Steven Benen brought my attention to some recent Christian silliness in Congress in his most recent installment of, This Week in God. Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton put forward a new bill to lift regulations on oil exports. But it was given the the title House Resolution 666. Barton freaked out. How could his bill be given the number of the beast?! Well, if you ask me, a bill designed to promote more oil extraction and more wealth for the already insanely wealthy deserves the mark of the beast. But that hardly matters in this regard.
I’m more interested in how it is that a 65 year old member of Congress feels the need to be protected from such obvious nonsense. And then, the leadership in Congress feels that they must pander to him. According to Michael Marks at The Dallas Morning News, Rep Joe Barton Changes Bill Number From 666 — Not That He’s Superstitious. His staff want you to know that.
Barton’s spokesman Sean Brown said, “The Congressman isn’t superstitious and doesn’t see the number as unlucky. We decided to change the number because of the reaction it gets from others. It can be distracting because it carries different negative connotations for some people.” But that’s always the way. For example, people are never racists; they would have no problem with a black family moving into their neighborhoods; it is just all the other neighbors who would move out and lower property values. In this case, Barton is clearly just pandering to other Christians such as himself.
Of course, Barton isn’t known as a wacko Christian. His thing is oil. He is best known for his involvement in the BP oil spill. After the company reached a settlement with the administration, BP CEO Tony Hayward testified before Congress. Barton felt that he was being ill treated, “I apologize. I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong, is subject to some sort of political pressure that is, again, in my words — amounts to a shakedown, so I apologize.” But when Barton isn’t protecting the millionaire CEOs of billion dollar corporations, he’s looking out for the feelings of ignorant Christians. In this regard, he’s an innovator.
I searched back through previous Congresses, and no one seems to have had a problem with the 666 number for quite a while. Going back through 2003, only Democrats had bills with the number 666 — so obviously, they didn’t care. But in 2001, another Texas Republican got the number and didn’t have a problem with it. From that point, there were a mix of Democrats and Republicans. I went back 30 years — 15 Congresses — and there was no one who had a problem with the 666 bill number.
What’s going on, I’m afraid, is the increasing pandering to religious conservatives. This has gotten much worse after 9/11. A lot of people think we are in the middle of some kind of religious clash. It’s as funny as anything this dangerous can be. We have the wacko fundamentalist Christians on one side going against the wacko fundamentalist Muslims on the other. It’s too bad we can’t ship them all off to an island where they can have their war to determine which of their gods is the One True God™. Sadly, for many Americans, the response to religious extremism is another form of religious extremism. And the nation as a whole feels that it must pander to these people.
I discussed all this nonsense about the “number of the beast” in some detail a year and a half ago, Christian Suffers for Her Ignorance. It was about a young woman who refused to run in a school race because she was given the number “666.” The problem is that this whole thing about the “number of the beast” is nonsense.
To start with, Revelation 13:18 does not say that all people and things with the number are the beast — just that the beast will have that number. But more important, it is not at all clear that the number of the beast is in fact 666. Most theologians think it is. But the oldest copy of Revelation lists the number as 616. And there is much evidence in its favor. I understand though: Christians don’t much care about the basis of their religion; they just want to go along with what everyone in their “group” thinks.
But as a society, we shouldn’t pander to such nonsense. Being a mathematically inclined person, I have strong feelings about different numbers and functions. I actively anthropomorphize them. For example, I consider large prime numbers as snobs who don’t get along with others. And I find the number 2 very suspicious indeed — the only even number that is also prime; I just don’t trust it. Similarly, I find cosine functions contrarians, and don’t get me started with differential equations. It is all very real to me. But it would be madness, for example, to change a bill’s number just because I claim we can’t trust the number 2.
But when it comes to mainstream religion, no amount of silliness is acceptable to mock. Thus we mock the followers of the Heaven’s Gate cult, but we venerate Saint Sebastian who forced his own death for even sillier religious reasons. In America, there can be no religious test for holding public office. Sadly, there is no knowledge test either. And rather than just tolerate such nonsense, we applauded it. Apparently, stupidity or villainy in the name of an approved religion is good.