August 13, 2009
MST3K videos and Charlie the Unicorn are good enough reasons to praise You-Tube. My "all-hail" is tempered, however, by the recent spate of emails linking to a vile little video coyly suggesting that our President may be the Antichrist.
The arguments are so very bad and it is so over-the-top that I suspect a Colbert-like mockery of conservative Christians. If so, a disturbing number of people are taking it seriously. Of course if the video is no spoof, but serious, then it is serious in the sense that a deranged 7-11 clerk might really believe he is Elvis. Sadly, the maker of the video has revised it to remove factual errors and attempt to fix his arguments, suggesting a commitment to this epic fail.
Traditional Christians, called to be loving, truthful, and logical, should be the first to reject this foolish video, because it is hateful, wrong, and illogical. The Antichrist is a literary symbol for all that is bad about humanity and many traditional Christians think that eventually there will be one tyrant who incarnates all those evils. Calling or even suggesting that someone is the Antichrist is worse from this perspective than calling a man "Hitler."
Even someone with minimal charity would only think such a thing about another human being, created in the image of God, based on compelling evidence.
If one believes, as I do, that President Obama is making bad, even dreadful policy decisions, strong opposition is justified, but comparing political differences of this sort to cosmic evil suggests, at the very least, a radically sheltered life. In our own time, it would be easy to list numerous international political leaders running regimes remarkably worse than our own. Comparing the political situation for traditional Christians in America to the thousands suffering torture and martyrdom all over the world reminds any reasonable believer how good American Christians have it.
Does any sane man doubt that North Korea would be better off if President Obama ran it? This video, and the people who sent it out, goes even further and says Obama, may be worse comparing President Obama to the most wicked man who will ever live. Conservative Christians should beware when they realize that this is folly so great that one cannot imagine even Joe Biden uttering it.
Needless to say the video gives no evidence that President Obama is the Antichrist. Even if one believed that President Obama was an enemy, such a strong accusation without evidence is uncharitable. Charity applies to everyone, since Christians have it on good authority that we are to love our enemies.
Almost as bad as the lack of charity is the disrespect that the video shows to the Bible. I take old books seriously, particularly the Bible, but by their nature old books are harder to read well than new books. Reading a book badly is in many ways worse than not reading it at all.
The video dishonors the Bible by not taking the time to learn to read it openly, honestly, and without preconceptions. The good news is that we can use this video to remind folk that old books need to be read in historical context (parts must be read in context with the whole) and with linguistic sensitivity (Greek and Hebrew are not codes for English readers).
This video is an example of how not to read an ancient text.
The entire claim that Obama may be the Antichrist centers on a verse (Luke 10:18) that in context is a response to the ministry of his disciples and not to the end of the world. Jesus is speaking of Satan and not the Antichrist. So the argument cannot succeed, even if one accepts the dubious idea that the Bible contains coded messages only comprehensible to a modern audience.
Originally the video claimed that the Aramaic Jesus spoke was "the oldest form of Hebrew," but this hopelessly wrong idea has been fixed. It should not give one much comfort in the linguistic skills of the maker of the video.
The newly edited video now moves from the Greek of the New Testament to the Aramaic that Jesus spoke on to Hebrew in order to get a Hebrew word for lightening that sounds like Barak in English. Evidently the only people in the world who could understand what Jesus was saying in the Greek translation of his Aramaic are English speakers who translate him to Hebrew and listen to the sounds.
They also have to decide that Satan is the Antichrist.
This is insane, but it gets worse.
In Luke 10:18, Satan is expelled from the heaven of God (like "lightening"). The video points out that the Greek word for heaven can mean "high places." Of course, contextually it may not mean this, but never mind.
To get the President's last name the video moves to a series of verses in Isaiah that Christians have associated with Satan. No reason is given to specifically link Jesus' words in Luke with this part of Isaiah other than the fact that both passages are about Satan and Jesus might have been thinking about them.
The film concludes by saying, "It cannot be denied, if Hebrew words were used to describe Jesus' statement about Satan falling or coming to Earth perhaps as a man in the form of the Antichrist the Hebrew words "baraq" and "bamah" would be used."
So the arguments runs like this:
1. take a verse written in Greek (and spoken in Aramaic)
2. find Hebrew words that may (but probably are not) equivalent
3. listen to the sentence in English and hear what the words sound like
4. suggest that the President may be the Antichrist.
I am a frequent critic of new atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens' inability to read old books, but this is worse than anything I have seen them do. They abuse what they do not love, but this video mangles what it says it honors. Imagine someone taking this post, translating it into German, and listening to see if there any words that sort of sound like Spanish!
In itself this wretched little film is probably not worth criticizing, but it symbolizes an important line being crossed too often in both liberal and conservative communities that is not good for our political life.
Tough attacks will happen in any healthy republic. Our leaders are not kings and have to accept that in a big country some folks will be rude. Our political great-great-grandparents chanted uncharitable little rhymes about Grover Cleveland's "love child" and most papers today would think twice about printing cartoons as dreadful as those Abraham Lincoln endured. Just last year many college students sported t-shirts describing George W. Bush in ways not printable in a family friendly forum.
Without being precious, good people should still rebuke assaults that go too far. Nobody should censor You-Tube, but pointing out evils is not censorship. The college shirts that associated Bush with Hitler were stupid, because they trivialized the evil of the Holocaust and demonstrated a deranged hatred of Bush. In the same way, associating President Obama with the Antichrist minimizes the epic role this figure plays in Biblical history and damns good people who support him.
I didn't vote for President Obama and don't support his major initiatives, but my friends who did and do are not taking the mark of the beast and damning themselves to hell fire. Mostly we can afford to sigh and move on when videos like this are made and sent to us, but occasionally a snort of gentlemanly disgust is warranted.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. John Mark Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.