(nota bene: anything herein which is not historical fact or a direct quote from someone
is the writer's personal interpretation, and is, as always, offered subject to the possibility that she's dead wrong.)
first: the concept
(Apocalypse: from Greek apokalypsis, "unveiling or uncovering of things hidden; a revelation")
Prof. Robert Fuller's excellent, and excellently titled, little book Naming The Antichrist: The History of an American Obsession (to which I am gratefully indebted for this and much more background material) explains that a central point in the concept of Antichrist, throughout its history, is that it does not denote a supernatural creature. The Antichrist can easily deceive us and work amongst us because, although in league with evil, he is a human man not unlike ourselves. In his very earliest days, he might even have been a Christian. The first and second letters of John (which contain the only use of the word "Antichrist" in the Bible) show that he saw "the spirit of antichrist" in some from the community of early Christian believers, who, disagreeing with certain points of doctrine, had left the group to preach their own alternative view. "Now many antichrists have come," he warns, "this is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already." (These particular antichrists dared to deny that Jesus had lived and died his earthly life in actual human flesh, asserting instead that, as a divine spirit, he had only taken on the temporary appearance of a human body.) John spoke in the lower case: "anti-christ," just as we might say "anti-war" or "anti-abortion." To him, antichrists were any who did not believe the doctrine of Jesus exactly as John himself did, especially if they deceived others by preaching heresy - even if in every other way they were still believers. It took some time for this mere spirit of dissent to become the upper-case Antichrist, a wicked individual, with his own mythology and secret agenda.
By the third century CE the figure of Antichrist had become identified with the apocalyptic monster of the Book of Revelation, which was thought to represent him allegorically, and had taken on the unique identity of Satan's end-time henchman. Early Christian writers clarified his position and works. Jerome (c. 340-420) wrote, "Nor let us think that Antichrist is the devil or a demon, but one of men in whom Satan is to dwell bodily." Chrysostom (c. 345 - 427), referring to "the lawless one" in 2 Thessalonians, wrote, "But who is this one? Think you, Satan? By no means, but some man possessed of all his energy." The position originally expressed by John had been, these writers believed, superseded; while unbelievers and other culprits might manifest anti-Christian behavior, they were not themselves Antichrist. They were only in the spirit of, or acting as precursors of, the one terrible Antichrist who was yet to come.
This theory did not then carry the influence it does today. Christianity, of course, was not taken very seriously by most thinkers and philosophers of the world during its first three centuries; more to the point, not even every Christian writer of the day agreed with Jerome. A North African scholar, Tyconius (c. 330-390), wrote a thoughtful study of the Book of Revelation which downplayed its apocalyptic tone, suggesting that it should be understood to symbolize the struggle of good and evil within the church through history. The famous theologian Augustine, following Tyconius' lead, completely demillenialized Revelation in his work The City of God. Discouraging readers from seeing their lives as lived on a battleground between cosmic forces and leading toward the imminent end of the world, Augustine scaled Revelation down to an allegorical portrait of the daily conflict within every human soul, the pull between goodness and sin. To him Antichrist was no supernaturally inspired entity. Not only heretics and religious dissenters but slave dealers, cheaters, drunkards, perjurers, all evildoers were Antichrist. This moderated view of Revelation's hallucinogenic grandeur became the approved orthodox position.
However, it failed to capture the public imagination, and to this very day one can hear evangelists and "prophecy scholars" breathlessly interpreting the day's news in the light of Revelation as sure proof that the end times will arrive a week from Tuesday. In the minds of these believers, the Antichrist has a highly specific role to play, divined by re-interpreting the Books of Revelation and Daniel in modern terms. Their scenario basically runs thus: The "rapture" (the abduction of all faithful Christian believers from earth to heaven) will be followed by a chaotic seven-year period of world social crisis. Russia attacks Israel but is destroyed by Israel and her European allies in a one-day thermonuclear war that kills 25% of the world's population. The Antichrist, in the guise of a brilliant and charismatic European politician, takes credit for Russia's defeat. Supported by the "superchurch," an alliance of the world's remaining religions (remaining, that is, after Christianity has deserted the planet), he rises to power on a tide of worldwide acclaim and is given the reins of the unified world government. (Thus the multi-headed and multi-horned "Great Beast" of Revelation at which all marvel and worship - each head representing a subject nation. Daniel's prophetic dream also contains a beast with ten horns, plus one little horn which can see and "speak great things," and has such power that it casts down stars and stamps upon them.) His henchman is the "second beast" known as the False Prophet, a master magician. On their insistence, no one may transact business who does not wear a mark - the infamous "number of the name of the Beast," 666 - and those who refuse are killed. God avenges their deaths with the Tribulation, a wave of plagues and pestilences. The treacherous Beast then turns on Israel and, as commander of all the world's combined armies, orders all Jews slaughtered. This is the cue for Jesus himself to return to earth at the head of a celestial army, precipitating the Battle of Armageddon, in which Israel will be saved, the armies of the Beast massacred and the Antichrist himself thrown by Jesus into a lake of fire. Satan is bound and the world enjoys a thousand years of peace and prosperity - the fabled Millennium. Notice how inextricably the two are connected, Christ and Antichrist: the Antichrist must appear and commit his foretold acts to bring on Armageddon and the Second Coming. And both are at one time mortal men, the vehicles of an immortal power, chosen to rise to fame and then - inexorably - to die for it.
An entertaining, if slightly alarming, thread of Fuller's book details the tendency of religious-minded Americans to see the USA as a divinely inspired and God-favored nation, and therefore to represent our history (subconsciously and otherwise) in terms of titanic Good vs. Evil battles, mythologizing, beatifying or demonizing its characters as suits such epic struggle. Another running theme, and an important one to our topic, is the fundamentalists' (a term that's not as recent as one might think, incidentally - it was coined in the 1920s) constant vigilance against the seeping influence of modern thought, which works against them at every turn to lure believers - and more importantly, their children - out of the safe pond of Biblical inerrancy and into the wide ocean of scientific and philosophical ideas. Independent thought leads to religious doubt and the loss of minds once true to God. In an unnerving paragraph, Hal Lindsey, a Christian youth counselor and millennialist author ("The Late Great Planet Earth" et al) advises college students in conflict between their Christian beliefs and their education to "begin distrusting academic authorities, suppress their natural curiosity, and submit reason to unquestioning acceptance of Biblical authority."
But Naming The Antichrist primarily demonstrates that, for centuries, fundamentalist Christians
have used the image of Antichrist for four major purposes:
It is crucial to have some world-threatening villain, be he Nero or Hitler or Saddam Hussein, "named" as the Antichrist so that believers may be assured the end times are advancing as promised.
I submit that the events surrounding the release of Marilyn Manson's album Antichrist Superstar and its supporting "Dead To The World" tour fit these qualifications, and will in future take their place in books like Professor Fuller's. Explication, experiences and personal epiphany to follow.
The Reverend Mr. Marilyn Manson, center of the following discussion, has made a number of statements about assuming the name of Antichrist, but they boil down to one point: like John and Augustine, he believes the title belongs neither to the Devil nor to any man alone. Although he has said frequently - and, one suspects, with considerable pride - that the purpose of the album Antichrist Superstar is "to create a musical ritual that will bring about the Apocalypse," he has been quick to add (huH Magazine, Oct. '96) that "people look at the Apocalypse as the world being destroyed, but I look at it on a different level. For me, the idea of Antichrist is an unspoken knowledge that every person has, it's just the denial of God and the acceptance of yourself as a powerful being who can make their own decisions. It's not someone with a 666 on their head who's going to burn down the world."
Paradoxically, Mr. Manson may be both more similar to these church elders than he seems, and more in tune with the original definition of antichrist. A Reverend (as is well known) of the Church of Satan, and a manifestly anti-Christian artist, Manson is probably the first named Antichrist to have so named himself and to consciously speak for the role. He has often stated that the destruction of Christianity is one of his primary goals. In more moderate terms, he has said that his quarrel is not with the concept of deity or even with the Bible, but with the intolerant and judgmental attitudes that characterize fervent believers and their concept of Almighty God.
I believe there is an important understanding here which must be kept in mind. The Christianity which Manson wants to bring down is, I believe, not that faith in its essence but the popular Christianity of the past several decades: the Christianity of televangelism and boycotts and right-wing politics, which insists on stamping its own moral code over the faces of others who believe and behave otherwise, which demands that its values and its version of God must be the law for all, which in short virtually embodies the qualities of moral smugness, rule-by-terror, dishonesty and greed that Manson assails. A consistent theme of Manson's is his regret at the corruption of innocence and his wish to regain that innocence, which he has actually described with the phrase "being born again." The more I have studied this the more I have become convinced that what Manson despises is the corruption of the church, not the church itself. This is why I say that to some degree he's in sync with the early Church fathers, as he objects to changes in practice that distort the meaning of the teachings. I am not saying he's a closet Christian; I'm saying that I do not think he would have felt driven to attack modern Christianity if its excess and ugliness did not seem to be corroding something that, in its original state, had value.
And that value was to set and enforce personal ethical boundaries. To cause conscience.
More times than I can count, I have read quotes from Manson that are wistful, almost sad, about the plight of a society that needs something as drastic as Marilyn Manson to spotlight and drill its flaws. In his idea of a perfect world there'd be no need for him to do what he does, he says, and you can't help believing him. It's a dirty job he's assigned himself, and his belief in it doesn't clean it up much. His classic line, "Raise your kids right or Marilyn Manson will raise them for you," has always sounded to me more like a plea than a threat to steal babies. Why wouldn't you want to raise your kids right? What's wrong with you, if you'd actually leave their care to some rock band? It's hard not to hear that he wishes things were less extreme, more defined, that there were taboos - that individual people had a sense of right and wrong. There's an echo here of so many kids' wish that Mom and Dad would pay them some attention, care what they do, even if it means asking questions and setting curfew. A wish for someone to act responsibly.
And there's the difference between the Church of Satan and the Church of Christ - Satanism insists upon responsibility and individual accountability [ "to live outside the law you must be honest"] while Christianity will let you shirk your duty and let the Bible make your decisions for you. Quite frankly the CoS often sounds a heck of a lot more honest and ethically sound - and decidedly less condemnatory - than the competition. Small wonder the kid-who-would-be-Manson gravitated to it, smaller wonder that he took his new role as advisor to those even younger so very seriously. Someone was gonna be responsible, even if it had to be him. (And he made a pretty damn good Daddy, better than most.)
That's the perfect beauty of it, the polished sphere at its center: the Antichrist is a better Christian than the Christians. In the classic, original sense of the word he is an antichrist, preaching a form of the word that's far different from the one approved of by Those In Charge. But the word he offers - honesty, responsibility, loyalty, discipline, self-worth, and rejection of the forces that have made the church a whore in bondage to money and power - is both Satanism as it is and Christianity as, dare we say, it ought to be. That's why they're afraid of him: because they know, and can't deny to themselves, that he's telling the truth and they aren't.
I am not claiming that Manson himself is a paragon of virtue, either celestial or infernal. I'm claiming that the band's message and the theme of ACS express bitter disappointment in the Christianity and the Christian culture in which he was raised, and share the lesson he learned from them: that you must reject that culture if you want to live your own life. The lesson is not that you must become a Satanist, that's just the agency through which the kid Manson was helped to find definition. You might find it elsewhere. But you must find it yourself.
It would follow that he considers rejection of God and Jesus more an individual victory than a crime against humanity. Though he has elsewhere spoken of the ACS LP as "the soundtrack for the end of the world," Manson's Apocalypse and his Antichrist are alike internal and psychological. The person who is liberated from the idea of a dominating, all-powerful deity has struck a decisive blow for personal freedom - has, for him or herself, killed God and changed the world forever. "I think every time people listen to this new album, maybe God will be destroyed in their heads and they'll become themselves and go through the same transformation I did," Manson says, "where you are a worm and you become something that's much stronger." One can feel the fundamentalists shuddering; here is a rock star, a hero to hundreds of thousands of kids, earnestly and intelligently expressing this profoundly antichurch belief in the pages of national magazines - and asserting that his newest album is committed to expressing it as well. Does the Antichrist need to be a master politician to gain control over the world? One imagines them worrying. Might he not exert his influence through another field of endeavor?...
And indeed, Manson expresses zero interest in politics or social causes. His is not a band you'll find playing fund-raisers or Concerts For. Even the pressure placed on his tour schedule by the outrage of the civic-minded has not moved him to speak out against censorship and religious bigotry, though he has commended his fans' efforts to fight back (individual initiative, you see). If he is playing the role of the Antichrist, it's on his own definition and terms - the only way a credible Antichrist would.
Which brings us to those four fundamentalist purposes....
-- from "What In God's Name? The Pensacola Revival," Peter Carlson, Washington Post, 4/27/97
The Antichrist Superstar LP was under attack within weeks of its release. Self-styled cultural defenders William Bennett, C. DeLores Tucker and Sen. Joseph Lieberman held a televised hearing to chastise Interscope for releasing such filth, and Bennett circulated a newspaper column hammering it ("one of the sickest groups today...lyrics unfit for human consumption") alongside his other favorite target, gangsta rap. But these were nothing compared to the Christian-guided, media-fueled assault that would descend when the band took its new LP on tour. The verbal and print attacks leveled at Manson's stage performance and general influence - most of them thoroughly ignorant - were classic examples of naming the Antichrist.
The definitive example appeared on the Internet. During the months of March and April 1997, the World Wide Web page of the Gulf Coast chapter of Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association mounted a campaign to stop Manson's April shows in Biloxi and Jackson, MS. The centerpiece of said campaign was two "sworn affidavits" alleged to be from unnamed teens who had attended Manson concerts. The shows they saw were nonexistent both by the alleged date of their performance and by their content, and one doubts the kids themselves even exist, but the statements attributed to them stirred up outrage and trouble for Manson for the rest of the summer. The second one is by far the more extensive and is quoted below. The reader is encouraged to swallow her or his amusement or disgust and admire the craft of this excerpted document, carefully tailored to raise the unthinking wrath of any right-thinking mom and dad. (original typos and grammatical errors left as-are.)
"I have witnessed Manson pull out small chickens, several puppies and kittens out of the bag and throw them into the audience. ... Manson will then tell the audience to make a sacrifice to the music and he will not start the show until all the animals are dead. Manson told me they represent the killing of innocence..... The concerts I've been to are tightly controlled by Manson security guards. No police are ever allowed into the concert area. ...Manson has a team he calls his private Santa Clauses. They come at the crowd from the sides and throw out bags of pot and cocaine throughout the entire audience front to back.... I witnessed Manson pull out his private body part and play with it openly in front of the crowd. I have witnessed him go over to his female guitar player, who is usually totally naked, and plays with her private part in front of the crowd.
Manson band members performing anal intercourse on each other on stage.... security guards will bring an audience member on stage and strip all of their clothes off. ...Manson sang happy birthday to him and
then had this little boy stand on stage while Manson performed sexual acts, including oral sex, while asking the little boy if he would like to do this and would he like to do this. ... witnessed rapes at most concerts. The crowd get into a frenzy and females are held down against their will and raped many times as Manson prods them on. ...I have witnessed Manson perform a satanic church service toward the end of the concert in which he preaches from the satanic bible. Manson gives an invitation to receive satan into your life...I witnessed Manson call for the virgin sacrifice in which all the children in the concert arena are pushed forward by the crowd to be dedicated to satan. I witnessed Manson sharing from the satanic bible, pronouncing some words over the ones who have come or been pushed forward and then Manson pour pig's blood over everyone who has been in this group.... I saw Manson perform sexual intercourse on [a] sheep.
I've turned my life around and I am now fully involved at [name withheld] and have given my life to the Lord Jesue Christ." ==>
(full text available at http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Alley/4812/poaafa2.html)
I've quoted these astonishing fantasias at some length because I think they say a good deal more about the AFA (a Christian "media watchdog" organization) and the rest of the Christian opposition than they do about Marilyn Manson. Evidently feeling people wouldn't be outraged enough if they simply reported that he performs bare-assed, tears up a Bible and says "motherfucker" a lot, they concocted (and these are entirely concocted) accounts which make Manson appear utterly demonic. Nearly pornographic in their detail and encyclopedic in their debauchery - drugs, nudity, oral sex, anal sex, bestiality, pedophilia, masturbation, voyeurism, violent rape, bloodshed, full Satanic Mass complete with gory baptism - they quite frankly read like personal fantasies, not only of what a really Satanic rock show would be like but of everything nice people dread yet find fascinating. (Note that they can't imagine a truly offensive display without nude women, and so compulsively added a naked female guitarist to the band even though no such person has ever existed.)
And to top it off, police - the properly deputized civil law - are excluded, the only governance supposedly being Manson's own (nonexistent) hired thugs, who have anything but the audience's safety in mind.
The AFA has created a lurid orgy of Satanic mob rule and unsuspecting kids walking unprotected into the literal mouth of Hell, a show more extravagantly shocking than any Marilyn Manson has ever performed. They are projecting all their fears onto Manson; the performance they profess to find so appalling pales beside the one they actually want, the one that would prove to them that the Antichrist has truly come and Western Civilization is slipping on the brink of the abyss.
Scapegoating. An unhappy teen who was devoted to the Sex Pistols and Manson committed suicide: someone had to be blamed and it wasn't John Lydon. Bennett's column grumbles: "Many thoughtful people lament that our society has become increasingly coarse, vulgar, brutal and violent... that this kind of music - which is so mournful, so joyless, so moribund, so filled with images of death - has played its part in that degradation should come as no shock." Nadine Winter, who tried to ban the DC Armory show: "The time is now to stop creating platforms for people who say 'Kill your mother. Kill your father.' "
Sense of purpose. Prayer vigils, alternative Christian concerts and informational town meetings have been held in many cities, including Dayton and Caldwell, OH, Wheeling WV (where the gathering outside the venue was described by Rev. George Kurtz as "not so much in protest as to witness for Jesus Christ in the midst of darkness"), Boise ID, Pittsburgh PA (where Christian teens, who had been told they shared the responsibility to counter Manson's message, prayed for his soul - "Imagine what he could do if he were fired up for God!" enthused one - and for "complications" that would keep Manson offstage). --Praying for Manson's soul, or rather for Brian Warner's, was a common theme as folk stressed that it was Satan, not this misguided human in his service, that they opposed, and that Manson himself needed saving even more urgently than the community's children did.
Bad example.-- see virtually all of the AFA "affidavits". Also: "It seemed that everyone in attendance," reported the Christian Family Network on Manson's 2/14/97 Dayton, Ohio show, "was dressed in a weird combination of makeup, hair dye, and blasphemously printed attire. I can't imagine the pit of hell looking much different. ...Throughout the concert, Manson led the crowd in various acts against the Church, against family and parents, and against Christ. It was so depressing to see 5,200 young people so easily led [!] and so much in vocal disdain for our Lord....At the front of the stage was a tremendously large and high pulpit for him to use in espousing his hatred and filth...The music during the concert was filled with the most filth imaginable. It was incredibly blasphemous as well...Through the haze [after the show] you could watch these oddly dressed and made-up young people trying to exit the Arena and again go about their hopeless lives."
Crisis mentality. CFN again: "Perhaps it is very wrong to say that the concert ended harmlessly. Our youth were led down a path to destruction. There [sic] eternity will belong with Satan if nothing is done by the Church to correct this." The AFA affidavits fit in here as well: if such a touring Satanic circus was in fact abroad in the land, damning souls by the thousands, it would certainly call for drastic action by believers. (As we have seen and shall see, however, what the circus is genuinely up to is so dangerous to their worldview that it makes these fears of black bibles and pig's blood sound almost quaint.)
(--and some poor things are just plain confused: "I thought Marilyn Manson was the name of a female country singer," griped Fitchburg, MA., parent Ralph Riley. "The next thing you know your kid is at a Satanic cult concert.")
Their lack of understanding hobbles them at every turn. What they think is happening here is so far from what actually IS happening as to place it almost in another world. In their small vista, walled on all sides by ideas centuries old, what Manson is creating is at the very mildest pornography and at the worst heresy, sacrilege and outright devil-worship. What Manson is in fact creating is a deep and exquisitely balanced energy ritual which at its most apprehensible levels has the power to make any thoughtful listener question her or his faith, and on its more profound levels is High Ceremonial Magick. No less. It is angry at Christianity, but it is not about Christianity; it dislikes being checked and hampered, but it ultimately doesn't have to worry, because the defenses set against it are looking for another monster entirely, and will never even see the one that actually got inside.
(Manson, politely as always: "After awhile, I start to feel sorry for these right-wing Christians and political groups. They seem so concerned, but it seems like all their efforts go to waste...And they have not yet succeeded in cancelling or preventing a show from happening, so I start to feel a little bit of sympathy somewhere in the bottom of my cold heart. [But] Each time I come to a city, they prove my point with the way they behave. If these people truly believed in the values they try to promote...I think I recall reading Love thy neighbor somewhere in the Bible...I think they should be inviting me to dinner rather than making bomb threats and attacking me outside my hotel.")
...go on to Part 2.