Apocalypse Always

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 courta testimony that included a scripture readingthe 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-ChristFDR, 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.


Charles Richter said…
I'd be very interested in exactly how the term "antichrist" was used in this case. With only these few quotes to draw from, it's hard to figure out their particular brand of millennialism, but her father just might have been referring to the school as being an antichrist, of which there are many mentioned in the Bible, and not specifically the end-times personage, properly called the beast.

It's blurry because they are obviously concerned about the mark/antichrist connection. Modern end-times culture conflates the two terms into one being, but in the letters of John, "many antichrists" are mentioned. It is unusual for someone steeped in the Hal Lindsay/Tim LaHaye narrative to use "antichrist" as anything but the "beast," but perhaps this guy has a more nuanced view of his Bible.

Then again, maybe they are just fightin' words. I mean, they're definitely that, but maybe that's all they are.
esclark said…
They may indeed just be fighting words, but they could be more. Apparently the school district tried to compromise and allow the student to wear the id badge but without the tracking device, and the family still claimed the id card violated their religious freedom rights. Without knowing which biblical passage the father read in court, it's hard to pin down the exact brand of millennialism the family ascribes to. I too would like to know more about how they meant it, but the local paper only gives the quotes it gives. They were also featured on the local tv news. I could see a KJV Bible in their hands, but nothing that would provide good hints. (A copy of Left Behind would certainly have given them away!)

They may be in a group that conflates the terms. But it's the combination of that comment and their identification of the id card as the mark of the beast that made me think they indeed meant the anti-Christ. NPR also quoted the father as connecting the mark of the beast with the anti-Christ's desire to track people (I just added that in the body of the post).
Anonymous said…
I wonder if this story would have registered at the national level if the student-and-parents objection was couched in secular terms--that this level of intensive monitoring was a violation of privacy, or civil liberties, or that it was simply big brotherish?
Anonymous said…
I wonder if this story would have garnered national attention if the family's objection was strictly secular? If, for example, they objected on the grounds that it represented a fairly extreme breach of privacy to give school officials the ability to monitor a student's time in a toilet stall, would this story have received so much attention?

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