Mark Twain once wrote, “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”

Consider a case in point. It appears that Sen. John McCain’s campaign is trying to subtly suggest that Sen. Barack Obama is the Antichrist. Many Christians believe this sinister figure will emerge at the end of history and presage the second coming of Jesus.

The assertion that Obama could be the Antichrist has been the subject of several e-mails circulating out in cyber world. And while the McCain campaign does not make the claim directly, the inference in a recent ad certainly connects with those not so subtle e-mails.

The ad begins with an ominous sounding voice asking the question could Sen. Obama be “The One.” There is a hint that maybe this guy is a little too persuasive, a little too charismatic, and little too visionary in his language.

Anyone familiar with the “Left Behind series” will remember that the Antichrist figure, Nicolae Carpathia, unites the world around the slogan, “We are God.” Senator Obama’s corresponding line, featured prominently in the ad, is “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

As the ad progresses, Obama’s face morphs into Charlton Heston as Moses presiding over the parting of the Red Sea. After that, the voice states dramatically, “He may be the one, but is he ready to lead?”

Meanwhile, out in Colorado, according to Robert Dreyfuss writing in The Nation, a group of Bible scholars at the True Bible Society have discovered that John McCain may actually be the Antichrist.

Their line of reasoning goes this way: McCain wants to stay in Iraq a hundred years. According to these scholars, the book of Revelation portrays the Antichrist as using the ancient city of Babylon as a platform for world domination.

It also turns out, according to these scholars, that McCain’s great-grandfather was actually not John McCain, but John Mihai. Mihai is an ancient Romanian name which, according to these scholars, means “who is like the Lord.” In the calculus of end-time theology, the Antichrist will be Romanian and will be just like Jesus, except totally evil.

I am not sure how much of this is to be taken seriously. I have had trouble verifying the existence of the True Bible Society. But if they are for real, and they are serious about this nonsense, then we have already reached peak-lunacy in this campaign.

Obviously, there is nothing new at work here. At various times throughout history antichrist status has been bestowed on Roman emperors, popes, kings, czars, dictators and even a couple of U.S. presidents.

Of course, I think folks have got the whole antichrist thing wrong anyway. The only place in the New Testament where the word “antichrist” occurs is in the letters of John. When read closely, John could just as easily be describing attitudes and viewpoints rather than a single individual. In fact, John writes that there are many antichrists.

In other words, any idea that is opposed to the teaching of Jesus is by definition anti-Christ. Things like war, neglect of the poor, hatred, prejudice, exploitation of the weak and vulnerable ”these are all anti-Christ-like practices.

But whether a particular politician in a given political campaign is the Antichrist ”the embodiment of all that is evil and opposed to God, well that sounds like monkey business to me.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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