Truth is stranger than fiction.

According to this month’s Church and State, a journal published by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Virginia House of Delegates has approved a measure some members believe will protect people from the Antichrist.

Yeah, I know. I can imagine the look on your face. But I swear I’m not making this up. A bill passed on February 10 by a huge margin (88-9) to prohibit employers and insurance companies from requiring people to be implanted with microchips. Apparently the main concern was privacy, but one representative, the bill’s sponsor, said that the chips could be the “mark of the beast” mentioned in the biblical book of Revelation (Church and State, March 2010: 3). His claim is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of that ancient work.

According to Revelation 13:16-18, the beast will cause everyone to have a mark, either of the beast’s name or number (the infamous 666) on their foreheads or their right hands. Only those with the mark are permitted to buy and sell.

Honestly, I simply can’t understand how fundamentalists can say they respect the Bible so much then distort its message so badly. No one in the ancient world had even heard of a microchip or any other kind of modern technology, much less conceived of its use by some enemy of God. What the writer had in mind was the demand of the beast, whoever he/she/it might be, for ultimate worship, for control of thought (forehead) and action (right hand). The mark is in the same place(s) that Jewish phylacteries were worn. (A phylactery is a small leather box containing a copy of the Ten Commandments.) It’s a huge and fatal interpretive leap to decide that an implant is what John of Patmos had in mind. And what arrogance to think that the ancient writer really was addressing 21st-century Christians, instead of the beleaguered, persecuted believers to whom he was offering a pastoral message of encouragement and hope!

Besides, what is so wrong with having a microchip implanted? If my dog ever ran away, the microchip the vet put in her neck will help us find her again. Could not the same or similar technology enable a family to locate their Alzheimer’s-stricken parent when he or she wanders off? Or how about finding missing hikers in the woods or the mountains? Lost children?

I wish legislators would give attention, energy, money, and imagination to the chronic problems that beset us instead of the sort of silliness represented in the action of the Virginia house. Then we might just have a better world where the real beasts of hunger, fear, ignorance and hatred are banished from the earth.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham