Emily Suzanne Clark
While spending the holidays with my family in San Antonio, a local news story has grabbed my attention. And this isn’t the first time; two years ago La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was found dead after a shootout with Mexican federal police officers, and I pondered the intersections of the drug cartel and religion. This time, I’ve found the anti-Christ.
A local high school student has a religious objection to her school district’s new student tracking device. Inside their student id cards, San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District is experimenting with RFID technology that will allow for closer attendance monitoring by letting school administrators to see where students are in real time. They argue that this will help keep students in class (as opposed to ditching) and could save lives in case of emergencies. The student and her father object to the tracking device, for it may be the Book of Revelation’s “mark of the beast.” The San Antonio Express-News reports that they see the new id card as “a sign of submission to the Antichrist.” According to the student's father, "The mark of the beast is what the Antichrist is going to use so he can track the people." On the line is the student’s opportunity to attend the special magnet program at the high school for science and engineering. This particular magnet program is competitive and selective and could certainly open college doors for the student. The school board decided that if she refuses to wear the id card, she cannot attend the high school that houses the magnet program, and thus she should attend other high school zoned for her family’s residence. A federal court is currently deciding if the school board’s decision violates her rights of religious freedom.
|Image taken from Daniel Wojcik, "Embracing Doomsday"|
Identifying persons at the anti-Christ or various technology as the mark of the beast is hardly new. But what strikes me about the story is who the anti-Christ is in this scenario. After her father testified in court—a testimony that included a scripture reading—the local paper asked him who he thought was assuming the role of the anti-Christ. He replied, “In this case, Northside [school district] is the Anti-christ.” Usually it’s a government leader or a foreign power itself that is identified as the anti-Christ—FDR, Obama, Gorbachev, Reagan, and various popes just to name a small handful. But a school district?
Now, this is only my guess, but I would surmise that the student and her father do not imagine that the superintendent and school board will be leaders in the great battle of Armageddon. Even if one believes that this type of technology is the mark of the beast, a school district seems a fairly innocuous entity when discussing wars and rumors of wars. But identifying the school district as the anti-Christ is a good discursive strategy. It’s not new to identify someone as the anti-Christ, somewhere as the New Jerusalem, something as the mark of the beast, some event as a sign of the times; rather these are trends we see over and over again in American religions. This act of identification does some theological legwork for the identifier and can invest something as simple as an id card with extraordinary significance. To call something the mark of the beast or to identify someone as the anti-Christ—them’s fightin’ words. Additionally, the father’s specification of “in this case” also strikes me. If the anti-Christ can be different persons in different situations, how do we know which one will be the one of the great battle of Armageddon? Perhaps for some Americans, this is why we are just always at the edge of the end of the world. For them, we live in a perpetual state of apocalypse always.