, agreed: "I try to teach truth from the Bible. I don't want to talk about the devil. I would tell people, who do you have as No. 1 in your life? We just need to be faithful to the Lord."
Yamashita said superstitions like fear of a string of numbers "are out there. ... There are people who are not too knowledgeable. People want to be entertained."
"Sometimes it is good to have people fear, if they ask questions," Yamashita said. "It shows that people are hungry for spiritual things. It makes an urgency in the Christian community to get the word out and teach about love."