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Thinking Out Loud

The Spirit of Antichrist

by Michael Jinkins | Nov 21, 2017

The Spirit of AntiChristWhen I was a teenager one of my favorite games was "Pin the Tail on the Antichrist."

Fundamentalist preachers up and down the country were busy identifying first this public figure then another as "THE Antichrist." They needed the Antichrist to appear in order to whip up enthusiasm for their “Second Coming” sermons.

I began to grow suspicious about this game, first, because every year or two we seemed to get a new Antichrist. Then, I also noticed that Fundamentalist preachers who leaned Democratic (and, yes, they existed back then) always seemed to discover pachydermian Antichrists while Republican Fundamentalists unfailingly pinned the tail on a donkey.

Perhaps the most entertaining Antichrist was introduced in the very funny novel that Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett co-authored in 1990 titled Good Omens.* The novel is about two babies who are accidentally exchanged at birth; the infant Antichrist is taken home from the hospital by a nice suburban family while the innocent ordinary baby is raised by a demonic lot. Hilarity ensues.

What most Antichrist antics tend to have in common is their global scale.

Armageddon is often involved, as are sinister international organizations and fallen angels. But, today, I'd like to stay at a more mundane level, at the level of our ordinary everyday lives. I'd like to examine the spirit of Antichrist that rears its head close to home. Specifically, I'd like to explore what happens when we fool ourselves into believing that we can achieve good and gracious goals by employing demonic means.

I would like to leave to one side for now all the (at least to me) offensive caricaturing of Jesus Christ which seem to have one thing in common: that is, remaking Jesus in our own image. There are plenty of people who want Jesus to represent their values and beliefs, whether he looks like a surfer dude with long sandy hair, a tenured professor in tweeds, a gun-toting vigilante in camouflage, or the marketing director for a Fortune 500 company. It's one thing to want to be more Christlike, and quite another to want Jesus to serve as mascot for our lifestyles.

Today, I would like us to reflect on something so common, so very ordinary, it tends to slip right through the net of our consciousness.

What does it mean that we set lofty Christian goals but fail to entrust them to means appropriate to those ends? What does it mean that we pay lip service to Christian virtues like love and gentleness but tend to regard them as weak when the rubber meets the road? What does it mean that we would rather demand that our faith serve as an apologist for vulgar and violent forces than to allow the Christian Faith to call perhaps unworthy goals into question?

I raise these questions simply because it seems to me that when the way of Jesus is sacrificed for the sake of institutional, political or cultural interests, the first causality may well be the humanity to which God calls us in Jesus Christ. Through the waters of baptism we renounced the powers of evil, yet we appear to believe that we can keep them on speed-dial just in case love, peace and mercy don't get the job done.

Sociology has a helpful distinction between "espoused beliefs" and "actual values" which I think is especially clarifying, although the distinction may make us a little uncomfortable. Among the "espoused values" of most Christians are a whole range of teachings of Jesus derived straight from the gospels. They include aspects of the mission that Jesus claimed for himself, "to announce good news to the poor ... to proclaim freedom to prisoners ... and recovery of sight to the blind ... . To release the oppressed." They include admonitions that are unqualified, for example, to refrain from judging others, to forgive others without limitation, to return good for evil, to care for the helpless, to welcome strangers, and to act at all times for the sake of mercy.

I think most of us recognize these and other teachings of Jesus as the real thing.

Yet, from time to time I hear sermons that attempt to prove, sometimes through the most elaborate exegetical and homiletical acrobatics, that Jesus didn't really mean what he obviously said. I've heard preachers try to justify judgment of others in the name of righteousness. I've heard ministers claim that Jesus wasn't really against violence, he just reserved it for special cases. Despite the fact that virtually all Christians would recognize that the Sermon on the Mount represents the authentic teachings of Jesus, I've even heard preachers who have claimed that Jesus' teachings are really irrelevant. What matters is not what Jesus taught, not the example he set, but the way he fits into their theology of redemption.

I find such preaching refreshingly frank in attempting to reject Jesus' words and way in the name of another ideology, but I would find the preachers even more honest if they just admitted, "I don't agree with Jesus", or "I would rather not follow Jesus", or "I like the idea that he will get me to heaven, but I'm uncomfortable with what he seems to require on earth."

Our "espoused beliefs" make us feel better about ourselves while allowing us to go right ahead and justify what we want to do. And, of course, our "espoused beliefs" also tend to be miles away from the "actual values" that guide our decision-making.

While Jesus teaches us to keep a light hold on our lives, reminding us that to try to save our life is to lose it for sure, we cling to survival and self-interest in every way imaginable, and not just when it comes to preservation of our physical existence. We expend a great deal of energy constructing an image of ourselves to which we are capable of sacrificing virtually everything we say we hold precious and sacred. And, while Jesus teaches us to place our hearts on the kinds of treasures that endure, we tend to live our lives, to borrow a phrase from Don Henley, as though hearses had luggage racks.

Our hypocrisy is well-documented. But that's not my point today.

My point is simply this, again: How do we imagine we can achieve the goals of Jesus while pursing the means of Antichrist?

If the spirit of Antichrist is hatred, violence, lust, bullying, greed, self-seeking, self-justifying, boastfulness, and vulgarity, then what is the Spirit of Christ? The Apostle Paul answered that question long ago by describing the "fruit" of the Holy Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of the Spirit doesn't represent soft options in contrast to the strong options of violence and force; but the Spirit's fruit may cost us our lives. And what is required of us to bear this fruit is a whole different kind of courage than the kind necessary to demean or destroy others.

Let's imagine what might happen if we acted as though the fruit of Christ's Spirit is more powerful than the spirit of Antichrist.
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The novel by Gaiman and Pratchett is subtitled, The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded).

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