Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk says he was just curious when he forwarded a chain e-mail suggesting Barack Obama is the biblical antichrist. “I was trying to get documentation,” he said, “if there was any scripture to back it up.” Uh huh.
I'm curious too. About why Funderburk thought he'd find out by e-mailing a chain letter.
Here's a thought: Why not go directly to the source – the Bible for scriptural evidence? Or seek information from an expert – your pastor, for instance?
The purpose of chain letters is not to elicit information. Their goal is to passon information. In this case, inflammatory and false information. Already debunked information. Information that's insane to believe in the first place.
It's sad so many people considered the claim credible that there was a need to debunk it. Apparently, some folks are inclined to believe the most outrageous things if those ideas play into their own preconceptions – prejudice, if you will.
But Snopes.com did debunk this assertion by, you got it, going to the sources cited for this nonsense – mainly the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The e-mail professes to quote from the “Book of Revelations” (it's Revelation) that the anti-Christ will be “a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal… Is it Obama?”
Not in the Bible
But as Snopes points out nothing in the Bible, let alone the Book of Revelation, describes an anti-Christ as being a man, in his 40s, of Muslim descent. And since the Book of Revelation was written at least 400 years before the birth of Islam, Muslims aren't even mentioned. Besides, though there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim – it's not synonymous with terrorist – Obama ISN'T a Muslim.
Snopes.com, by the way, is a Web site devoted to examining unsupported assertions and urban legends. The site doesn't push any particular political agenda or point of view. In fact, many of the claims Snopes examines are of the weird kind, such as the one about a woman recognized in the Guinness Book of Records as having the “Smallest Waist of a Living Person.” The urban legend is that she achieved that result by having a rib removed. False. But the truth is just as bizarre. She wore corsets around the clock for 10 years.
The “Obama is the anti-Christ” claim is more insidious though. It locks on to some other false beliefs – that Obama is a Muslim, for instance – to try to scare away support for his presidential bid – or gain support for GOP rival John McCain.
The e-mail has been circulating for months and was mentioned in a Time magazine article in August. The piece examined an ad by a McCain supporter that uses language similar to language in the fictionalized Left Behind books. Those books talk about an Antichrist who, in apocalyptic times, promises to heal the world. The ad shows pictures of Obama with adoring crowds and “The One” flashing across the screen. Time said the ad “taps into a conversation that has been gaining urgency on Christian radio and political blogs and in widely circulated e-mail messages that accuse Obama of being the Antichrist.”
Snopes.com first debunked the e-mail in March. But like the Energizer bunny, it keeps on going. Time did a Google search for “Obama” and “Antichrist” and turned up more than 700,000 hits, including at least one blog dedicated solely to the topic.
Mayor Funderburk's “curiosity” has only added to the list.
The world of disinformation
A few months ago I taught a class at Davidson College. I gave them a 195-page book called, “unSpun: Finding facts in a world of disinformation”. The 2007 book has gotten mostly raves because it not only shows readers how to be proactive about checking out assertions but also helps them understand why they should.
The information it provides hones critical thinking skills, which young people especially need practice doing, and helps citizens make better decisions. I encouraged my students to even question and check assertions made by the book's authors, one of whom runs the Annenberg Public Policy Center's award-winning Web site, FactCheck.org.
Some politicians and other adults apparently lack adequate critical thinking skills too. They should read this book. They should also stop sending chain letters.