RFID: The Mark of the Beast?

Wired news reports the following about Katherine Albrecht, a consumer advocate and a Christian (get ready to wince):

“Albrecht has been a leading opponent of RFID, which is fast becoming a part of passports and payment cards, and is widely expected to replace bar-code labels on consumer goods. RFID chips contain unique identification codes, and can be read at varying distances with special reader devices.

Albrecht hopes her new book, The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Electronic Surveillance, will be embraced by the millions of Americans (59 percent of them, according to a 2002 Time/CNN poll) who share her belief that the Book of Revelation in the Bible forecasts events that are yet to come.”

Read the whole article.

My favorite parts of the article are the series of comments from BU prof, Richard Landes:

“Y2K, bar codes and Social Security numbers all triggered end-times warnings,” said Landes, who was co-founder and director of the Center for Millennial Studies at BU, which studied contemporary cult activities and end-times literature prior to 2000.”Even the introduction of the Gutenberg press caused waves of apocalyptic thinking,” said Landes.

As for myself, one of my best friends is working on RFID with a leading company in the industry. He even helped write a chapter in RFID For Dummies, which was written by his CEO. Maybe someone should send a copy of it to Catherine? It is kind of exciting to have a friend who’s at the forefront of bringing about the apocalypse.

Landes, the BU prof, comments in the article, “It’s enormously attractive,” said Landes. “If you believe you live in the end-times, then everything you do has meaning. You become a warrior, and everything is at stake.” Landes compared the feeling of sharing a collective, apocalyptic experience or narrative as like a near-death experience. “It’s an intense, incredibly intimate experience,” Landes said.

Ah, I feel the tension alright. On one hand I could be with the good guys, fighting against RFID and the mark of the beast. On the other hand, I could work with my friend and help build an evil RFID empire. Or, I could help usher in the millenial reign by working with my friend on the RFID as an “inside” guy, and then suddenly reveal my true identity after the trumpet sounds. Yes, I have most unique position that will give me options and benefits far greater than the rest of the shmucks out there who will get the RFID tag stamped on their foreheads.

Seriously though, I can guarantee you that Catherine and many other Christians who think the same way about Revelation have never studied apocalyptic literature of the Jewish Second Temple Period. The simple fact is that Revelation resembles the literature of its time in many ways, including the book of Daniel. The book of Revelation is not supposed to give us a blow by blow analysis of history. It’s not a narrative. It’s not supposed to be the plot of a runaway bestseller. That is doing extreme violence to the text, to sell it off as a slave to commerce, to bind it in chains and use it however we see fit.

I can’t tell you what Revelation is about. Even the early church fathers who were not far removed from the apostle John knew what it was. It was almost left out of the canon for scripture. That should give us caution. What makes us think we can get a better handle on it with 1900 years of culural change, shifts in thought, and chaotic church history working against us?

Revelation is at least about a spiritual struggle. There is a dualistic world and the power of God is fighting against the evil powers at work in the world. The symbolic language could just as easily refer to the persecution of the early church as it could to a future time in history. It could be a blend of it all. The exegesis that created the Left Behind series is of the poorest quality and should be laughed right out of the church.

What is the mark of the beast? Who knows. I really don’t think that RFID has anything to do with it. If Uncle Sam has something up his sleeve, then I’m sure enough people will make a stink that our privacy will be protected. Imagine if the ACLU and NRA spoke up in the same voice.

There will always be something that we look to as the trigger for the apocalypse. If Jesus said that he will come as a thief in the night, then I suspect we should always be ready and look forward to his return, but not get too excited about figuring the details out. We’ll be surprised and amazed when we see how he returns. We can be waiting, but I don’t think we can figure out how it’s going to happen.

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One thought on “RFID: The Mark of the Beast?

  1. Josh

    What is it about Christians that wants to stop any potential technology that Satan could use in the end times? Isn’t Revelations prophetic? Isn’t it going to happen? We’re called to war against sin and the spirit of the anti-Christ, but not to become neo-luddites. I see this as an equally disturbing trend to certain christian zionists, who spend fortunes rebuilding temple items to hasten the Lord’s return. We know not the day nor the hour, let’s all just deal with that.

    As a post-script, I’m a worker in the Point of Sale technology field also. I see no real functional difference between RFID, barcodes or any other inventory method. All could be used to prevent enemies of state from participating in economic transactions.

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