Of Antichrists and Humour

shutterstock_140586103A generous friend that knows we have teenagers (four at last count; five later on this year) passed along his 20-year-old Toyota for 300 bucks – basically the price he would’ve gotten from the junk yard.

Toyotas are hardy vehicles, to be sure, but twenty years is twenty years, and the car is in pretty rough shape. It runs though, and has heat, so we gladly and gratefully accepted it in anticipation of yet another one of our teens taking to the roadways eventually.

Here’s the thing, though: My kids have taken to calling this new acquisition the ‘Chariot of Damnation’ – apparently an appellation borrowed from Greek mythology via the popular Percy Jackson series.

No offense to my generous friend, of course, nor to the aging Toyota – as I said, it runs, and that’s all we care about.

In fact, it’s understood around my house that a name like ‘Chariot of Damnation’ is a term of endearment. It’s a family tradition – like our decrepit Honda that went by the Star Wars moniker ‘Millennium Falcon,’ in honor of Han Solo’s cantankerous smuggling freighter. “She’s the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy!” in the words of Lando Calrissian. Well, maybe not our old Honda.

Anyway, then there‘s the granddaddy of all car names: ‘The Antichrist,’ an epithet applied to the scurrilous Land Rover in that rich and quirky film,The Gods Must Be CrazyWe’ve never owned anything that exactly qualifies, but my brother adopted the name for a secondhand Land Rover he used to own. It was a pain to drive, but we sure got a lot of mileage out of the name: “Hey, can I borrow The Antichrist tonight?” and “I think The Antichrist needs an oil change.”

Aside from idiosyncratic automobiles, candidates for antichrist abound, with the biblical original being one of the Roman emperors – most likely Nero, who ruled in the years 54–68. Nero’s antichrist heirs are legion (no biblical pun intended), and it’s somewhat of a parlor game to take the obscure apocalyptic references in Daniel and Revelation, and see how they might apply to your foes.

These days, for instance, prominent antichrist candidates hail from boprince-william_1681222cth sides of the political aisle: Dick Cheney on the right, for example, and Obama on the left. George Soros, the progressive billionaire, is another popular target, as is Prince William apparently – that’s a new one that I just came across today. Fun!

And antichrist squabbling has been around for a long time, although the field of candidates used to be considerably narrower than it is today. An historical standout is Frederick II, the powerful Holy Roman Emperor of the 13th century. Proclaimed stupor mundi (the Wonder of the World) in his lifetime, Frederick was a singular medieval monarch, enlightened in many respects, and even tolerant, relatively speaking. But his conflicts with the Church made him the source of intense speculation among the apocalyptic cognoscenti. Dante placed the Emperor on the third tier of Hell, for example, and the radical Franciscan Joachimites openly declared him antichrist, as did Pope Gregory IX.

Speaking of popes: There is no antichrist field more ripe for the harvest than the papacy. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel! Go ahead, name a pope, and I’ll bet you can Google up loads of antichrist accusations in a matter of minutes. It’s almost a cottage industry among fundamentalist scaremongers, and it’s been going on since the Reformation. Popes were antichrists to virtually all the Reformers, including Martin Luther. “I feel much freer,” Luther wrote, “now that I am certain the pope is the Antichrist.”

Luther was misguided about the identity of the Antichrist, but he was spot on when it came to how we should battle him: Humor! C.S. Lewis quoted Luther in the first pages of The Screwtape Letters as saying, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”

Of course, antichrists are no joke, but if Luther’s right, then a glib treatment of antichrists is just the ticket, including joking about the latest 666 conspiracy theories and taking advantage of amusing movie vehicle references. It’s like giving the devil the raspberry – pbbbbbbbbt!

Here’s the thing, though: Antichrist is an equal opportunity employer, and the really funny thing about antichrist handicapping is that we don’t have to search all the far to find him. “Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist,” according to St. John. In other words, the antichrist is me whenever I deny Christ through my words and actions.

Thus, when I give into anger on the road or at home, or when I slouch off and give full rein to sloth in my work or prayers, I’m the antichrist – I am, not George Soros or George Bush, but me! Such is the case when I deny Christ through my petty selfishness and envy, my barely disguised greed and wanton pride. Who needs emperors and presidents for antichrists? I fit the bill quite nicely, thank you.

Tonight I went to a late Mass by myself because I had stayed home earlier with a sick child when everyone else went to church. The severe weather and drifting snow meant that only a dozen folks showed up, and the priest congratulated us for making it despite the weather. “You’re all heroes and heroines,” he said, but I don’t think so, at least not in my case. I was there because I needed to be there, and I suspect that was true for everybody else. We craved the “comfort and joy,” as we sang in the closing hymn. We needed Jesus “to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.”

And that calls to mind something else Martin Luther said:

So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it?’

Yes, I deserve to go to hell. Yes, I’m the antichrist. What of it?Pbbbbbbbbbt! And here’s Luther’s own follow-up:

For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!

Tidings of comfort and joy indeed.

Richard Becker

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Rick Becker is a Catholic convert, husband, and father of seven. He and his wife, Nancy, serve as Co-Directors of Religious Education at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, Indiana. Rick also teaches nursing at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. He blogs regularly at God-Haunted Lunatic.

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