Bill Gates, Antichrist
The Revelation of Saint John the Divine makes for eternally fascinating reading. There you'll find all the end-time favorites: fire and brimstone, the four horsemen, the seven seals, the fall of Babylon and, of course, the Beast of seven heads and 10 horns.What you won't find is the Antichrist, at least not by name. Scripture places him elsewhere, in John's epistles. What Revelation offers us instead is the "false prophet," who has horns like a lamb and speaks as a dragon. This second beast fronts for the infamous first: He's the one who tattoos our right hands and foreheads with the Number of the Beast, "six hundred threescore and six."I had occasion to refresh myself with prophecy while reading The End of the World as We Know It, a survey of American apocalyptic beliefs by University of Oregon folklorist Daniel Wojcik. Wojcik's book is a field guide to Armageddons religious and secular, from premonitory apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to nihilistic punk culture, from bodily Assumptions to alien abductions.Amid the eschatological carnival there's a curious passage about Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, whom some defenders of the faith have pegged as the Antichrist. The first clue is given by his name: convert each letter to its numeric equivalent in ASCII (a standard computer code that transposes characters to digits), and guess what the result is? 663.Oh, but he's Bill Gates the Third. Tack on the 3, and you have trouble on your hands. "He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity" (Revelation 13:10). Where do you want to go today? Prophecy is an inexact science, of course. Connecting the dots isn't easy, especially since Revelation reads like the author just stumbled across a fresh crop of Galilean 'shrooms. That might explain the extensive list of Antichrist candidates you'll find at http://www.novia.net/~todd/rap666.html, starting with the Emperor Nero and including a fair number of popes.Nor is it easy to find a straightforward discussion of Microsoft's part in the supernatural catastrophe to come. Search for "Bill Gates Antichrist" at www.hotbot.com and you'll be showered with more than a thousand entries, most of which glibly repeat the ASCII calculation. Then there's the inevitable www.antichrist.com, a gothic headbanger of a website whose author proclaims the resurrection of John Lennon and offers himself as the Beast du jour.Perhaps the difficulty of finding an electronic exegesis stems from the role the Internet itself plays in prophecy. This goes beyond the casual reading of W as the Roman numeral VI, which turns WWW into 666. What Revelation depicts is world domination by the forces of darkness. The Mark of the Beast is not merely a tattoo, but a required means of commercial identification, without which business cannot be transacted: "No man might buy or sell, save that he had the mark" (Rev. 13:17). The introduction of bar codes in the 1970s was an ominous sign; the ubiquitous networking of computers ties it all together. Keep your hands away from those supermarket scanners.This is quite unsettling. Having received my own religious instruction from Chick comics (www.chick.com, boxed sets available for $10), I grew up expecting the Mark to be a clearly identifiable "666." But those are Arabic numerals, introduced to the West 12 centuries after John's acid trip. If the Mark can be rendered as the innocuous lines of a bar code (or embedded as a chip implant, as some fear), how else can it be hidden? Computer languages represent characters in any number of ways. There's the binary code, all zeros and ones, and there's the ASCII table of letters and values. There's also Base 16, the code used to indicate colors in Web pages. You might know it by its more familiar name, hexadecimal-"hex," for short.I'll spare you the math, but 666 converts to Hex 29A. And "29A Labs" happens to be the nom de guerre of a hacker group that distributes Windows viruses from its website, http://29a.islatortuga.com. Care for some cyberlocusts?My own conclusion is that we're all lost on a wild beast chase. I take as my authority this disturbing footnote I found in my Zondervan edition of the RSV Bible: "Other ancient authorities read 'six hundred and sixteen.' " This suggests a disinformation campaign of bimillennial proportions: While we're pursuing false leads, the false prophet is busy elsewhere, undetected. Bill Gates is off the hook. The real Antichrist is ... Hell, who am I to spoil the fun?Mike Lee is publisher of Eugene-based Intangible Publications (www.intangible.org). He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.