The Human Number
In the Bible story of Jonah, God tells the prophet to go to Ninevah, a city on the Tigris River in Assyria (modern Iraq), to foretell its doom. Jonah is terrified by this divine command and tries to escape by ship. God is determined to fulfill the original plan, and sends a storm of such ferocity that Jonah finally asks his fellow sailors to save themselves by tossing him into the sea. A whale swallows him and coughs him up on shore after three days. Jonah then does God’s bidding and goes to Ninevah. On arrival in the evil city, he tells the Ninevans of the impending divine wrath. To Jonah’s surprise, the residents of Ninevah accept his advice and repent of their sins. Even more amazingly, God then forgives Ninevah, telling Jonah their repentance has saved the city from the punishment predicted earlier.
Jonah was an ordinary man burdened with an extraordinary message. He felt deeply angry towards God, firstly for presenting him with such a dangerous prophecy, and then for making him endure a terrible storm, three days in the belly of a whale and the social confrontation in Ninevah. When God failed to carry out the original destructive promise in which Jonah had invested so much expectation, Jonah wanted to die.
The story of Jonah, with its message of repentance leading to unexpected forgiveness and reconciliation, is recounted here by way of introduction to a new look at that most controversial of Biblical themes, the central prophecy of the apocalypse, the human number 666. God’s forgiveness of Ninevah shows human expectations can be proved wrong when the divine presence reveals itself through a higher wisdom. Perhaps the stories of the apocalypse will have an equally unexpected outcome?
The prophecy of the apocalypse is central to Christian faith, and it places Christianity in a special position as the world religion which most explicitly addresses the immense central theme of God’s intervention in history. Christian faith contains terrible visions of the end of the world, such as King David’s prophecy, told in the Requiem Mass, of the Dies Irae, the day of wrath when the earth will dissolve in ashes. The most detailed visions of the end times are in the Book of Revelations, the weird and difficult dream which closes the New Testament. It presents images such as the resurrection of the dead, the riding of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the battle of Armageddon, and the war in heaven between Michael and Satan.
The overwhelming nature of these images – and the sheer impossibility of fundamentalist interpretations –means that clear and dispassionate discussion is very difficult. Indeed, the amount of nonsense surrounding the apocalypse has made rational people deeply wary of discussing it, leading many to deride and neglect the predictions of the Bible as fanciful and irrelevant. Even within theology, interpretation has long been split into liberal and fundamentalist camps, both of which, for opposite reasons, see an unbridgeable gap between modern thought and Bible stories of the end times. The liberal approach dismisses the images of revelation as symbolic explanations of the trials of the early church, viewing the predictions as mystical poetry with indeterminate application to any particular time. At the other extreme, literal fundamentalists hold to pre-modern unscientific beliefs such as the rapture of the faithful, assuming the allegories of the Bible are literally true and excluding rational discussion.
Skepticism is certainly justified against much literal reading, but the danger in overly cautious approaches is that our modern rationality can close us off from truths about the world. The possibility that the Book of Revelations could contain a real historical prophecy is often denied on the basis that it cannot be tested, but this denial amounts to rejection of a central message of the Christian faith. The problem for the modern perspective is that the profound and mysterious visions presented by Revelation could only be true if they comes from God, but this can never be something science can prove. Despite the obviously mythological character of many of the prophetic visions of the Bible, the acceptance that God might exist must leave open the question whether a kernel of truth could exist in the midst of the fantastic images.
In looking at the apocalypse from a modern perspective, it should be possible to find a middle way between secular atheism and fundamentalist mythology. I want to suggest there is such a way, and that it is revealed in a simple and accurate prediction which goes to the centre of the relation between humanity and reality. Looking past the fearful myths of traditional apocalyptics, this essay presents a new reading of Revelation, with the aims of justifying the claim of Christianity to a unique understanding of the structure of world history and reclaiming the Christian vision as the guiding light of human civilization.
The key text is Revelation 13, which predicts a time when
“Men... worshipped the beast, saying ‘Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?’ .... And authority was given it over every tribe and people and tongue and nation .... so 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. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty six”.
The interpretation to be explored here is that this prophecy of the beast of the apocalypse predicts the current dominant place in world affairs of the United States of America.
On what basis is this claim presented? Unlike all other possible interpretations of this central prophecy, the case for its reference to America is simple, obvious, clear and logical. Firstly, the USA is the only state in human history to have held the unrivalled authority predicted by the Bible. In the terms of the prophecy, the power of the USA is indeed such that no one is like America, and no one can fight against it. Secondly, and more tellingly, the prophecy of a time when “no one can buy or sell unless he has... the name of the beast or the number of its name”, suggests a time when the world would be ruled by a man and a currency whose common number is 666. This prophecy is fulfilled exactly by the United States Dollar and the recent American President, Mr Ronald Wilson Reagan. Together the dollar and Mr Reagan exercised the world leadership predicted by the Bible, and they both have six letters in each of their three names.
America’s leadership of the world seems beyond challenge, now that it has become the first state ever to dominate the entire earth as a sole superpower, uniquely fulfilling the circumstance at the core of the biblical prophecy. For the first time there exists a general correlation, notwithstanding the power of other states, between the world situation and the Bible’s prediction of the domination of the earth by a single human power. At this stage of history it is difficult to envisage a power other than America, such as Europe or Asia, coming to dominate the world. If we have not yet seen the beast, where else might it arise?
The supporting correlations are equally telling. The United States Dollar, the monetary foundation of our age, exactly fulfills the Bible’s prophecy of a time when ‘no one can buy or sell unless he has ... the 666”. The USA has led the world financial system since the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference established the dollar as the reserve currency for international trade. All money now ultimately depends on exchange against the United States Dollar for its value, making the dollar the basis of our world financial system, in precise fulfillment of the prophecy.
The US dollar also accords with the statement in the biblical text that the 666 is a human number, meaning something deeply imbedded at the centre of human life, which continually tempts us to deny God. The US dollar fulfills this requirement more than anything else. Worship of money is a dominant theme of modern society, an idolatry which puts America and kindred societies in direct conflict with the teaching of Christ that we cannot serve both God and Mammon. The Bible says that understanding the human dimension of the 666 calls for wisdom. This can only mean we should look for the 666 in something with a longstanding presence in the life of the world, with a direct continuity back to Christ’s teachings on the nature of sin. The dollar fulfills these conditions precisely, considering Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all evil. Incidentally, looking for the human dimension of the 666 in this way shows the error of the common tendency to imagine the 666 as something mysterious or alien, an upwelling from a Satanic underworld, rather than looking where the Bible clearly says we should - at the major central features of fallen human life.
The USA is the leading national example of how obsession with material possessions has blinded people to the importance of relationships. America is probably no better or worse than some other nations in regard to this problem, which afflicts our whole age, but America’s unabashed efforts to find meaning in consumption suggest a real spiritual emptiness at the heart of American life. The correlation between the 666 and the US dollar suggests the 666 is the defining message from God of the danger of the corrupting power of money, bringing together the powerful hidden meaning behind the numerous similar messages in the Bible. The acceptance of this interpretation could give America the capacity honestly to analyse its behaviour against Christian principles, just as Ninevah repented when it heard the message from God through Jonah.
The second correlation to the prophecy of the 666, the recent American President Mr Ronald Wilson Reagan, is equally clear and exact as a fulfillment of the Biblical prediction, in support of the main correlation with the US dollar. Mr Reagan remains one of the most popular Presidents ever, mainly because he is the leader most strongly identified with the projection and triumph of American power in the modern world, and with the policies which enabled America to achieve its status of sole superpower. Mr Reagan is an icon of American power and of everything Amercia stands for, directly fulfilling the prophecy that the name of the beast will have the human number 666.
America’s dynamic culture has become emblematic for global modernity, but it conceals a shallowness which Mr Reagan epitomised. Despite continuing economic growth, the massive gap between the needs of the world and the emptiness of America’s consumer society appears only to be widening. A key factor allowing this drift away from moral sense and global compassion has been the elevation of the false values of film and television to the centre of America’s national consciousness. Mr Reagan’s background as a Hollywood actor clearly encouraged this tendency. Hollywood has induced a surrealism into American life where the marketing of commercial images, often containing false and harmful ideas, provides many of the dominant values. The reign of Mr Reagan was in some ways an epitome of this surreal attitude, with a Hollywood image acknowledged as the supreme power. Reaganite America thought it had the power to create its own world, and lost its understanding of physical limitation. Mr Reagan licensed unprecedented levels of environmental destruction, and foolishly sought security through military expenditure rather than through peaceful relationships. Ronald Wilson Reagan encouraged America to depart from reality, in a context of supreme power. His powerful driven surrealism, manifested in a profound hostility to the poor and reliance on anti-ballistic missile systems, makes the coincidence of his name and the 666 so disturbing. Indeed, the world was lucky to escape nuclear war in the 1980s with Mr Reagan at the helm.
If the USA really is the 666, the Book of Revelations contains the central major truth of the culmination of human history. The only explanation for the existence of this prophecy is the intervention of a divine power in the world. Such a suggestion assumes the existence of God and goes completely against the secular trend of the physical sciences. For the 666 to be an actual prediction about the USA, its appearance in the Bible, a book written 2000 years ago, and its retention in the canon by the church despite its implausibility, clearly goes beyond anything science could understand. In light of this miraculous dimension, the whole topic needs to be approached with some respect for the possibility that a truth beyond our understanding is at work. Remembering the story of Jonah, the journey into this interpretation should be joined, not with alarm, but with the expectation that God might well be at work to overturn our preconceptions and secure our salvation.
The remainder of this essay will seek to justify these explosive correlations and explore their implications. At the very least, it is an extraordinary and uncanny coincidence, deserving of comment and investigation, that the US dollar and President Reagan so accurately fulfill the Biblical prophecy of a time when the name of the ruler of the world and his currency would have the number 666. The fact that America so neatly fits the central features of the Biblical prophecy is enough by itself to justify a critical examination of the suggestion that the USA is the 666, even should it be concluded that the correlations are pure chance. I hope to convince people of good will that these correlations are more than chance, as they provide an obvious and simple support for the general claim that the prophecy of the beast refers to the USA.
Such a claim, with direct implications for world politics and religion, deserves to be approached with some scepticism, considering that people throughout the ages have imagined they saw the beast in their own time. While remaining mindful of this legitimate doubt, I hope to show the logic inherent in the argument is compelling, and that it provides the key to resolving twenty centuries of waiting and doubt about the status of Jesus as Messiah and the truth of the Christian message. All previous interpretations of the 666, such as the associations drawn with Nero, the Popes or Hitler, have relied on metaphor to make the facts fit the prophecy. Here no such metaphor is required because the correlations with the dollar and Mr Reagan are obvious and simple. The problem, unlike earlier efforts to demonise an opponent, might rather be to ask whether the beast really is the absolute evil of traditional imagery. Perhaps instead it is more like a stumbling blind giant which lacks the capacity, despite its good will, to secure its future from its own resources, and needs external help to put it on the right path.
The implications of the claim that America is the beast should be treated with great caution, given the momentous nature of what is being said, and its capacity to test our political structures and the meaning of Christian faith. For my part, as an admirer of American achievements, the need for caution and surety has led me to consider the issues privately for more than a decade, since Mr Reagan was in power, before publicly discussing this theory. I believe the arguments presented here should convince that America is indeed predicted in the Biblical prophecy, but the implications for the future of the world are by no means so clear. From the first, caution is essential before imputing particular meanings to such a reading. For example, accepting that the USA is the 666 prophesied in the Bible does not inevitably mean that America will degenerate along the lines of traditional images of the beast into an evil force bent on death and destruction. Nor can it be assumed that the correlation with the 666 necessarily implies the United States as a whole is essentially evil, or that a cosmic divine wrath is in store for the human race, or, least of all, that the capitalist system should be overthrown. The images of a holy war at the end of time, with cataclysmic notions of demonic thrall and angelic war, might even be more an embroidery around the central message than an inevitable prediction of the end of history. It may be that the detailed myths of the apocalypse represent more the partial beliefs of the early church, as it tried to comprehend the divine revelation of the 666, than essential teachings of God. Considering that God’s love is the main teaching of the Bible, it is more likely that the truth of the 666 should foreshadow, not apocalyptic collapse, but the possibility of divine forgiveness. Perhaps the need is more for regulation and guidance than for overthrow? While these questions remain open it would be dangerous to interpret America as the fulfillment of conventional visions.
Jesus Christ called all people to a life of love, truth, justice and faith. He summed up these values in the teachings to love God and to treat others as we would have them treat us. In the dangerous and unstable times we now live in, a return to these teachings of Jesus would certainly help humanity to live together peacefully in a sustainable global community. A major problem, however, is that the essential Christian ethics, such as simplicity, humility and generosity, are largely foreign to the corporate-military mind supported by the American economy. Whether or not our planet could sustain the current human population at western living standards, we certainly cannot achieve sustainable global prosperity in the longer term without fundamental changes in human attitudes. The changes needed include the rejection of many of the harmful ideas promoted by American mass culture.
As we move into an era where America is the sole superpower and the earth is groaning under the weight of humanity, modern society has cut itself off, to a large extent, both from God and from nature. This failure to provide any ground for our being means we lack a rational and systematic understanding of the place of humanity in the universe, compatible with both the scientific world view and the spiritual and ethical needs of humanity. The identification of the USA as the 666, within an otherwise generally sceptical framework, is advanced here as a cogent foundation for such a rational understanding of our place, giving grounds to see the Bible as a source of elemental wisdom about the moral structure of the world, and the channel for the eternal God for whom all times are equally present.
It is a real conundrum how the Bible could possibly contain the devastating critique of America suggested here when Christianity provided the foundation for American success through the Puritan tradition. The Bible endorses essential American ideals including liberty, adherence to principle and respect for hard work. Jesus gave his blessing to freedom of enterprise and prudent investment in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:29), where he said “to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance”. How could these elements of America’s Christian heritage coincide with such a damning prophecy? How could the USA, with its dynamism, brilliance and productivity, possibly be identified with the beast of the apocalypse, an image usually linked with genocidal monsters like Stalin and Hitler?
The problem is not America’s strengths but its weaknesses. The identification of the USA as the 666 suggests that unchecked American dominance poses particular dangers to the world. Despite America’s good faith and good deeds, the historical truth is that America exemplifies a heedless materialism which is deeply selfish and exploitative, and cannot be sustained. To understand the dangers presented by American values, it is essential to look at America in the broad historical perspective of the imperial tradition. America stands at the historical culmination of the legal, administrative and military systems developed by the Roman empire which were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is a continuity between the hostility to the divine among the powers dominating the west in Biblical times and the present. To the extent America continues the imperial tradition, the theory of USA as 666 can be viewed as a warning sign from God and the ultimate message of the incarnation of Christ, indicating where humanity would stray from the path of its own long term welfare.
The miracle stories of the Bible, such as the resurrection of Jesus, his walking on water, making the blind see and the dead live, point to a remarkable and mysterious connection, observed by his contemporaries, between the historical Jesus and an eternal truth about the place of humanity in the universe. This connection to ultimate truth is the basis of the identity between Jesus the man - the carpenter of Nazareth - and the divine Christ, understood as the Son of God. From the divine perspective of Christ, the focus is on the image of human perfection, transcending the changing moment to a vision in which all times are equally real. The power of this connection to the eternal is the essence of the holiness of Christ and the source of the miraculous energy attested by the Gospels. Perhaps the crowning miracle of this eternal vision is the truth of the 666?
The goal here to present a world-historical thesis in a rational philosophical framework. This opens the question of the proof of the existence of God. What is God? Leaving aside pre-modern unscientific conceptions, it is possible to provide some meaningful philosophical parameters defining the nature of God’s relation to humanity. To imagine these parameters, God can be thought of as a life-affirming principle within the universe, taking the measure of our planet earth from the perspective of eternity, and reaching out to humanity with an essential glimmer of this immensely larger truth. From such an eternal outlook, all times are one: the time of Jesus, the age of the dinosaurs, our current global human civilisation, stone-age tribes, the primeval birth of life four billion years ago, the future.
The evidence for the existence of such a God is the tendency of the universe to be ordered in a way which is nurturing to humanity. The astonishing path of evolution of life on earth, deeply improbable through chance alone, supports the view that the universe is structured in such a way as to promote the evolution of complex life forms such as ourselves. The theory that the universe has such a beneficient structure for human life has been called the ‘anthropic’ principle. Developing this theme further, the existence of the human mind suggests that humanity can be considered in a meaningful sense to be the living image of God, as the only place where we can see the universe begin to reflect on itself. The nurturing of humanity as the living image of God is the traditional purpose of worship, understood as the reflection of the glory of God. For such an eternal God, it would make sense to want to help along the stupendous and baffling marvel of life on our planet.
Christian faith has assumed the anthropic principle as a basic truth about God, but the anthropic principle is not of itself sufficient to prove the existence of God. While it remains unproven that the evolution of life was more than chance, modern people have grounds to doubt that the Bible is the word of God, considering the lack of evidence. Even accepting that God could exist in some abstract sense as a universal and eternal truth, no definitive answer has been revealed to the question why this truth should care about human life and speak to humanity in the Bible.
The 666 is that divine revelation, providing the essential clue to prove the existence of God as the point of contact between human spirituality and the intelligent and organised pro-human principle of the universe postulated by the anthropic theory. Human technical evolution has outstripped our social evolution, creating nuclear and other dangers to our future. In this context, the anthropic principle requires that God put some mechanism in place to enable our social and political capacity to catch our scientific and economic abilities. The only way such a social vision could penetrate our congealed power systems is for humanity to be given a divine revelation of the structure of history.
The promise of the Bible is that the divine nature will be revealed to us, that God will provide us with the key to enable a connection between humanity, as the crown of life, and eternal truth. The Christian vision of the saving grace of God finds the hope of human redemption in a movement from God to us, rather than seeing our salvation as arising from our own efforts. If God has the grace to provide us with the knowledge of the 666 for a higher purpose, namely our preservation as the only being in the world in which the universe consciously sees itself, we have evidence of the existence of a God who is a benevolent eternal power. The suggestion here, that the Bible offers such a key by predicting American dominance, rests on the belief that God has intervened prophetically in human history through Christ and the Bible. On this basis, it makes sense that the Bible’s explanation of the structure of history, in the prophecy of the 666, was provided by God to allow humanity to know our place and to keep us away from the abyss of destruction. Despite its limits, the Bible remains an immensely powerful source of morality and meaning. The primitive theory of Father God above the sky and hell beneath the earth may have been destroyed by science, but the moral vision it supported has not been replaced by any secular moral foundation. The identification of the USA as the 666 predicted in the Bible is the logical key to unlock the mystery of the knowledge of the grace of God, and to show how God can intervene in human history for the sake of our salvation. Acceptance of the truth of the prophecy moves the anthropic proof of the existence of God from the status of hypothesis to that of certainty.
Another big question for the identification of the USA as 666 is whether the current time could be ‘the end of the age’ in the sense predicted in the Bible. The Bible does in fact give an important indication that no time before the twentieth century could have been the end of the age. Jesus says “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). Only now, when western society has contacted every part of the world, accompanied by the Christian Church, has this condition been fulfilled. Only now, with the arrival of globalization, has the Gospel truly been preached to the whole world, setting the scene for the end of the age.
There are indeed signs that a broad shift in epoch is underway. The historical age of colonial imperialism, marked by the clash of hitherto separate societies and their ancient belief systems, is drawing to a close, while the process of globalisation is emerging as a defining principle of a new age. This interpretation sets a definite historical boundary to the notion of the ‘close of the age’ presented in the Bible. But, recalling the God’s unexpected forgiveness of the evil city in the story of Jonah, the end of the age need not mean the end of humanity; rather it should be a time of promise and opportunity, a time of discarding the unjust and worn out ways of the old age, a time to begin a new age and make all things new.
The challenge of sustainability presented by the new age is to make the principle of love the basis for public policy. This is not a simple matter of redistribution, but of affirming the knowledge and skills of modern society and finding ways to re-order economic and social systems to make globalisation sustainable, and to ensure that principles such as merit, justice, inclusion and ecology hold sway. The growth of globalisation is a defining social reality. Technology increasingly allows standards to be harmonised by communication, making the concealment of evil impossible. Such transparency means the coming age will display the rule of principle over power. By contrast, 2000 years ago the last age responded to the message of divine truth, in the person of Christ, with crucifixion. Such a response was only possible because at that time imperial power exercised such dominance over principle.
The indefinite Biblical concept of the age becomes more precise when it is realised that no previous time has shown such evidence as does ours of a truly ephocal transition, based on a broad look at the transformations occurring in the world. The key theme of this transition is from a society ordered on the basis of belief to a society ordered on the basis of knowledge. This unfolding transformation in human history is a turning point between epochs, away from the stage in human evolution in which no final certainty was available and into an age where scientific knowledge is becoming the basis of human activity.
The millennia from the time of Christ until now, viewed as a single age, can be characterised as the age of belief, because a defining and uniting theme of that entire period was that true information on the nature of the universe was unavailable. The central feature of contemporary social evolution is that false beliefs, which formerly underpinned all social practices at some level, are steadily becoming less tenable. The claim here, made in the name of scientific knowledge and the rational ordering of society on Christian principles, is that the end of the age of belief and the emergence of the age of knowledge is the central fact of our time. The spread to the entire planet of modern civilisation and its motor of scientific knowledge leaves no room for people to make decisions based on beliefs which are demonstrably false. This is leading to the sweeping away of untrue beliefs and the creation of a new age of knowledge.
The birth of Christ was the beginning of the age of belief in theological terms, marking the inbreaking of an energy - God as Logos or Divine Word - into a worrld which had hitherto only partially glimpsed this possibility. In historical terms, the birth of Christ coincided with what historians refer to as the common era, the period of consolidation of the imperial principle of domination of one people by another in the Roman Empire. A common feature of all societies ordered around indefinite beliefs is that they have allowed imperialism to be a key organising principle of politics. Imperialism is based on support for unequal power relations between the metropolitan core and the subordinate periphery. General acceptance of this imperial principle of injustice has only begun to fall apart in the last generation, with the assertion of human rights to equality of treatment.
If belief was the ruling theme of the last two millennia, the USA as 666 represents the apotheosis of the old culture of false belief, and the culminating force of the imperial military epoch. Despite its scientific prowess, American military policy remains the bulwark of resistance to a world ordered on the principles of knowledge. America, as the dominant power of this age, continues in some essential respects to apply imperial principles which came to prominence at the time of Christ and which characterise the whole of the age of belief. In particular, American reliance on military power as the guarantor of state policy stands in a direct historical line of descent from Roman imperial practices. Armed force will undoubtedly remain unavoidable as a basis of security, but American military policy is so grandly bizarre, with its nuclear weapons and other excesses, that its policies are clearly not determined by reason.
The other essential element of imperialism is the exploitative and heedless frontier attitude towards the use of natural resources. This mentality, which derides knowledge about unsustainability, is certainly the greatest threat to biodiversity, and may also threaten human well-being. Precisely because the imperial principle of state domination is based on false beliefs and is manifestly not adequate to global needs, the end of the age of belief is now an urgent matter.
The brutality inflicted by western imperial powers on people at their margins has been extreme. From ancient Rome through the colonial period to the present, western rule has been a bringer of death for indigenous cultures. When Jesus confronted the Roman empire with God’s demand to love those at the margins, the instinctive brutal response was to crucify and persecute the messenger. A similar arrogant streak, albeit much humanised, remains prominent in American behaviour today.
The Bible gives a pertinent warning about the dangers of such arrogance in the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 10), whose builders were scattered by God for assuming that merely human values were sufficient. The message is that societies which attempt to supplant God as the source of value risk collapse, when pride results in a fall. America, by imagining it can dispense with true humility before God, may be in danger of repeating the lesson from the tower of Babel.
Jesus Christ supported peace with the Roman Empire, with his call to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, but he also clashed with the imperial power through his teaching to render unto God that which is God’s. This latter teaching, which calls us to find an absolute place for the unconditional love of God in human society, was in Jesus’ eyes more important than acceptance of the civil powers, but far harder to understand and do. It was this insistence on the absolute truth of God that led ultimately to his crucifixion.
The story of the murder of Christ shows, more than any other event in history, the gulf between humanity and truth. The crucifixion is a symbol of how Jesus, the man who most fully embodied the divine truth, was too much for his society to handle, because they preferred their illusions to the harsh honesty of self-recognition. Such denial of the universal and eternal values of God must eventually lead to destruction, but the question for theology is whether God can intervene to prevent this destruction.
Jesus was killed by the Romans, and America is the modern heir of Roman imperialism. Could the emblematic instrument of western rule, the United States Dollar, be identified by God in the Bible as the power against which supporters of love and truth must contend? I shudder to think. Maybe the Bible got it right? Maybe God is telling us that our world system has something rotten at its core? Perhaps the message of the resurrection of Jesus is that the evil of imperialism will be conquered by the truth of God, when the meek, the peacemakers and the poor in spirit will inherit the earth?
America pretends to be a religious society, but mainstream American Christianity is deeply flawed, and is doing little to slow the destructive trends. Instead it promotes a selfish individual doctrine of redemption which tries to save souls from the world, rather than seeking an integrated vision of how the world might be saved from itself. Yet the Bible says that God came into the world through Jesus not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17). The blood of the cross may yet be redemptive, but only through the understanding it gives of the human situation, through the knowledge that the personal and structural sins of our world are caused by denial of truth and failure to love.
Jesus says that people will be judged by their works of compassion (Matthew 25: 31-46). Against this guiding Christian spirit of love, the American ethos is dangerously lacking. American culture is far from Christ, even in its so-called Christian aspects, having accepted a number of false values which threaten the future of humanity and the world. The self-absorption of the consumer society is inimical to an ethic of love, and conceals beneath the material success major problems such as violent crime, racism, gun culture, militarism, structural inequity, plutocracy and other social ills. These and many other current practices are destructive and unsustainable in their present form. At their root is the power of money.
The collapse of communism has been claimed to vindicate America’s military and economic policies, but this claim is weak, even granting that communism was more detached from reality than Mr Reagan’s Hollywood. The Soviet Empire fell largely because of its internal problems, caused by the shamelessly false idea of Marx and Lenin that progress required a physical attack on successful individuals. This ideology was made plausible and powerful by its appeal to brooding mass resentment, but it resulted in economic and political paralysis. Communism caused such idiotic and undignified misery that its collapse was inevitable. The question now is whether the errors of communism justify those of the American order. Of course the answer must be that they do not. Millennarian communism was an evil and dangerous system, but it failed in the end to dominate the world, unlike its American rival.
The lesson in the dangers of utopian ideology provided by the fall of communism does not imply, as appears to be sometimes assumed, that a divine blessing has been conferred on the victorious order. The external military pressure provided by America may have helped end the Cold War, through the trillions of dollars spent by Mr Reagan on the defence budget. The ‘victory’ does not counter the fact that American defence expenditure remains the grossest waste of resources in world history, at a time when those funds should be invested in human development, not squandered on equipment too powerful and dangerous to use. No one could ever say ‘who is like Russia and who can fight against it?’. In our present circumstances it looks like this central question will only ever be asked of America.
This essay has discussed the correspondence of the 666 with Mr Reagan and the dollar, the continuity between America’s world position and that of the empire which crucified Jesus, the possible role of this correlation as the key to confirm the anthropic proof of the existence of God, and the extent to which our time shows the signs of transition between ages. In light of these factors, if the prophecy of USA as 666 is true, we have an intellectually coherent and honest basis for Christianity as the foundation for reform and evolution of human society for the modern age. By forcing a return to a humble honesty before God, before the earth and before each other, this message can enable a renewing openness to central themes in our civilisation, such as truth, justice and reconciliation, and provide the foundation for humanity to move into a truly global civilization. The notion of USA as 666 could therefore be the key to a new interpretation of world history and a first premise for a new systematic Christian theology, shedding light on the human condition. Naming the USA as 666 could be the essential first step to clarify the requirements for structural change for the next stage of human progress. The understanding flowing from this realisation could enable humanity to evolve into a new global epoch by allowing us fully to recognise the truth of our situation. On this basis, naming America as the beast could be the key to forestalling the main threats to human existence, and an essential basis for the peaceful evolution of human life on earth, within a stable political framework, away from unsustainable practices and towards an ethical world community.
No single nation-state should lead the process of globalisation, which requires a new level of humility and cooperation before God. The question of what should follow the current period of American dominance is of course the big issue raised by this argument. My view is that a steady consultative increase in the integration between national systems, through new world institutions, is inevitable and to be welcomed. It may even be that these institutions must be wrested away from their old world locations, and re-founded in neutral places to emphasise the need for all to be treated with justice.
The challenge is to prepare for the return of Jesus, who foretold that:
“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me... As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me”. (Matthew 25:31-40)