I began my ordained ministry at a parish in Alabama, where the Antichrist was a Thing. People worried about the Rapture, or hoped for it; they read the Left Behind books; they saw themselves as spiritual warriors.
One man, who haunted our parking lot, seemed to have been driven mad while reading Left Behind. He wasn’t there often, but I came to know that if my day was going wrong in a certain kind of way, if the pastoral or ministry needs were cascading out of control, then the last thing that would happen as I was leaving the church was that he would accost me in the parking lot and demand to speak with me about End Times. I did not find it a redeeming conversation.
At the time, I thought much of this activity was fatuous; it was a way for people to feel that they were being religious while focusing their energy on something that was completely out of their own control and which would have no positive impact on the world. At its worst, as in the Left Behind series, this fixation was probably even unspiritual: it allowed people to feel superior to others, whom they felt free to torment and degrade in their imaginations, believing that it was all part of God’s plan. This is not the behavior that I believe was modeled by Christ.
Today, however, I would point to a different danger: that in directing our attention toward the Antichrist, we miss the point that there are many antichrists, that, at times, each of us is opposed to the will of God in our lives and in the world.
A brief Google search on images of the Antichrist will pull up images of Obama, Trump, Putin, George W. Bush, and Pope Francis, together with Adolf Hitler, Desmond Tutu, and assorted mullahs. This is, at least, remarkably ecumenical, but it points toward the ease of using this term as a label for whatever we dislike or find objectionable in the world around us and in our leadership.
Its real purpose, I think, by which I mean its only fruitful purpose, is to ask us to think deeply about what is of Christ and what is not, which is a rather different question than asking who is of Christ and who is not. Jesus commands us to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, to visit the prisoner, to heal the sick, to gaze in reverence and wonder at the lily, the bird, all the beauty of this earth. Whatever in our life and in our culture supports these commandments is pro-Christ; whatever undermines our individual or collective capacity to live into them is antiChrist, at least in the small-A sense.
The issue is not who does things that oppose the will of God, because we all do them, most of us frequently. As Solzhenitsyn reminds us, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Our work, and particularly in this Lenten season, is to foster the good and to turn from what is evil, not because it will never recur in our heart, but because it will recur, over and over again, and the only thing we can do as people striving to be holy is to turn away each time.
There is a need, in this work, for mutual accountability. When we see one person tending in a strongly unChristlike direction, we do need to point it out, to protest, to remind them of the best that we are called to be, that being human involves caring for the least of us, each day. But we won’t get there by demonizing people as Antichrist. We will only get there by speaking to the Christ in them, no matter how deeply buried it seems to be.
And if they are utterly resistant, then it is the work of the rest of us to protect the vulnerable and aid the victims, for in truth, there will be casualties if cruelty becomes the new normal. What is antiChrist is, ultimately, not a matter of doctrine, but of our humanity. We can be human, or we can be antiChrist. Let us choose humanity.