The Age of Antichrist Is Here
When I was a kid in the late 1970s, I happened upon a copy of Hal Lindsey’s megaselling The Late Great Planet Earth. It was an Evangelical account of the Last Days, purporting to explain how we were living in the times just before the return of Jesus Christ. All of this hit me like a bomb. I didn’t know Jesus Christ was coming back! Why did no one tell me? (I’ve told you before that we weren’t big churchgoers in my family.) And holy cow, I had no clue that the Soviet Union was mentioned in the Bible, and that the European Common Market was going to produce this guy called the Antichrist, and that there was this thing called the Rapture … et cetera. This was thrilling stuff. It electrified my imagination for a year or two. And then it burned out, and with it went my faith for some time.
As an adult Christian, I would laugh at myself, recalling how seriously twelve-year-old me took Hal Lindsey’s speculations, none of which came true. That End Times narrative is really narcotic, though. As a Catholic, I saw a version of it, usually involving devotion to Marian apparitions. A priest friend who had been converted at Medjugorje, but who early in his priesthood wearied of apparition-chasers, told me how frustrating it was to him to be unable to get his most enthusiastic parishioners to focus on the ordinary part of being Catholics. They wanted the spiritual fireworks. It’s a real temptation.
The thing is, the Christian tradition really does say that before the Second Coming of Christ, there will arise a messianic world leader called by Scripture the “Beast,” who is the “Antichrist.” He will lead a mass persecution of the Church, and will oversee a global dictatorship that controls people’s lives so thoroughly that, according to Revelation 13:
16Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead,17so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.18This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.
I hardly need to point out that there is a massive literature of speculation about the identity of the Antichrist, and how it is connected to the number 666. I find the theory of the Orthodox Christian thinker Jonathan Pageau persuasive: that the Antichrist 666 is not necessarily a single man (though it might be), but the number refers to a total godless system. He writes, in part:
So, we have to be very attentive as these patterns play themselves out. As these patterns start to appear to us in the world, we have to not look for the Ozzy Osbourne, dark Satanist who is going to be wearing all black and looking like a ghoul coming out of the Earth. That is not what 666 looks like. 666 looks like a luminous system that seems like it contains everything and can control everything. And that is why it is so seductive. That is why it can delude us if we’re not careful, because to not participate or to not, let’s say, worship this system can exclude you from the discourse. It makes it very easy to compromise in that sense.
Not long ago, I read that the Romans tattooed slaves on their hands or foreheads, so they would never be able to escape. It hit me, then, that the “mark of the Beast” seen by St. John was not necessarily a literal mark on the forehead or hand (though it might be), but that symbolically it meant that you had to be a slave to the system in order to participate economically — that is, to earn a living.
As a Christian, I certainly believe this dark, totalitarian world will one day come into being. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of guessing when that might be, and that’s something I never do. But I gotta say, the shape of the thing really does seem to be coming into being. In 2019, I wrote this piece after two prominent Catholic cardinals warned that the age of Antichrist might be upon us — both of them referencing the confused teaching coming from Pope Francis as a dangerous sign of the times. The intellectual giant René Girard, a Catholic, wrote around the turn of the century that we were in perilous times:
The current process of spiritual demagoguery and rhetorical overkill has transformed the concern for victims into a totalitarian command and a permanent inquisition. … We are living through a caricatural “ultra-Christianity” that tries to escape from the Judeo-Christian orbit by “radicalizing” the concern for victims in an anti-Christian manner. … The intellectuals and other cultural elites have promoted Christianity to the role of number one scapegoat.
Girard says we are at the advent of what he calls “the other totalitarianism,” saying that it is
the most cunning and malicious of the two, the one with the greatest future, by all evidence. At present it does not oppose Judeo-Christian aspirations but claims them as its own and questions the concern for victims on the part of Christians (not without a certain semblance of reason at the level of concrete action, given the deficiencies of historical Christianity). The other totalitarianism does not openly oppose Christianity but outflanks it on its left wing.
As I wrote the last time I brought this up, this is the force of what in the Christian tradition is called Antichrist. You don’t have to believe in a literal Antichrist figure to grasp what Girard is saying here. Girard points out that in the symbolic language of the New Testament, Antichrist opposes Christ by imitating him and seeking to be better than him. More:
The Antichrist boasts of bringing to human beings the peace and tolerance that Christianity promised but has failed to deliver. Actually what the radicalization of contemporary victimology produces is a return to all sorts of pagan practices: abortion euthanasia, sexual undifferentiation, Roman circus games galore but without real victims, etc.
Girard wrote that in his 2001 book I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning. He died in 2015, just as the trans craze was getting started. I don’t think he would have been surprised by any of it.
Why do I bring this up today? Because I just read the latest Substack essay, titled “You Are Harvest,” by Paul Kingsnorth, an English writer living in rural Ireland with his wife and kids. I am a subscriber, so I don’t know if it is behind a paywall or not. Click the link to see. Kingsnorth was formally baptized and confirmed as an Orthodox Christian earlier this year, but his thought expressed in the piece is not based on anything Christian. Rather it is based on a lifetime of observing and analyzing the culture. Read in a Christian key, though, what he writes is staggering, and look, if you can’t read this for free, you would do well to buy a subscription to read his entire series about what he calls The Machine. Any time he refers to “the Machine,” I think “Antichrist.” It fits. Here are excerpts:
Many people see few problems with the march of the digital machine through every aspect of our lives. Many people have simply forgotten what it feels like not to be pulled and pushed and tugged and directed every hour of the day by the demands of the glowing screen.
Many people are not paying attention.
A few days after I lost my game of chess, a couple of friends came to visit us from England. We hadn’t seen them for nearly a decade, and they hadn’t travelled anywhere since the pandemic began, so they were blinking excitedly in the sunlight. They had taken the ferry across the Irish Sea, which had necessitated them performing a particular technological ritual, one which went beyond even the longstanding norm of scanning their digitally-enabled passports and sitting on a boat full of CCTV cameras.
This time they had to have their photo taken, and show their digital proof of vaccination. They also, for some reason they didn’t understand, had to recite a string of numbers into a recording device. If I were being paranoid – and these days I usually am – I would guess that this was part of the creation of an embryonic digital voice recognition system, which will be used in future to supplement the eyeball scans, passport chips and smartphone-enabled health certificates which are already forming the basis of our glorious future of freedom and plenty.
Sometimes I lie awake at night, or I wander in the field behind my house, or I walk down the street in our local town and think I can see it all around me: the grid. The veins and sinews of the Machine that surrounds us and pins us and provides for us and defines us now. I imagine a kind of network of shining lines in the air, glowing like a dewed spiderweb in the morning sun. I imagine the cables and the satellite links, the films and the words and the records and the opinions, the nodes and the data centres that track and record the details of my life. I imagine the mesh created by the bank transactions and the shopping trips, the passport applications and the text messages sent. I see this thing, whatever it is, being constructed, or constructing itself around me, I see it rising and tightening its grip, and I see that none of us can stop it from evolving into whatever it is becoming.
I see the Machine, humming gently to itself as it binds us with its offerings, as it dangles its promises before us and slowly, slowly, slowly reels us in. I think of the part of it we interact with daily, the glowing white interface through which we volunteer every detail of our lives in exchange for information or pleasure or stories told by global entertainment corporations who commodify our culture and sell it back to us. I think of the words we use to describe this interface, which we carry with us in our pockets wherever we go, as we are tracked down every street and into every forest that remains: the web; the net.
I think: these are things designed to trap prey.
Here, Kingsnorth comes to the end of a long passage in which he discusses Jacques Ellul and his theories about how our world is being taken over by “technique.” For Ellul, this means establishing by mechanical means a world in which all things are controlled:
But then, if Ellul is right, this is the direction in which the reign of technique will ultimately take us: towards the dictatorship of the Machine. Claiming in 1964 that technique had already ‘rendered traditional democratic doctrines obsolete’, he suggested that the new way of seeing would overcome any democratic objections, and would always tend towards total control. ‘Efficiency is a fact’, he wrote wryly, ‘and justice a slogan.’ Technique, through sheer dominance, would accrue power to itself until there could be no rational argument (the only kind of argument now accepted) against controlling the minutiae of our lives for the greater good:
Finally, technique causes the state to become totalitarian, to absorb the citizens’ lives completely. We have noted that this occurs as a result of the accumulation of techniques in the hands of the state … Even when the state is liberal and democratic, it cannot do otherwise than become totalitarian. It becomes so directly or, as in the United States, through intermediate persons. But, despite differences, all such systems come ultimately to the same result.
By using the word ‘totalitarian’, Ellul was not suggesting that all nations would become dictatorships, let alone adopt an ideological framework like Nazism or Marxism to guide them. In fact, he said, such ideologies interfere with the direction of technique, which seeks efficiency rather than ideology. ‘Totalitarian’, in this context, simply meant that it would be impossible to escape the Machine and its assumptions. Everywhere you looked, there it would be: staring you in the face, directing your actions, digging into every facet of your life, giving you fewer and fewer escape routes each year.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the times we are currently living in would be regarded by many of our ancestors as apocalyptic. The degree of control and monitoring which we endure in ‘developed’ societies, which has been accelerating for decades and which has reached warp speed in the 2020s, is creating a kind of digital holding camp in which we all find ourselves trapped. The rising paranoia that extends now across the political spectrum and across the Western world – the anger and confusion; the sense of promises broken and established systems gumming up – all of this, I think, can be traced to the rise and consolidation of the Machine, this great matrix which strips from us our understanding of what a human life is, and makes us instead lonely cogs in its drive for self-creation.
Read it all, if you can — and if you can’t, then buy a subscription and read all nine of Kingsnorth’s essays about the Machine. Trust me, it’s worth it.
In this latest piece, Kingsnorth suggests that you watch this 10-minute video of Edward Snowden explaining how the Internet works, and why it leads to our slavery:
It is hard to know how to respond to this in one’s life. At the Touchstone conference recently, a woman asked me why, if I recognized all the evils that come to us through smartphones (primarily surveillance), do I continue to have one? It’s a great question, and the only feeble answer I could give her was that I have to have it to do my job. When I told my wife about the woman’s question, and how unhappy I was with my answer, she pointed out that our daughter’s “dumb phone” was going to be obsolete soon, because it would not be able to work on the cell system. They have made it where we all have to have smart phones if we are going to have cellphones at all. Could you do your job without a cellphone? I couldn’t. There’s no way in the world. So, I am lashed to the system, whether I like it or not. And so are you.
When I talk in Live Not By Lies about “soft totalitarianism,” I am not simply speaking of the particular policies the baizuocracy is putting into place. I am talking about the technical capabilities they have built into the system to control us. The other day I watched a video in which one of the leading Catholic integralists said that it was a shame that progressives understood better than us conservatives that the state ought to be in the business of “soulcraft,” and be guiding the people to virtue. I thought: this right-wing Catholic doesn’t object to the controlling state; he just objects to the fact that secular leftists are in command of it. Well, I don’t want to live in a society in the grips of Dostoevsky’s Catholic Grand Inquisitor any more than I want to live in one gripped by Huxley’s secular World Controller. But we have created, and continue to refine, a system that gives that kind of power to people.
China is where this future is being perfected:
Lin Jinyue, lead designer of China’s social credit system, extolls its value and his hope for worldwide adoption:
“If you had the social credit system, there would never have been the Yellow Vests, we would have detected that before they acted.”pic.twitter.com/6JKC8tDVzP
— Michael P Senger (@MichaelPSenger) October 22, 2021
Right now, in the West, this power is coming into the hands of progressives, who will use it to stamp out racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the rest. They will be able to detect the existence of these things before people can act on them. The technology is already there; it just hasn’t been implemented. Yet.
The Age of Antichrist is not about Ozzy Osbourne and pale Goths. It’s about nebbishy Lin Jinyue, the head of Human Resources at major companies, and Silicon Valley. And it is here. They are going to use their power to establish a reign of virtue. There will be no room for non-compliant Christians in it (or non-complying anyone else). We were warned 2,000 years ago. We are warned once again by Paul Kingsnorth, whether he knows it or not.